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If your startup is selected for the final OUT OF THE BOX.NRW pitch event at the Hinterland of Things Conference, you’ll have access to one of the most prestigious dealmaking platforms in Germany, rubbing shoulders with potential investors, customers, and partners who come to the Hinterland to scout new talent and tech solutions.
Apply now!


The OUT OF THE BOX.NRW Award was first brought into existence in 2020 by North-Rhine Westphalia’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and sponsored by the NRW.BANK.
The goal: provide a platform for young startups to grow and thrive.


The NRW Ministry of Economic Affairs has been awarding the OUT OF THE BOX.NRW (OOTB) state prize to the best digital startups from North Rhine-Westphalia since 2020. In close cooperation with the ministry’s initiative Digitale Wirtschaft NRW (DWNRW), the overall goal is to create a platform for young startups to gain a high level of media exposure and the chance to present themselves to potential investors.


With the "Digital Economy NRW" initiative, North Rhine-Westphalia has been picking up speed as a hub in digital development in recent years. In the future, the state wants to encourage even more digital start-ups to take on the challenge of transforming the region’s future and help North Rhine-Westphalia become one of the leading hotspots for start-ups in Germany and Europe.


The NRW.BANK has been sponsoring the OUT OF THE BOX.NRW competition since the beginning. The €50,000 in award money from the bank are divided among the three finalists, with the first place winner receiving €25,000, the second place €15,000, and the third place €10,000.


The Founders Foundation was founded in 2016 as a subsidiary of the Bertelsmann Stiftung. It trains the next generation of successful founders and is building a sustainable and thriving B2B startup ecosystem in the heart of the German SME sector. As a pioneer in founder training, the Founders Foundation relies on the holistic Founders Foundation Education Model. In the B2B startup ecosystem of Ostwestfalen-Lippe, 'new and old business' are brought together as a launchpad for entrepreneurship. In this context, a 'Hinterland of Things' conference was brought into being in 2018 and is now one of the most renowned networking conferences in Germany.

Hinterland of Things

The Hinterland of Things Conference is the Founders Foundation’s lighthouse project. For one day, three worlds come together that otherwise rarely meet in such a high concentration: The leading minds of the startup and tech scene, international investors, and decision-makers from SMEs and traditional companies meet up to discuss current challenges and trends in a trusting exchange at eye-level.

A strong alliance

Ak Wirtschaft, Industrie, Klimaschutz Und Energie Schwarz Rgb Englisch
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Our Media Partners

Being among the top three winners also grants you access to relevant media coverage, courtesy of our partnership with Startup Insider.
Startup Insider
As the premier media platform for startups and investors in the DACH region, Startup Insider, with its acclaimed Startup Podcast series and the highly-regarded Startup Insider Daily Newsletter, will amplify your reach like never before.
This opportunity will boost your brand visibility, extend your audience, and attract the attention of influential investors, corporate leaders, and potential customers.
The top three winners are also entitled to a one year full access license to the platform.
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The business angel ecosystem has been far too obscure for too long. We're making it completely transparent because we want great founders to be able to successfully fundraise even without an existing network. gives startups access to over 8,000 business angels through precise introductions and reliable data about all angels and their investments. With free, personalized pitch deck feedback. 

Our VC Partners

Simon Capital Schwarz
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Mona Neubaur
With the OUT OF THE BOX award, we support the dedication of our founders and honor the courageous and creative minds who are shaping the digital and sustainable transformation of NRW with their entrepreneurial ideas. Because we are committed to support their growth, spread their innovations and to successfully connect them with corporates as well as investors. 

- Mona Neubaur

Minister for Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Protection and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia
Dominik Gross
The 'Top24 in 2024' list will put NRW's best start-ups on the radar! By working closely with investors and the NRW-wide start-up network, founders not only gain visibility but also the necessary market access - to capital and potential customers. We are looking forward to hosting the final of the competition for the first time at this year's Hinterland of Things conference - because it will be bigger than ever before!"

- Dominik Gross

Co-Founder & CEO Founders Foundation gGmbH
Nrw Bank Foto
Start-ups are shaping the future for North Rhine-Westphalia. With their innovations, they are driving digitalization forward and developing the technologies with which we can create a climate-neutral and sustainable transformation. With the OUT OF THE BOX.NRW competition, we are helping to ensure that these ideas become known and can grow quickly.

- Gabriela Pantring

Deputy Chairwoman of the Managing Board of NRW.BANK

Startup Ecosystem NRW

Digihub Bonn Lang
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Digihub Muenster Schwarz
Digitalhub Aachen Schwarz
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