Karen Florschütz

Karen Florschütz: Startups werden wichtiger für unsere Verteidigung

Ein Gespräch im Rahmen des Munich Security Breakfast

Startups gewinnen zunehmend auch im Kontext von Sicherheits- und Verteidigungstechnologien an Bedeutung. Das spiegelt sich auch in ihrer wachsenden Rolle im Rahmen der jährlich stattfindenden Munich Security Conference (MSC) wieder. Am Vortag der Veranstaltung fand in diesem Jahr erstmals das Munich Security Breakfast statt, mit dem Ziel Startups, Unternehmen und Investoren miteinander zu vernetzen.

Im Rahmen dieser Veranstaltung haben wir uns mit Karen Florschütz, Executive Vice President Connected Intelligence bei AIrbus Defence & Space, getroffen, um mit ihr über die Rolle von Startups zu sprechen. Das Gespräch haben wir in englischer Sprache geführt.

What role does collaboration with start-ups play for Airbus Defence and Space today?

Defence industry is in a period of drastic transformation, driven by new technologies & innovation primarily from the civil sector; speed & agility in development and production are key to success. Space capabilities become increasingly important. All this includes new ways of collaboration, which go beyond the parameter of traditional defence cooperation, including civil start-ups and dual-use Small- and Medium-sized Industries (SMI) .

Innovation happens when great ideas, people and challenges intersect. At Airbus, we make these intersections happen by partnering with an innovation ecosystem – from inside Airbus to the outside world – to translate innovative ideas into aerospace breakthroughs more quickly than ever before. The way we work with our partners is open and agile.

We are always happy to interact with emerging companies that share our purpose and values.

Karen Florschütz

What models of collaboration exist here?

Airbus is interacting, collaborating and promoting those companies to find out their potential and show their technologies to the world and even find applications for our own needs. We assess the collaboration through M&A (Merger & Acquisitions), partnerships and in some cases we even invest. We are always happy to interact with emerging companies that share our purpose and values.

Airbus has various partnership models to engage with external stakeholders, such as:

Airbus Scale:
This initiative promotes innovative ideas within the company and through start-up collaborations. By speeding up the commercialisation of valuable concepts, it can contribute to company growth and our commitment to sustainable aerospace.

Airbus Ventures:
Headquartered in Silicon Valley with offices in Paris and Tokyo, Airbus Ventures is a dynamic, early-stage venture capital company that independently funds and supports start-ups making an impact in the aerospace industry. Since 2015, Airbus Ventures has been instrumental in helping innovative entrepreneurs achieve new levels of success.

Airbus Defence and Space has a large R&D team, experts from many different areas – why are start-ups sometimes faster when it comes to developing new technologies?

I think the answer is well known: start-ups often are more agile and faster compared to big companies like Airbus. Due to their agility and often smaller size, start-ups have shorter decision-making processes, can turn around and adapt to changing market demands quicker. This allows them to develop and roll-out new tech faster. Also, a lot of start-ups practise the MVP (Minimal Viable Product) approach where they can test their core ideas or product by collecting the maximum amount of feedback from early users. Another factor that you see with a lot of start-ups is the focus on a specific niche or special problem. They dedicate all their resources and expertise on providing a solution to that challenge.

Combine that laser focus approach with innate agility and what you get is a start-up that has a competitive edge when developing new technologies.

Can you give us two concrete examples of cooperation between a start-up and Airbus Defence and Space?

With FCAS, we have initiated, jointly with our German customer, what we call a “non-traditional-player”-initiative (NPI). The goal was to find start-ups and SMI, not necessarily with a defence background, that provide relevant know-how and technologies for FCAS. For example, a Munich-based start-up, Data Machine Intelligence (DMI), provides a human-machine-interface demonstrator for mission planning.

Or a company called Hellsicht, which developed a radar-imitating-fingerprint for electronic warfare – this company is today called Helsing. It is an excellent example of how FCAS creates an attractive ecosystem for new and innovative players.

Finally, we developed a launching technology for deploying Remote Carriers from an A400M in collaboration with two SMIs (Steinbeis Flugzeug- und Leichtbau GmbH, SFL and Gerardts GmbH) and DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt). Due to its success, the NPI will be continued.

One of the most exciting but also controversial developments is the integration of AI and machine learning tech into defence products.

Karen Florschütz

Where do you currently see the most exciting trends and developments as well as areas where start-ups can add value to the defence sector?

What we observe is that the defence sector is seeing a wave of innovation and transformation. One of the most exciting but also controversial developments is the integration of AI and machine learning tech into defence products. Both technologies reshape the battlefield and defence missions. It affects ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) as well as autonomous systems and decision-making.

Another exciting trend is the increasing focus on cybersecurity and data protection. Due to the sensitive nature of especially national information and our defence systems becoming more interconnected and dependent on digital technology we have to make sure we have robust cybersecurity measures in place. Start-ups that focus on cybersecurity solutions, like secure communication, encryption or threat detection can bring real added value to the defence sector.

Also, there is an increasing emphasis on sustainability and environmental impact in defence operations. Start-ups that work on developing smart and innovative solutions for minimising negative impacts on our environment can make a significant contribution to the defence sector. At Airbus we are active in all three areas and it is exciting to see that our work is picked up and shared by start-ups. This allows us to learn from each other and work towards a shared purpose.

What role do start-ups play today at the Munich Security Conference? Would you say they should be more involved?

Start-ups play an increasingly important role at the MSC, which we welcome. They offer fresh perspectives start-ups play an increasingly important role at the MSC, which we welcome. They offer fresh perspectives often unconventional – and innovative solutions to today’s complex security challenges. Their presence can bring new ideas and technologies to urgent discourses, enriching discussions on security policy, European policy, and German issues while fostering creative problem-solving approaches.

Additionally, start-ups often operate with high agility and adaptability, crucial in addressing rapidly evolving security threats. Engaging with start-ups also creates opportunities for collaborations and partnerships with established players, leading to mutual benefit.

From our perspective the MSC is providing great opportunities for start-ups to get involved. And start-ups also specifically seek proximity to the MSC. By the end of the day, both sides need to decide on how much involvement is beneficial for them.

How do you approach exciting start-ups and how can interested start-ups get in touch with you?

There are many ways to interact with us. For example through the use of our Innovation hub channels on our website like here. You will also find us at air shows such as the Paris Air Show, ILA, Singapore Air Show… where our sales and marketing teams are open to be approached for different business opportunities. Additionally, our innovation and business development ecosystem is always ready to meet technological challenges by connecting with the right stakeholders within academia, the industry or startups.

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