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AI start-ups win in Merc innovation challenge

November 20th, 2017
Three artificial intelligence start-ups were the winners of the Mercedes-Benz South Africa Innovation Challenge.
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Nine finalists presented their innovative ideas at a final selection event in the MBSA East London plant – the culmination of a unique partnership between MBSA, the LaunchLab and STARTUP AUTOBAHN that kicked off at the end of August this year.

The two winners in the manufacturing category were DataProphet, a group of machine learning specialists which provides A.I./ML development through corporate partnerships with the aim of delivering bleeding-edge machine solutions, and Vizbility Insight, an artificial Intelligence company specialising in globally scaleable predictive and prescriptive risk management software.

The winner in the sales and marketing category was NumberBoost, a startup that builds machine learning and artificial intelligence applications.

DataProphet was the overall winner.

These category winners each receive R300 000 to pilot their idea for future use within MBSA. DataProphet will also travel to Europe next year to pitch the innovative idea in front of hundreds of automotive decision makers at a big STARTUP AUTOBAHN event in Germany.

“I am highly impressed with the innovative solutions that were displayed at the MBSA Innovation Challenge,” said Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars, Manufacturing and Supply Chain for Daimler AG, MBSA’s parent company. “South Africa has some serious talent. The presentations were absolutely awesome and provided real solutions to the tasks that we face as a company. I congratulate all start-ups that presented at this event.”

The Mercedes-Benz South Africa Innovation Challenge targeted two streams. It asked interested students and professionals (as a first stream) and existing startups (as a second stream) to pitch innovative ideas to revolutionise the automotive manufacturing and marketing and sales environment.

“From an MBSA perspective, this challenge is crucial in that it will assist us in increasing agility while developing internal capability that changes organisational culture and the way we work,” said Andreas Engling MBSA CEO and executive director for manufacturing. “Most importantly, these innovative ideas will allow us to respond to changes and adapt to new market challenges quicker. In this process, we can increase our productivity.”

Innovation has always been a key to success for the automotive sector. In a world where disruption reigns and new opportunities need to be seized, innovation will be even more important in future.

Anne Knierim, senior manager for technology management and research policy and head of STARTUP AUTOBAHN, Daimler AG, said: “STARTUP AUTOBAHN globally scouts startups and matches them to the right colleagues within Daimler. I am impressed about the passion and capabilities of the South African startups in the challenge and I am really excited about the results we will see during the next months.”

The challenge also aims to provide a gateway for existing startups to grow and sustain their businesses.

MBSA will extend the opportunity for the student stream into 2018, to determine who will get the opportunity to be enrolled by the LaunchLab in its Lift-Off Programme for an initial three-month period. The Lift-Off Programme will be facilitated from the Nedbank Stellenbosch University LaunchLab, in Stellenbosch.

“This is what the LaunchLab is all about: facilitating valuable connections for startups and corporates for their mutual benefit,” said Philip Marais, CEO of the LaunchLab. “Through this Innovation Challenge, South African startups can have a global impact. Financial support from MBSA and support from high-profile representatives from Daimler and MBSA has really raised the profile of this event and helped to make it a great success. Well done to the winners.”

Ends.

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