Start-up meets corporate – an interview discussing the successful collaboration between Userlane and B. Braun

You could say that Alexander Katzung and Hartmut Hahn met by chance – and you’d be right, but it was in an organised setting. And it’s this idea that underpins the networking activities of High-Tech Gründerfonds when it brings together fund investors and portfolio companies. The portfolio company in this instance is Userlane, which offers software that explains other software to users as part of a step-by-step process that is easy to understand. HTGF invested in the company in 2016, and then a further financing round followed in 2018 in the form of a Series A investment. And so it came to pass that founder and CEO Hartmut Hahn met Alexander Katzung, Vice President Acceleration & Innovation at medical technology company B. Braun, at a HTGF event.

We sat down with Alexander Katzung and Hartmut Hahn for an interview exploring their collaboration, the role that currywurst played when they first met, and how Userlane became a part of B. Braun’s accelerator.

Alexander, how did you come across Userlane? Hartmut and his team are not exactly active in the traditional medical technology field with their start-up Userlane.

Alexander: You’re right. We met at HTGF. B. Braun is a fund investor, and we have a regular seat and a vote on the investment committee focusing on the life sciences and chemicals – as you’d expect for a medical technology company like ours. But we can also take part in other investment committees as a guest participant, and here, the wide-ranging scope offered by HTGF is a major advantage. Take digital tech, for instance. It was there, in 2018, that I met Hartmut, a man brimming with confidence who made a convincing impression.

Can you tell us what was going on at that time, Hartmut?

Hartmut: The next financing round, our Series A, lay ahead. And as part of that we obviously gave a presentation at HTGF, which had already invested in our company as a seed investor. We were really confident during the committee meeting, Alexander’s right. We had already received a commitment from an additional investor. At Userlane, we help large companies simplify workflows and digital processes. Our technology is like a navigation system for the various software solutions used by companies. Alexander found our technology interesting, it would seem. During a break we ended up chatting and then we kept meeting up in the months that followed. And sometimes it was over a beer and a currywurst, like at the HTGF Family Day.

Alexander: You’re right, our intermittent meetings were very important. That’s why I’m looking forward to events like the Family Day taking place in the real world again. Digital formats are fine, of course, but personal interactions, sitting down together – that’s all an essential part of establishing contacts and getting to know people better. The Family Day is a fantastic event for that.

How did you end up doing business together?

Alexander: One of my tasks is to give B. Braun access to external innovations. That’s why I take topics from the investment committee [or from the deal flow] with me into my organisation. After our meeting, I presented the Userlane solution to my company.

What are the benefits that Userlane offers your company?

Alexander: It’s a very good training tool, both internally and externally. It saves time and simplifies the process of onboarding new users. But it also helps when it comes to software that some people only rarely use. A simple example would be submitting travel expense claims – some people may be familiar with the process. If it’s something you only do every few months – or you now need to travel again after the pandemic – you may well have forgotten how to use the tool to submit said claims. And in that scenario, the Userlane solution, which guides users through the process, is very helpful.

That said, it still did take a while before you two actually started working together.

Hartmut: Around a year later, in 2019, Alexander approached me because B. Braun had launched an accelerator. He told us: Although you’re not active in medical technology, you might still be of interest to us.

So why did it take so long?

Alexander: We had been looking at Userlane internally and had presented the start-up to the operational units. The interest was there, but we weren’t able to pursue the idea consistently in our daily business. An important lesson for us was that B. Braun first had to establish internal processes for working with start-ups and testing their solutions. That’s why we created the B. Braun Accelerator.

Can you tell us how your accelerator works?

Alexander: We developed two programmes: A conventional accelerator programme for early-stage start-ups, and a collaboration programme for later-stage start-ups. With the collaboration programme we’re looking less for an investment opportunity but more for a supplier of innovation and innovative solutions. And the product also has to have reached an appropriate level of maturity. At the start we focused on solutions that help to improve processes in areas such as HR, logistics and finance. And on top of that, the collaboration programme enables us to not only discuss technologies and new business models in theory, but to also test them in practice as part of pilot projects. That gives us the insights we need to make further decisions. Userlane was a great fit in that respect.

Hartmut, why did you decide to sign up?

Hartmut: As the founder of a start-up, I’m obviously interested in sales, and I thought the programme presented a good opportunity to gain B. Braun as a new customer. And I was also impressed by the concept of the accelerator, which pilots innovative solutions as part of a “fast-track” process and then makes them available for B. Braun to leverage.

So what does your collaboration entail?

Hartmut: As a general rule, there are two use cases for Userlane – and we tested them both during the pilot project. On the one hand, our software works for internal processes such as CRM or HR software, while on the other, we can also help B. Braun customers. For instance, whereas previously customers often had to undergo on-site training for a digital supply and procurement process, this is now completely covered and explained by our software.

Alexander: The Solution has proven very successful and our collaboration went so well that we’re now working together on a permanent basis following the pilot project.

So that means your accelerator has clearly been a success, Alexander. What’s next on the agenda – will you be getting another HTGF start-up on board?

Alexander: In the next round, the accelerator will focus on efficient and sustainable technologies. We defined our challenges internally, and then took a look at a lot of start-ups around the globe during the scouting process in a bid to find partners for our new collaboration programme. And as a fund investor, we’re of course also keeping our eye on HTGF’s portfolio companies [and the deal flow] – that’s a major advantage. And yes, we’re taking on board another HTGF portfolio company in the form of Panda GmbH. Panda really stood out throughout the entire selection process and we’re looking forward to working with them!