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The NRW Ministry of Economic Affairs has been awarding the OUT OF THE BOX.NRW (OOTB.NRW) state prize to the best digital start-ups from North Rhine-Westphalia since 2020. Starting this year, the nonprofit Founders Foundation in Bielefeld will be organizing the state-wide competition, which will culminate in a Grand Finale pitch event at the Hinterland of Things Conference on June 13th. Top investors will help select the best start-ups in the state for placement in the “Top 24 in 2024” list.

  • Start-ups, investors, SMEs and legacy companies from all over Germany will meet at the Stadthalle Bielefeld for the annual Hinterland of Things conference
  • Starting this year, the Conference will host the “OUT OF THE BOX” (OOTB.NRW) state competition’s finale, in which NRW’s trailblazing digital start-ups will compete against each other in a live pitch event
  • Top investors will help curate the best start-ups in the state for placement in a “Top 24 in 2024” list
  • The competition is one of the most highly endowed competitions in Germany: NRW.BANK will award a total of 50,000 euros to the three best start-ups 
  • The audience includes renowned and well-known figures from the German start-up scene, including Verena Pausder (Start-up Verband), Frank Thelen (Freigeist), Dr. Gesa Miczaika (Auxxo Female Catalyst), Claudius Jablonka (10x Founders), Rouven Dresselhaus (Cavalry Ventures) and AI-expert Judith Peterka (German Federal Administration)

Bielefeld, 02.29.2024: Calling all digital natives, creatives, and unconventional designers of the future: On June 13th, the NRW state competition will be held for the first time at the Hinterland of Things conference in Bielefeld City Hall to select the most promising start-ups of the year. Together with the audience, a jury of experts will select the three finalists at the conference. The winners receive a total of 50,000 euros in award money, sponsored by NRW.BANK – making the competition one of the most lucrative in Germany.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Action and Energy (MWIKE) of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) first launched the competition in 2019 in order to honor regional start-ups featuring digital business models and avant-garde entrepreneurial solutions. In this way, the ministry aims to create incentives for start-ups wanting to scale up their digital business ideas, which in turn strengthens the region’s economic competitiveness. 

As Mona Neubaur, Deputy Premier and Minister of MWIKE, said: “In times of crisis and economic transformation, we must work closely together to find new approaches, sustainable technologies and innovative solutions. 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. As one of Germany’s leading B2B conferences, the ‘Hinterland of Things’ provides an excellent framework for this innovative collaboration and the perfect stage for the OOTB finale.”

“Germany’s largest federal state needs a calling card for its growing start-up landscape!  We want to shed light on this development by supporting and sharing entrepreneurial success stories – even in difficult times. 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 both capital and potential customers. We are looking forward to hosting the competition’s finale for the first time at this year’s Hinterland of Things conference – because it will be bigger than ever before!” said Dominik Gross, Co-founder and CEO of the Founders Foundation, which organizes and hosts the Hinterland of Things Conference.

“Top 24 in 2024” list serves as a quality indicator for start-ups in North Rhine-Westphalia

Any start-up from NRW that is based on digital processes, services and business models and was founded no more than three years ago can apply. Inspired by the Forbes’ Best-Lists, a pre-selection of the “Top 24 in 2024” for start-ups in NRW will be made in collaboration with renowned venture capitalists such as Simon Capital, Coparion, Cusp Capital, Neoteq Ventures and other regional investors. Those who make it onto the list will have convinced the judges of the quality of their business model and are also considered to be particularly scalable – making them all the more attractive to investors.

Investors and start-up experts from the NRW start-up environment, such as the DigiHubs and Excellence Start-up Centers NRW (ESC) of the universities, as well as the general public will then vote online for their top 10 favorites. These young entrepreneurs receive the chance to present their company to an audience of 2,500 conference visitors, which includes attendees from SMEs and legacy companies, the international investor scene, potential customers and many other tech-based start-ups during the final pitch event at the Hinterland of Things conference. Together, a jury of experts and the audience will select the top three finalists, who will then receive the prize money of 50,000 euros. More information about the application is available on the website.

Gabriela Pantring, Deputy Chairwoman of the Managing Board of NRW.BANK, commented: “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 gain recognition and can grow quickly.”

More about the Hinterland of Things conference – A launchpad for future growth 

The Hinterland of Things is one of the most renowned German conferences for B2B tech start-ups. It provides the ideal setting for start-ups to network with investors and businesses, as well as to discuss current trends and innovations. The non-profit Founders Foundation gGmbH has been organizing the conference in Bielefeld since 2018 in order to connect SMEs and legacy companies in the East-Westphalia-Lippe region with the strengths of young innovators. 

Under this year’s theme “Go Beyond!,” more than 100 renowned speakers from business, science and the start-up scene are expected to join the conference participants in an exploration beyond today’s horizons. In masterclasses and panel discussions, participants are encouraged to discuss and debate the conference’s key topics of AI/ProductivityClimateTechIndustrialTech and EdTech. Among those taking part this year are:

  • Verena Pausder, Chairwoman of the Start-up Association,
  • Choco founder Daniel Khachab,
  • farmer and entrepreneur Benedikt Bösel,
  • Max Honig from the global market research company Appinio,
  • venture capitalists Dr. Gesa Miczaika, Valerie Bures, Frank Thelen, and many more.

Press Contact: 

Anna-Luisa Korte, Director of Brand & Content @ Founders Foundation

About the Founders Foundation 

The Founders Foundation gGmbH was founded in 2016 and is a subsidiary of the Bertelsmann Stiftung. It trains the next generation of successful founders and is building a sustainable B2B start-up ecosystem in the heart of the German Mittelstand. As a pioneer in start-up education, the Founders Foundation relies on the holistic approach of the Founders Foundation Education Model. In the B2B start-up ecosystem of East-Westphalia-Lippe, ‘new and old businesses’ are brought together to foster entrepreneurship. In this context, the ‘Hinterland of Things’ conference was launched in 2018, which is now one of the most renowned networking conferences in Germany.

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