ZF Establishes Zukunft Ventures GmbH to Accelerate Innovation


  • Its mission is to invest in innovative start-ups and technology companies
  • Quickly gain access to promising and competitive technologies
  • Support strategic focus and expand the product portfolio

ZF has established a company to invest in technology companies. Zukunft Ventures GmbH, headquartered in Friedrichshafen, opened its doors for business in September 2016. The new company’s mission is to identify and invest in companies that are involved in developing technologies that could be relevant for ZF. For start-ups, in particular, this is a great opportunity to obtain additional investment capital. However, smaller, well-established companies can also benefit from a strong partner with ZF at their side. In return, ZF will have greater access to sustainable technologies that will keep it one step ahead of the competition.

“Zukunft Ventures GmbH will help us fill technological gaps faster and tap into new business segments,” says Dr. Stefan Sommer, CEO of ZF Friedrichshafen AG. ZF already offers all the technologies needed for autonomous driving in passenger cars and commercial vehicles. “To secure this position and build on it long-term, we need to access innovative technologies quickly,” adds Sommer. “Zukunft Ventures are a flexible and quick tool that enables companies to keep up the pace of innovation.”

Balanced approach

Investing in other companies has been a long-established practice of venture capital companies in this industry. Current investment models include minor investments from a limited capital stock– regardless of the investor’s core business– or strategic investments with exclusivity agreements or complete integration. With Zukunft Ventures GmbH, however, ZF is taking a different path. It intends to follow a balanced, flexible approach that is tailored to the specific investment. This involves, for example, larger investment amounts, providing as much support as possible to the investment partner with a strict focus on the market demands. This allows the technologies to have a maximum impact on the market and ensure rapid innovation for both partners.

That’s why ZF’s investment company does not have a fixed budget amount. “We can go higher if and when the opportunity arises,” adds Torsten Gollewski, managing director of Zukunft Ventures GmbH.  Since June 2016, Mr. Gollewski has headed up Advanced Engineering and Design at ZF Friedrichshafen AG and is responsible for the strategic expansion of ZF areas of expertise, which has been achieved, in part, through investments. Gollewski further says: “While we invest sensibly in line with our strategy, entrepreneurial responsibility remains with the respective companies as we do not want to withdraw them from the market.”

Zukunft Ventures has neither technological nor geographical restrictions. The company’s mission is to invest in significant future technologies that existing business units will innovate and further develop or that will accelerate disruptive processes. “We are therefore looking at companies worldwide, from Silicon Valley, the Asian region, Israel as well as Berlin and elsewhere in Europe,” explains Gollewski.

Investments in sensors and software

Just recently, ZF has invested in several technology companies, including a 40 percent share in Hamburg-based Ibeo. Together, ZF and Ibeo are developing a new generation of Lidar sensors. ZF also recently acquired a 40 percent share in the software company doubleSlash, which is already a strategic ZF supplier and will boost the company’s expertise in the field of vehicle networking. Such investments will now be handled by Zukunft Ventures.

With this new company, ZF is reinforcing its claim as an innovation leader and is expanding its comprehensive activities to drive innovation and identify disruptive technologies early on. Aside from the new company, these activities include a globally connected network of research and development organizations, M&A, comprehensive technology scouting in Corporate R&D, a think tank as well as various innovation labs.