Cleantech companies and startups have many opportunities for support in Berlin

Accelerating Towards A Cleaner Future

New technology has to be clean to provide long term solutions. Smart cities are sustainable. Berlin encourages companies providing services or products that reduce harm to the environment, use resources responsibly, and decrease waste.

Berlin as Europe's startup capital offers comprehensive support to young companies. Berlin is also consistently striving to develop as a smart city. A large number of accelerators support entrepreneurs with a green conscience by focusing on cleantech, providing special programs and backing for companies creating innovations that have a positive impact on the environment and the climate. 

Here’s a brief summary of the most important accelerators with a cleantech focus.

EIT Climate-KIC

Financial backing and no equity taken! A dream for any early-stage startup. If you have an idea that tackles a climate problem, try to convince the EU initiative EIT Climate-KIC Accelerator. KIC stands for Knowledge and Innovation Community.

EIT Climate-KIC is the main EU startup acceleration program in which climate impact is combined with commercial viability. This cleantech program has the usual three stages – business model, traction, investment readiness – and brings you knowledge, resources, tools, coaching and mentoring, and access to events, potential partners or investors. Everything a cleantech start-up needs for success. 

Startups attend a Bootcamp, Demo Day, Investors Dinner and Master Class events that take place throughout the program. Other notable events include the national and European Venture Competition and the annual EIT Climate-KIC Innovation Festival.

How do you get into this accelerator? With your breakthrough idea which has a substantial impact on climate change. 

EIT Climate-KIC Germany promotes six core partners and 17 affiliate partners in promoting cross-sector climate innovations. It is based in the heart of Berlin on the EUREF-Campus, a historic industrial site which has been turned into an innovation campus for a low carbon future.

Innogy Innovation Hub

Innogy is an electricity and gas company, a subsidiary of the German energy concern E.ON. Its Innovation Hub is headquartered in Berlin, with teams across Europe and offices in Tel Aviv and Silicon Valley. The hub provides startups as well as investors international support, expertise and connections to help companies scale faster. 

The program provides promising startups with capital. The focus is on four loosely defined areas: 

Machine Economy – Innogy believes that trading and invoicing energy transactions needs to take place automatically through machine-to-machine interaction. So they are looking to technologies such as blockchain or Web 3 (internet based on decentralized networks) that will help form this fully automated real-time infrastructure. New business models and cross industry collaboration ideas welcome.

Under the heading Smart and Connected, Innogy is looking for viable ideas concerning how buildings will integrate interconnected devices, analytics and digital services to automate energy supply and monitor consumption. Don’t think that just your fridge will be smart – the whole block will be!

In Disruptive Digital, Innogy is looking for digital technologies that could disrupt existing value chains in the energy market, since it appears clear that humans will require more and more energy in the future, and it all has to get from the supplier to the consumer. 

The final area, Cyber Ventures, concerns security. The increasing complexity of all this connectivity in a digitised energy system will create new threats and security risks, so cyber security will be a critical part of the overall infrastructure and system. 

If you want to develop your company under the auspices of a big energy concern, check out

Veolia UStart

Your startup has something to do with water, waste, or energy? Then you’ll have heard of Veolia, the French transnational utilities company. 

Utilities are more than those two useful cards in a Monopoly game. If your business idea has anything to do with city gas, electricity, heat, or water networks or the development of future city infrastructures and grids, this program could be for you. Think IoT, LoRaWAN (low-power wide-area network for managing communication), local digital networks such as fibre optics, public WLAN, charging infrastructure for e-mobility, energy storing systems, or cooling networks and systems.

UStart is not just an accelerator. Veolia wants to foster long-term cooperation with innovative startups that develop new digital solutions and business models for municipal energy grids and infrastructures.  

Veolia is looking for entrepreneurs, innovators and early stage companies that have a viable business idea. Entrepreneurs should be working full-time on their venture. Participating companies must relocate key staff to the Veolia office in Berlin for the program’s duration. Funding of up to 100,000 € and all the usual benefits await.


SmartHectar is more than an accelerator. It is a Berlin based company that manages formats comprising hubs, innovation challenges, startup scoutings and matchmaking designed to promote collaboration between entrepreneurs and corporates. The idea is that corporates capture the innovative potential of startups with the aim of creating sustainable businesses in emerging rather than domestic markets. The sector SmartHectar operates in is Agrifood and agtech as well as water. Particularly interesting about them is that their expertise is truly global, for instance giving startups from emerging economies opportunities to hook up with major European or American companies. 

SmartHectar doesn’t do all this alone. They work closely with the registered non-profit organisation enpact, also headquartered in Berlin, which cultivates startup ecosystems in order to promote international development cooperation, hoping to create economic and social prosperity for societies in emerging and developing countries. 

Under the banner of enablement, SmartHectar has projects running in Latin America, in the west African countries Ghana and Nigeria, and Thailand and Indonesia in south-east Asia. These are designed to create new jobs as well as investment opportunities. 

Agriculture, livestock, aquaculture – these might not immediately seem like your sectors of operation. However, the problems in these sectors can be specific, like temperature monitoring or algae removal, or general, such as smart factory robotics or supply chain management. So consider if your business might not have applications that could be of interest to SmartHectar.

Vattenfall green:field

If there is one thing all startups lack initially it’s resources. Vattenfall’s motto is “Let´s do business. Together.” In their program green:field they act as strategic partner. So if your strategy aligns with that of the Swedish multinational energy company, have a look at green:field. 

Green:field is not a venture capital fund. Its purpose is to give innovative founders in Europe as well as Vattenfall staff with a good idea support in realising and scaling a business. Should your idea or technology fit, Vattenfall will provide the expertise and resources to make a successful business model out of it in a power market that is currently experiencing massive digital transformation.

Research into wind turbine rotor blades at the Technical University Berlin
The perfect blade – rotor blades being optimised in a wind tunnel at the Technical University of Berlin – © Monique Wuestenhagen

As the name suggests, green:field focuses on renewable energy. Vattenfall recognises the need for strong concepts in this field as well as innovation and the willingness to experiment. Their two ways of acquiring all this are partnerships with young companies and co-creation, meaning joint ventures. Dynamic, agile and creative – these are the qualities that Vattenfall is looking for, even in early stage startups, pre-MVP or first paying customer. Growth and commitment to KPIs (key performance indicators) is expected of them. 

The fields are pretty specific: floating solar (solar panels on lakes or the ocean), smart thermostat and private heating management, hydrogen production for renewable energy, oil for heating, and robotics for operations and maintenance. Vattenfall will finance pilot projects in these areas, maybe becoming your first paying customer, which could be a more attractive proposition than investment.

DB Mindbox

DB StartupXpress

Love trains? The German railway Deutsche Bahn (DB) is a huge private stock company that belongs to the German state and is the largest railway operator in Europe, owning most of its infrastructure. DB faces many challenges, among them maintaining and operating stations, the rail network itself, power supply management, logistics, and mobility in general. Hence DB is willing to test new technologies and business models in all these areas, and has set up “DB mindbox” for the purpose. One of the programs mindbox runs is StartupXpress.

Of course, a corporation the size of DB is interested in a whole host of different areas, so see if your business idea touches on any of these subjects: engineering-based concepts such as predictive maintenance, energy management, wayside and track monitoring, material supervision, technical risk analysis; business-related concepts such as passenger services, cargo services, logistics in general, communications (even AR and VR), supply chain, robotics, ticketing, human machine interface, navigation, shopping, entertainment, data-based services; and digitalization concepts such as data visualization, live monitoring, schedule simulation, real time information, passenger flow, decision support, digital learning, workflow management, health management, document management, collaboration and communication, people analytics, blockchain, API, CRM, big data …

Anything there strike a chord? 

Like so many corporates, DB business units and departments are in a process of digital transition. To make that easier and harness the benefits of startups, DB offers funding, coaching, mentoring, as well as desks in their coworking spaces. Also of interest might be access to unique data sets the DB has. Presumably you get some free rail travel too.

Participants in the three month program in Berlin get 25k Euro and give away zero equity.


BIA is an independent agency and academy that develops entrepreneurial programs for corporates and startups. Future City is their pre-seed, equity-free startup incubator which supports entrepreneurs “challenging the status quo of urban life, logistics, economy, and government”. 

The relevant umbrella term here is Smart City. The aims of Future City are positive environmental impact, improved quality of life (for instance through urban mobility), and government efficiency (through GovTech). Also covered is property technology. 

It’s an eight-month program offering 1.500 Euro a month stipend and co-working space in the trendy Factory Berlin. Matches to big companies like Fujitsu or Mercedes Benz are possible. Berlin Partner, the people responsible for bringing you this website you’re currently reading, are partners with BIA. 

Future City is backed by the European Social Fund (ESF) and the State of Berlin.

A2 Accelerator

Wista is the company that runs the Adlershof technology park and is a 100% subsidiary of the State of Berlin. With A2, they have created an accelerator for ideas in the energy sector that yields connections to established companies as well as government organisations. Startups participating in the five month program receive coaching and workshops in all the usual subjects and present their results or pilot projects at a Demo Day.

Adlershof technology center for photonics
Adlershof photonics technology center – experts on for example photodetectors for solar panels – © Monique Wuestenhagen

There is reimbursement of up to 5,000 Euros for project costs and no equity taken, and better yet you get free coworking space at Im.Puls in Adlershof. The A² programs focus on specific industries, the last being Smart Cities. Keep your eye open for the next one.

Text: Olaf Bryan Wielk, ideenmanufaktur
Header image: © Shutterstock

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