Time to RESPOND: Calling All Authentic, Humble and Visionary Founders

Germany's newest accelerator program is the opportunity we've all been waiting for.

von Nicole Winchell, February 25, 2020
respond team


When it comes to scaling, impact businesses face unique challenges. Not only are they competing with traditional startups for funding, they also face the difficulty of ensuring a long-term balance between profit and purpose. However their successful ability to achieve this balance, and ultimately scale their business, will determine the type of world we live in. BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt recognized both the challenge and the opportunity, and decided it was time to respond.

Together with UnternehmerTUM, they recently launched a new accelerator program. RESPOND offers founders the right balance of high-class coaching, hands-on training and mentoring in the areas of business, technology, impact and leadership. Throw in two incredible global networks, top-tier partners from tech and business and the chance to get your hands on EUR 15,000 and it's pretty much the opportunity we've all been waiting for. 

Heba Aguib and Miki Yokoyama are both members of the global BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network and bring with them years of firsthand experience in tech, impact and startup management. Now they're bringing their expertise to RESPOND. In this interview, they share what participants can expect from the program and give their insider advice for applying. You can apply for RESPOND by going to respond-accelerator.com – the application deadline is March 1, 2020!

Let’s start with a brief introduction. What are your professional backgrounds? 

Heba Aguib: My name is Heba Aguib and I work for the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt. Together with UnternehmerTUM we launched the RESPOND accelerator program at the beginning of the year. I lead this program as Chief Executive. 


Heba Aguib. Photo credit: Erol Gurian

Tech, impact and startup topics are very familiar to me, as I am a mechanical engineer and a graduate of the Technical University of Munich (TUM). It has always been important to me to use technologies, know-how and strategies to improve people's lives.

Miki Yokoyama: My name is Miki Yokoyama and I am COO of RESPOND and COO of TechFounders at UnternehmerTUM, Europe’s leading center for innovation and business creation. 


Miki Yokoyama. Photo credit: Erol Gurian

As a startup enthusiast and former management consultant, I have several years of experience in the areas of corporate and sustainability strategy, business transformation, project management, startup scouting and acceleration as well as sustainable investing.

Tell us about RESPOND, what sets it apart?

Heba Aguib: RESPOND is a BMW Foundation accelerator program, operated by UnternehmerTUM, which aims to accelerate startups and empower leaders to take their business to the next level. Our mission is to build a fairer and more sustainable future by inspiring, activating and empowering responsible tech entrepreneurs who contribute to the UN´s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

What sets us apart from other accelerator programs is our holistic approach and that everything hinges around responsible leadership. We offer founders the right balance of superb coaching, hands-on training and mentoring in the areas of business, technology, impact and leadership. Our greatest assets are the global networks of both organizations and the top-tier partners from tech and business.

In addition, we do not take any fees or equity from participating startups. It might also be interesting for applicants that the BMW Foundation publishes a study on "Technology for Good" in which founders have the opportunity to participate in return for a financial compensation of up to EUR 15,000.

What was the motivation for creating this accelerator program?

Heba Aguib: Technology and impact –  i.e. positive social impact in the sense of the United Nations' Agenda 2030  – are far too rarely thought of in the same context. Yet, there are many approaches and solution-oriented innovations around the world that help reconcile economy, society and the environment. 

"Tech for Good" is thus a response from the economy and technology sector to the ever more rapidly growing global challenges. Innovations with this focus are not only an absolute necessity in the core business of a company in order to facilitate the change towards a sustainable world. They are now also an absolute necessity for economic success.

With RESPOND, we inspire and empower entrepreneurs who tackle the most pressing challenges of our time. We believe that startups have the energy, creativity and innovation to bring about positive change.

RESPOND is a collaboration between the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt and UnternehmerTUM. Can you tell us a little more about UnternehmerTUM’s work and role in the program?

Miki Yokoyama: As Europe’s leading center for innovation and business creation, UnternehmerTUM is a unique platform for developing innovations. We actively identify innovative technologies and initiate new business through the systematic networking of talents, technologies, capital and customers. With more than 50 high-growth tech startups arising from our ecosystem each year, UnternehmerTUM has vast experience in supporting startups to scale globally. 

We are happy to partner with the BMW Foundation in working towards a more sustainable and responsible economy. We support RESPOND with our expertise in startup acceleration and our large international network of entrepreneurs, corporates and investors. 

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges that impact businesses face when it comes to scaling, both in Germany and beyond? 

Miki Yokoyama: While today more and more founders strive to make an impact on the world, they are facing unique challenges when building and scaling their impact startup. To develop a scalable business and impact model can be difficult – especially when lacking business and tech experience. Also, competing with traditional startups that are focused primarily on growth or acquisition can be particularly challenging when trying to attract funding. In the long run, impact businesses face the difficulty of ensuring a long-term balance between profit and purpose to avoid mission drift.

RESPOND supports founders and startups to overcome these challenges by bringing together important stakeholders of the tech entrepreneurship and social impact world. We help participating startups to expand their business and tech expertise, connect them with a wider base of investors, and jointly set the right balance for the future. 

RESPOND focuses on three SDGs – Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Sustainable Cities and Communities – why these three? Will you focus on others in the future?

Heba Aguib: Through its broad initiatives, the BMW Foundation aims to advance the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. Guided by the concepts of governance, innovation and cross-sector partnerships, the Foundation particularly focuses on six of the seventeen SDGs – Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Reduced Inequalities; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and Partnerships for the Goals. 

For the first cohort of RESPOND, we selected three of these six Sustainable Development Goals where we thought tech entrepreneurs can have the largest impact. However, all seventeen SDGs build the framework of our activities and we plan to select different ones for each cohort of RESPOND. 

One of the key aspects of the program is mentoring, can you tell us a little about who the mentors will be and how people will be matched? 

Heba Aguib: We believe that strong networks are key to the success of our accelerator program to support entrepreneurs on their journey towards a more sustainable and just future. 

We collaborate with successful founders, leading industry experts, renowned investors and selected members of the BMW Foundation’s Responsible Leaders Network as mentors to offer our startups the right insight at the right time. These mentors work on an on-demand basis with the founders and support them in scaling their impact and business.  

There will also be a RESPOND demo night, what will happen there?

Miki Yokoyama: The RESPOND demo night is the final pitch event for our startups. They will have the opportunity to present their business to more than 250 investors, industry and government representatives and the press. With the program coming to a close, the demo night will also be a chance to celebrate the success of “our” startups!

Who should apply? What kind of businesses are you looking for?

Miki Yokoyama: We aim to support founders and startups who develop innovative solutions to the most pressing economic and social challenges of our time. Guided by the UN´s 2030 Agenda, RESPOND is specifically looking for startups with a positive mission that aligns with at least one of three selected Sustainable Development Goals. 


Furthermore, startups should have a scalable business and impact model as well as strive to balance profit and purpose. As we believe that technological innovation is an enabler of change, we particularly aim to support startups that leverage cutting-edge technology to generate profit and achieve positive impact. Last but not least, we are looking for early-stage and seed ventures with a functional prototype and – ideally – some first traction in the market. 

What insider advice do you have for those who are planning to apply? 

Miki Yokoyama: We are looking for authentic, humble and visionary founders to join RESPOND! In your application, you should tell us about your product or service, your impact, your traction and – most importantly – your motivation and vision! You should have a solid pitch deck at hand and convince us that you are a great fit for our accelerator program. 

Any other last thoughts or comments that you’d like to add? 

Heba Aguib: Take the opportunity and apply for RESPOND at respond-accelerator.com – applications are open until March 1, 2020!

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