Martin Olczyk Joins Techstars as Managing Director of METRO Accelerator for Hospitality

I am extremely honored and excited to announce that I joined Techstars as the managing director of the METRO Accelerator for Hospitality powered by Techstars in Berlin. Together with Franziska Lohl (Program Manager) and the METRO accelerator team we will recruit and accelerate 10 outstanding entrepreneurial teams who are ready to help shaping the hospitality industry.

In the past 10 years, I have started four companies, acted as its CEO, CFO and COO, raising multiple venture capital rounds, worked with dozens of technology businesses as an M&A banker, advising companies on raising millions of dollars and selling businesses across the globe, being a business angel, mentor and advisor to startups and several accelerators. But compared to a serial entrepreneur journey, joining Techstars just feels by far as the most exciting move! Techstars is THE worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed – for me that means working with the brightest minds and helping them build the next world market leaders, I can’t imagine anything more exciting!!

I have seen a lot of changes across many industries and the increasing influence of technologies. Before starting my own entrepreneurial journey, I was always very fortunate to work with and learn from successful and super talented entrepreneurs during my career. Having the experience of working with early stage companies and more matured ones, I was always very curious about the persons behind the businesses – the entrepreneurs.

Having lived in several countries in Europe and in Asia, experiencing different cultures there seems to be one common entrepreneurial DNA which connects the special type of human beings.

Global Network and #Givefirst

Starting a business is tough and requires a lot of energy. Especially at the early stage, founders need the most help and the most support. Techstars’ #givefirst mission and the global network of mentors offers a unique one-stop shop home for founders and entrepreneurs. Knowing Techstars and the dynamic environment for a few weeks only, I am totally convinced that if I had had the opportunity when I started my business it would have been of enormous advantage for the growth and the development of my companies and I am thrilled about the idea of supporting other entrepreneurs within the Techstars now and lifelong.

METRO Accelerator for Hospitality powered by Techstars in Berlin

The hospitality sector has a significant economic impact and almost 10% of all European jobs depend on industry. However, the industry is still massively under-digitised and does not have such a large corporate structures compared to large industrial sectors. The huge number of individual businesses usually burns more money and cannot compete with organised franchise and system chains, which is usually connected with poor conception and planning processes, high burnout rates and poor food and service quality. At the same time, the segment is extremely cost-sensitive and is threatened to become the victim of various social developments – such as the extinction of the cooking profession, faster changes in trends, new developments in metropolitan areas  and the countryside or the above mentioned low level of digitisation. All in all, the segment offers high digitization potential with a high degree of complexity.

METRO, with €30bn revenues and the global network, an amazing mentor pool and access to key industry players, is the perfect hotbed/frontier for hospitality startups to test, improve, fine-tune its solutions and  find out what technologies customers need to succeed. Running two accelerator programs together with Techstars in parallel, for 4 years in a row, having invested in 50 companies together with METRO, offers the ideal conditions to turn your ideas into globally relevant products and sustainably successful companies.

Berlin has a uniquely vibrant and rapidly growing startup atmosphere and is said to be the best location for tech startups in Europe offering a perfect  infrastructure for funding, financing and scaling. You’ll be part of this international community and Techstars family not only for the three months but lifelong! So, we are looking forward to your application!

Applications for the METRO Accelerator for Hospitality powered by Techstars in Berlin are open now and close August 3rd, 2018.

You will find more valuable information about how to apply within the Application Toolkit or feel free to add me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter and let me know if you have any questions!

I am looking forward to work with the Techstars and METRO family and help grow and develop a new generation of innovative hospitality companies and boost the founders’ vision to unicorn level!

Lessons Learned, Lessons Shared – Three Years of Corporate Early-Stage Acceleration

A quick New Year’s shoutout to everyone with love and care for early-stage acceleration. 2018 marks year four of our METRO Accelerator powered by Techstars. Since the 2015 launch of our first Techstars program, we are (proudly) looking back across three years of building and running a bona-fide startup development system – a first for METRO, a first for our customers, and a first for the hospitality industry. Not bad!

Since program inception, our joint METRO Techstars team has attracted 40 formidable founders to trust us with their business building. On the way, METRO learned to become a dedicated early-stage investor, a passionate corporate mentor, and a powerful source for commercialization opportunity helping our startups grow.

For the 50+ year old multinational corporation that METRO is, three years of successful early-stage startup development support has been a rather transformative experience. With that – lessons learned, lessons shared – here’s what I believe is key to look out for if you are a founder looking to apply for our (or another) corporate program:

Build Relationships That are More than Transactional

Most corporate mentors you encounter during the program are likely individuals tied to a myriad of internal realities, complexities, and constant change. Tempting as it may be to assume s/he possesses a magic wand, at times it’s not as easy as it seems to unlock the large(r) organization. During the program, better you connect with your corporate mentors beyond your most ad-hoc request (say, to proof-of-concept your solution ‘today’), to create relationships made to get your emails answered, even months post Demo Day.

Learning Goes Both Ways

You may want us to but no, we don’t always know the answer to all your questions. To best deal with that, what good corporate programs (should) do is to help create a ‘safe space’ for mutual learning. As we work jointly through your company’s opportunities and complexities one issue at the time, we found outcomes prove best if everyone comes out smarter than going in. So, do keep challenging us as we will do the same. Let’s be honest. Often, both sides are in uncharted territory. So, let’s get jiggy with it, creating spaces for plenty a-ha and eureka moments enabled equally on both sides.

Ask, Does the Corporate Provide Robust Post-Demo Day Commercialization?

I firmly believe the difference between a good program and a great program is the corporation’s ability to provide commercialization opportunities beyond core 12-week acceleration. Think program-as-a-service versus program-as-a-lab. The former seeks to afford you a more permanent path to new customer acquisitions, following to the biz dev support during the actual program. To be sure – ‘free market’ forces in full swing – no corporate program will actually guarantee you new customer opportunities all the time. Hence, back to my point above, this is why establishing long-term corporatementor relationships is such an important thing.

Be Sure You’re Ready to Run with It                                

How much ‘homework’ is enough before approaching a corporate about piloting your product or service? Hard to say or measure, but we tend to know it when we see it. Above all, be comfortable asking uncomfortable questions in sometimes tricky corporate meetings. Having sat in many pitch sessions, don’t short-sell yet don’t over-hype. No matter what you are building, it’ll likely always be added to or otherwise be ‘under construction’. That is perfectly fine as long as you are honest about your offering’s strengths and weaknesses (to the degree you know of them). In other words, corporates or otherwise, it’s your audience’s trust in your judgement that is equally as important as promoting your product’s intrinsic genius.

METRO Accelerator for Hospitality Demo Day

Turning the Startup Zoo into the $1 Billion Sales Club

I have seen many corporates who want to engage with startups. They come to me and ask me to, “bring some startups who can present to them.”

My response is typically that I don’t operate a startup zoo and if they want to feed the founders, they have to go elsewhere. This tends to make corporates a little bit annoyed. They ask me why I say that.

My response is that an early stage startup is constantly fighting against death, and they literally have no time for this. What they need are people who can help them make money – everything else is a waste of time.

Turns out, corporates actually understand that. Corporates are learning to work with startups in ways where there is value creation on both sides – via pilots that lead to real money. There are two types of these pilots:

  • Pilot activity that focuses on distribution or lead generation.
  • Pilot activity that focuses on the corporate becoming a customer.

Distribution or Lead Generation Pilots

When Techstars ran a program with Disney, Disney partnered with Sphero, a program participant, to create what is now the BB-8 robotic toy. Disney injected the brand and distribution, Sphero contributed the technology and engineering. This toy was one of the world’s most successful toys when it was introduced into the market, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in sales.

Another example comes from the METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars in Berlin (full disclosure: I have been the managing director here for two years). FragPaul (Ask Paul) is a maker of HR software for German restaurants. METRO signed a rollout deal with FragPaul, and now delivers over 100 qualified leads to the company every single week. This kind of deal flow is life changing when you are a two person startup who didn’t have to raise capital to date, and now employs 10X more staff less than a year later.

Pilot Activity that Focuses on the Corporate Becoming a Customer

Another pilot example from Techstars’ METRO Hospitality program is Flowtify, who simplifies HACCP, a systematic approach to food safety for gastronomy operators. METRO tested the product in some of its store restaurants, provided valuable product feedback to the Flowtify team, and helped the company find its sweet spot. The product is now used in a variety of gastronomy establishments and recently won the 2018 Intergastra Innovation Prize.

What Makes Pilots Successful

The success of pilots depends on a number of factors. First, you need dedicated staff on the corporate side who work 100 percent of their time on the pilot project and oversee its success. There needs to be a clear pilot process, quantification of what constitutes success, and timelines that delineate what is supposed to happen when. If this is coupled with a functional follow-on path for what is actually happening beyond the pilot, and a dedicated budget, this approach is extremely successful.

When this happens at scale, startup partnerships can have a huge impact on the bottom line of corporations. Six startups from the current METRO Hospitality program are in the midst of successfully piloting their technologies with METRO. If the rate of sales continues at where it currently stands, these startups have the potential to be generating $1B in sales with METRO per year. That’s game changing for the startups, and also moves the needle for METRO.

If you want to see the end product of the latest METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars class, and maybe meet some of the next $1B sales club startups, we would love to see you at our Demo Day in Munich on December 12th. Grab one of the remaining Community tickets before they’re gone:

I am looking forward to seeing far more of these pilots done right in the future.

Presenting the 2017 Class of the METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars

The team is incredibly proud to introduce the 2017 class of METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars. These ten startups are gathering in the heart of Berlin for three months to accelerate, fund and grow their concepts to robust scalable businesses.

  • The third round of the successful mentorship-driven program METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars, kicks off in Berlin on 11 September 2017
  • Ten startups were selected among many applicants from 52 countries
  • For three months, the teams will collaborate with more than 100 international mentors, get the opportunity to test their products in 500 restaurants and hotels, and will each receive €120,000 in funding
  • The highlight of the program: the participants will present their companies to a panel of international investors at the Demo Day in Munich on 12 December 2017.

For the third consecutive year, METRO AG and the US startup network Techstars are jointly supporting startups with innovative digital solutions for the hospitality sector – with great success among international investors. In the first rounds, the participating startups generated an above average total volume of over USD 55 million in venture capital.

“Since we launched the accelerator program for hospitality in 2015 we have already selected and promoted 21 exciting startups, selected from several hundred applicants. We can with confidence state after the third round that the METRO Accelerator for Hospitality has turned into a fully established program.

It is the first program to connect the hospitality industry with first-rate technology innovators. We offer startups the opportunity to test their digital products and services with 500 restaurants and hotels in five European cities”, says Andreas Wuerfel, Director Global Innovation Community at METRO.

Today, the third round kicked off in Berlin. Over a period of three months, the participating startup founders will collaborate with more than 100 international mentors to further fine-tune their business models. The real test will be the Demo Day in Munich on 12 December 2017: that is when the start-ups will present their business ideas to international investors.

Will restaurant visitors soon be calling the waiter with the help of an illuminated LED cube? Or will we soon have machines mixing cocktails so that the bartenders can focus even more on advising their guests? These are but two examples of what the routine at the restaurant of the future could look like if it were up to the startups who made it into the third class of the METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars. 

Here are the startups participating in the third METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars 2017 class: 


A mixing machine that prepares perfect cocktails within just a few seconds


A bot named Concierge that answers the online queries of hotel guests


A digital end-to-end solution to optimize workflows in restaurants, personalize customer experience, accelerate customer satisfaction and increase significantly turnover


A restaurant system offering quality take-away lunches for business people


An in-destination App solution that gives hotel guests a personalized travel experience through the GuestU phone


A cloud-based software for the management of small and medium-sized hotels


An IT solution to minimize waste in restaurant kitchens


Nabl collects customer reviews in restaurants, hotels and shops before they walk out the door


An LED cube for guests to call the waiter by the push of a button


A tool for the beverage management of restaurants who want to stand out with their selection of wines

This was originally posted here

Test Your Product in 500 Restaurants and Hotels

…get paid to do it, and then sell it to thousands more.

When I was meeting founders over the last few weeks, I opened most of my meetings with a simple question, “How can we help?”

I received an identical answer three times, “I want to test my product in 500 restaurants.”

Wow. This was a side sentence that we had written in an email to founders to invite them to meet with us. It seemed to have struck quite a chord. “Test your product in 500 restaurants.”

Here is the background to this. Techstars, the Worldwide Network that helps entrepreneurs succeed and METRO, the wholesale giant that supplies over one million restaurants with food, run an accelerator program together. The METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars. This is a three-month accelerator program that focuses on tech startups that have restaurants or hotels as customers.

This program has one very specific element to it. METRO has a new division, called has something they call a digital sales force. That digital sales force markets only digital products to restaurants and hotels. They do this in a two-step process.

First, they test the digital product with restaurant or hotel owners who are early adopters when it comes to tech. The owners love playing with new products. This test can be done in one of five countries: Germany, France, Austria, Italy or Spain. During those tests, METRO pays for the product; the customer gets it for free. But in exchange, they have to give honest, structured feedback about the product to METRO and the startup.

Second, when the feedback is positive, the sales force can take the product into a countrywide rollout. This means marketing it to thousands and tens of thousands of potential customers.

Let’s use an example to illustrate how this can work. In the 2016 METRO Accelerator program, we invested in a startup called Resment that was making HR software for German restaurants. We did tests with potential customers and found out that these needed three features. Of these, Resment had one, the second they had, but it needed to change, and the third needed to be added. Also, restaurant owners really did not like the brand. So Resment changed its name to Ask Paul, iterated on the features and subsequently had very positive resonance with restaurant owners.

Ask Paul successfully signed a country-wide rollout deal with METRO, and within three months, the METRO sales force had generated over 2000 qualified leads for Ask Paul.

So here is the thing. If you are an early stage startup, how do you access thousands of customers? How do you attract, hire and manage a sales force with seasoned people who know how to market to customers? How do you do this countrywide? How do you ramp this up quickly? How do you ramp this up without spending a lot of money?

Below is a picture of Ask Paul CEO Marc with the sales team. This is also his sales team (Ask Paul has full-time sales people, too). At the same time, this could also be your sales team, too.

One of the ways is to use the digital sales team as a shortcut to help you ramp up your structures and processes, and then to subsequently supplement that team with your own full-time staff.

This year, we are expanding this sales capability from one country to five. Germany, France, Austria, Italy and Spain. Every startup that goes through the METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars program will have the opportunity to test its product in 500 restaurants and hotels, get paid to do it and then to sell it to thousands more.

The program may run in Berlin, but the test with customers runs in one of these five countries, and the startups will frequently travel to their target country during the program.

Once you are selling in one of these five countries, can you sell in the others? Yes, you can. And thus you can also use the digital sales team to help you with internationalization. 

If you want to test your product in 500 restaurants and hotels, get paid doing it, then roll it out to thousands and tens of thousands of potential customers, we would love to hear from you.

Applications close on 30th June 2017, you can learn more and apply here. If you have any questions, just email me at

Creating an Unfair Advantage for Hospitality Tech Startups

Techstars is a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. To do this, we work with forward-thinking partners around the world to create unfair advantages for our founders.

METRO, one of the largest international food wholesalers, has been catering to hospitality businesses since its foundation over 50 years ago, and serves as a partner to founders to help innovate in the hospitality and retail industries.

A few years ago, METRO realized that in order to succeed in the future its key customer group, restaurants and hotels, had to increase their adoption of digital technology.

At the same time, numerous tech startups that see the opportunity are trying to offer solutions that could ease the life of the restaurant owner, improve customer experience, grow the business and so on.

METRO thought of bridging the two and giving startups an unfair advantage through access to its network and its customer base.

METRO CEO Olaf Koch was in New York in 2014 when he received an invitation to attend a Techstars and RGA Demo Day. Olaf’s plan was to only stay for 30 minutes, but he ended up staying much longer. The time Olaf spent at that Demo Day inspired him to do something similar to help progress METRO’s customers’ digital transformation.

In 2015, Techstars and METRO came together to launch the first hospitality focused accelerator in Berlin.

After 2 successful iterations of the program and 21 companies later, we’ve launched an additional accelerator program with METRO in Berlin, this time focused on Retail. Applications for that program have recently closed and the program commences on June 12th. But applications for the next METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars, are now open, you can apply here.

By the end of 2017, we will have invested in 40+ startups in the hospitality and retail space.

How can a corporate accelerator add value to entrepreneurs?

To provide the best resources for our founders, we work with the best partners to help achieve success. Here’s what we’ve learned about how an accelerator programs with a corporate partner adds value to founders:

Mentoring & Network

Corporate executives tend to have a very in depth understanding of their customers’ needs. They have a global view of these problems and can give both insights and offer to make introductions to founders.

Social Proof

Being heavily associated with a trusted household brand name like a corporate partner brings a certain amount of comfort to new customers. If a company like METRO trusts your startup, then others can, too. It can enhance a startup’s profile and build trust with your customers.

Lead Generation 

Corporate partners can function as a distribution channel for a startup’s product. METRO, for example, operates a digital salesforce that markets digital products to restaurants and hotels. This salesforce can distribute products to paying customers via a METRO pilot program in one of five cities: Berlin, Paris, Vienna, Milan or Barcelona.

We caught up with a few companies from past programs to hear directly about their experience and what they learned from working with corporate partners:

“The METRO Accelerator, powered by Techstars, stood out from other programs because of METRO’s board level commitment. We enjoyed one to one access to CEO Olaf Koch and his direct reports throughout the 3 months of the program, a privileged position to gain business and insights into the HoReCa and retail markets. Best of all, the collaboration continues after the accelerator.”

– Adrian Maseda, Co-founder, Cheerfy

“If you combine Techstars’ business excellence, their startup knowledge, and their huge network of mentors and investors with the industry experience and direct customer access of METRO, great things can happen. We experienced an intensive and challenging three months with hands-on support from the CEO down to each sales representative, gained deep insights to our industry and even continued the cooperation with METRO in various projects beyond the accelerator. We truly wouldn’t be where we are today without this experience, and highly recommend applying for a program like this.”

– Jan Saupe, CEO & Co-Founder of Lunchio

If your hospitality tech company is ready, check out the next METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars, starting in September. You can apply here.