Interview Of The Week

Interview Of The Week: Matthias Weissl

Matthias Weissl is co-founder and CEO of Verum Capital, a Zurich-based blockchain boutique which specializes in blockchain investment banking services, advising global banks and corporates on blockchain technology as well as blockchain business model structuring, building and implementing. For example, it helped Union Bank Liechtenstein AG to become the first fully licensed and regulated bank to issue a Security Token as well as a cross-border transaction platform fueled by a stable coin backed by fiat currency. Verum Capital is co-founding the Berlin School of Sustainable Futures together with Gerhard Blechinger, rector of the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences in Austria and member of the faculty of futur/io, a new education and research institute focused on exponential technologies and their potential in creating desirable futures. The aim of the Berlin School of Sustainable Futures (BSSF) is to tackle the challenges of sustainability and innovation by helping to connect academia and industry in order to build tangible solutions. Weissl, who is currently guest lecturing about blockchain technology at the MBA St. Gallen, one of the leading business schools in Switzerland, recently spoke to The Innovator about why it is important to strengthen ties between companies and academia.

Q: What is the idea behind the Berlin School of Sustainable Futures?

MW: We aim to gather some of the best companies in the world to contribute to a newly formed ecosystem in Berlin. The idea is to get industries directly involved in academia and for students to work on real-life use cases to gain exposure to the working world. Our vision is to create a new type of school focusing on sustainability and innovation that will provide Master’s degrees, MBA and Ph.D. degree programs as well as incubators and accelerators. This will ease the entire process of connections between students and industries. As an example, companies can pose problems to students and if they find the proposed solutions worth supporting, they can provide direct seed funding and invest into ideas. Moreover, part of our vision is to provide the best-performing students out of the university with incentives in the form of security tokens based on blockchain technology. This will ensure commitment of the alumni network and a sustainable model.

Q: Why do you believe there is a need for such a school in Europe?

MW: Having received my degree in the U.S., I know from experience that the best companies work with students while they are still in school. This allows students to build a relationship with corporates and understand what their problems are. Asia is light years ahead of Europe in that regard. An efficient connection between corporates and students seems to be missing in Europe. If we want to keep up with Asia, it is urgent that we connect these two worlds.

Q: How can corporates get involved in this new Berlin university?

MW : BSSF will focus on establishing a constant connection between students and industry, therefore creating a customized curriculum where corporates and industry partners can involve students in real use-cases. The students get exposure by presenting innovative solutions to concrete industry problems while gaining an in-depth practical and theoretical knowledge. Corporates will have early access to talent, new innovative ideas and will be working on tackling sustainability challenges.

Q : What are the requirements for companies who want to get involved?

MW : We will involve companies that wish to work closely together with students and to tackle the challenges posed by reaching Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) objectives. We will choose potential partners based on our core values: education, sustainability, research, and innovation.

Q : Does a company have to be German or European?

MW : No, we aim to partner with international companies and do not want to set geographical limitations. Industry leaders know that sustainability doesn’t stop at geographical borders. As an example, Asia is tackling countless innovation topics and exposure to these countries is essential to a network such as the BSSF for it to be truly impactful.

Q : Do corporates have to pay to play?

MW : Companies will participate via a small partnership fee to become a member of the BSSF ecosystem. Once enrolled they will have numerous opportunities, such as investing in the university as well as participating in the university incubator and start-up accelerator, to directly foster entrepreneurship. Their commitment to education can also involve hosting workshops and conferences to further educate the students on specific topics and engage in fruitful discussions and work on projects with them.

Q : How exactly will this work? Does a company pose a problem to students specializing in a particular area and then they all propose solutions and the corporates pick the ones they like best and then do a proof of concept (PoC) on campus?

MW : Companies will form a strong network around the university, together agreeing on the topics that are vital to their areas of business. Once these topics are determined, working groups will be formed within the university to gather participating students. This will allow for a structured approach in the relationship between the students and the corporates. As part of the BSSF incubator and accelerator, students together with industry professionals, will be able to create PoCs. The best PoCs can then benefit from the needed investment by the very companies that have actively been involved in their creation. Because everyone has been involved since the early stages of the project, a trusted relationship will be established, benefiting both the students and the companies.

Q : What sort of protections will be in place so that corporates don’t just steal all the best ideas from students without compensating them?

MW : The administration of the school will be run on the blockchain. All transactions, including use cases, solutions proposed by students, tuitions and the diplomas themselves, are planned to be on the blockchain, making everything verifiable and traceable. The university will encourage the creation of legal entities in the early stages of any projects connecting students and corporates, entitling each party to their respective rights.

Q : Who will own the IP that comes out of a collaboration between the university students and companies?

MW : IP ownership will be a part of each research contract involving companies, students and the university and will be negotiated individually. The best case will be to create a legal entity around an idea and let it grow with the help of the BSSF incubator.

Q : Is the goal to create joint venture spin-offs?

MW : Joint venture spin-offs are only one way to connect the two worlds. The goal is to give students the ability to work on real-life use cases while giving the industry the chance to connect with students early and encourage innovative thinking and young talent.

Q : What are the top reasons a corporate should connect with this new university?

MW : Market research has shown that young generations care a lot about sustainability. Not solving sustainability issues will eventually result in losing market share. Therefore, the main reason should be to solve ESG problems and remain competitive in a global market. Not only will corporates gain access to a large European research and development ecosystem, but the focus of the Berlin school on facilitating exchanges between companies and academia will allow efficient communication and collaborations. We aim to go beyond a mutual observation and occasional collaboration between industries and academia. As actors of the Berlin school, corporates will get a first-hand chance to invest in concrete solutions for sustainable futures and meet with the talent of tomorrow.

About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.