HHLA Next invests in digital innovation

HHLA Next invests in digital innovation

HHLA Next is looking for future solutions for customers and users for secure climate-neutral transportation of goods worldwide.

HHLA Next was founded as an innovation and venture- building entity with a focus on digitalization and sustainability in maritime logistics. The aim clearly stated by Business Manager Simone Lode is: “To develop successful products and business models from ideas. Either in the form of in-house developments or through investing in innovative companies.”

Technological development and innovative business models will be monitored using specific criteria to enable early evaluation. At the same time HHLA Next will create an environment in which specific, market-ready ideas can be developed sustainably. “We are looking, on the one hand for companies that fit to HHLA and where we can invest, on the other hand, we are ourselves founding companies. Explains Simone Lode, adding: „We have a team that is continually checking market trends and new technologies and looking worldwide for interesting companies. We have a database where we sort these companies into various segments, strategic innovation fields, opportunity spaces, and concrete application scenarios. For example, along the supply chain to driverless vehicles or autonomous handling. We are continually monitoring the companies in our database, watching for the right moment to make contact and kick-start investment.”

The decision on what form our involvement in the companies could take is taken case by case. Basically HHLA Next has decided to accompany companies in a growth phase with the flexibility and high-reactivity necessary. As an umbrella company we have the necessary framework, structure and processes ready.

Early support with as little risk as possible: Funds

In order to invest in start-ups in their early phase HHLA Next uses funds such as Motion Ventures. Through these funds we invest in companies that have not been in the market for long, exposing them to a higher risk of failure. Fund investments offer opportunities, at limited risk of loss, due to the large portfolio in the fund the risk of loss is considerably lower as a direct investment would be. An example of an investment with Motion Venture is Harbour Lab, a Greek company, which fits perfectly with the criteria we use for investment decisions. Harbour Lab is in maritime logistics, relying on digitalization, and as a platform interlinks various players in maritime logistics and addresses customer problems directly, acting as an interface between shipping companies and the Port Authority.

The core concept of such investments, through the interplay of industrial expertise and project and venture building expertise successful ventures should be created. In addition the offer of accompanying services e.g. finance and controlling, strategic support, marketing and communication for the companies.

Even if funds, present promising investment alternatives especially to start-ups, the focus is not only on the young companies, says Simone Loder: “We concentrate not only on start-ups, but with innovation, and mature companies that have been in business longer.” Selection is made in line with established criteria and in various stages.

Start-up - Portraits

Two start-ups that have successfully made the step into the market are Sky and Modility.


Modility describes itself as the ‘booking.com’ for intermodal transport, a platform bringing together supply and demand for intermodal transport. The aim is to give companies access to CO2 friendly transportation as easily as possible and to make sure that the European rail infrastructure is used more effectively.

Modility is a spin-off from HHLA Next’s portfolio. The eight strong team combines agility and the innovative thinking of a tech start-up with the advantages of a parent company, HHLA – Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG, and has an extensive network of expertise and experience available to draw on. Even before modility could celebrate its first birthday in March 2022, last December it was awarded the Deutschen Exzellenz-Preis – German prize for excellence in the categories, strategy, transformation and new work.


HHLA Sky is also a spin-off from the parent company HHLA, it is wholly dedicated to air space, concentrating on drone technology. Behind the idea was an innovative idea, to face the challenge of controlling drone fleets centrally and simultaneously in various work locations worldwide. HHLA Sky developed a platform which covers the complete process from planning, through preparation, the actual flight and data supply. In the meantime the start-up has a whole system for controlling and operating and has built up a fleet of autonomous industrial drones.

With the first scalable drone control centre, more than 100 drones can be managed at the same time and remotely controlled: HHLA Sky has won the German innovation prize.

Observe and recognize innovation

„We have looked at over 2000 companies, 700 of the have made it into our database. But the perfect fit is not so easy to find. First of all it must naturally fit into the HHLA strategy. This means contribute to digitalization and sustainability. We have a strong focus on innovation at HHLA. Accordingly it must by definition be a new kind of business,” explained Simone Loder.

How much market experience do they already have? How many customers are already on board? Has it reached appropriate turnover and achieved good results? And how many financing rounds has this company behind it already? These questions form the basis for Simone Loder and her team’s selection criteria. At the same time it is always the question of an attractive promise of growth in the strategic long-term partnership for both sides.

As far as strategy goes, a top priority for investment decision-making above all is one point, the inevitable HHLA basic company strategy: earnings. HHLA Next’s task is to develop new strategic business segments for HHLA – and bind to it long-term realization of profit-making. A company is only of interest when it serves a market segment that will have a high growth rate in the future. At the same time, in line with further criteria, the company should not only profit from capital but also from market access through HHLA: above all industrial expertise and customer access is meant here.

„We looked at
over 2000 companies
and 700 of them
made it into
our database“

Simone Lode, Managing Director HHLA Next

Hard facts versus soft skills

“Along with the founders themselves, the company team is most important. Investment is made foremost in the team, the founders, the key staff. Then comes the business idea and all further criteria. This means, everyone one is passionate about what they are doing, shows high professionalism, know what they are talking about, and ultimately satisfy the customers. This is, of course shown by market penetration and customer acquisition,” explained Simone Lode.

This is why a table of criteria is not enough. Part of HHLA Next philosophy and of every selection process is to get to know the founders and the team in personal discussions.

Only when hard facts and soft skills have been checked, is it time for an investment decision. “When we have ticked off all the boxes, then we can move onto the in-depth evaluation, the due diligence. We screen all important sectors of the company very precisely: commercial, financial, and technical and then legal and fiscal sides, too. We check every part of the company thoroughly. When there are no reasons not to invest, we hopefully come to a positive investment decision.”

On the road in Europe, at home in Hamburg

Geographically HHLA is open: Hamburg is establishing itself more and more as an attractive location for start-ups – many of them with a maritime focus. Digital Hub Logistics Hamburg is a close partner of HHLA Next and provides the opportunity for start-ups to become more well-known and to build up a network. This is important as the strategy behind HHLA Next is to support the international market alongside the local one. “To improve contact to start-ups, to further our deal flow. Not only on the international stage but also of course here in Hamburg. We come from here and we are at home here,” stressed Simone Lode.

Over and above supporting existing businesses, the HHLA subsidiary has achieved a whole portfolio of successful companies established in the market offering innovative solutions for air, sea and rail. A very new project still on the starting blocks is heyport. “In the near future heyport will be in the market as an independent entity providing a platform for coordinating everything to do with a port call. That means heyport will support coordination and communication for ship calls in ports worldwide, making it attractive for terminal operators, as well as shipping companies,” explained Simone Lode.