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Landing Pad for Start-ups

Building bridges between worlds

Between Wolfsburg and Berlin lie 200 kilometers of countryside. And the Ideation:Hub. The aim of the 15-strong team is to bring together the world of the Volkswagen Group and the biotope of high-tech start-ups and young companies. During the CUBE Tech Fair held at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds, we took a look over the shoulders of the makers of the Ideation:Hub as they built bridges between these worlds.

We create connections from the outside to the inside and from the inside to the outside.

"Yes, you could call us matchmakers," says Felix Scharf, rejecting someone's call on his cell phone, "but I use that term reluctantly." A short handshake for a visitor to the Ideation:Hub booth, a brief "see you later", and back to the conversation. Shouldn't it be exactly the task of the Ideation:Hub —  bringing start-ups and young entrepreneurs and the world of an international company together?

Yes, of course, says Scharf, who works at the Volkswagen Ideation:Hub as a Business Innovation Manager. But matchmaking sounds a bit like a tying the knot, and that's not what it's about: "We do not conduct M&A transactions. We create connections from the outside to the inside and from the inside to the outside. Rather like a semi-permeable membrane in biology." To explain: each cell in the body is surrounded by such a membrane, which lets some substances into the cell interior and some of them out of the cell. "We're not here to swallow someone up. The start-ups should perceive us as being relevant— not as a big corporation, which is pushing itself into their scene, but as part of the community."

Start-up landing pad

Of course, the Volkswagen Group is always present for all participants. But that's how it should be says Scharf: "We have a dual function: to bring external innovators closer to the Group, such as start-ups, universities and companies, regardless of whether this is in the form of projects or collaborations — it's simply a start-up landing pad. And inside, we are involved in project work that fosters openings to the outside."

Scharf is clearly at ease in his role as a membrane of the Volkswagen Group "cell". Right behind him, a kind of speed dating is taking place: Each start-up representative has a few minutes to chat with a Volkswagen employee, and then the chairs move and it's on to the next one. On the left behind Scharf stand the booths of six start-ups that the Volkswagen Group took with it to this "Cube Tech Fair" — a trade fair co-developed by the Ideation:Hub in Berlin thats brings together young companies from all high-tech sectors and established corporations. "Each of these six companies is involved in at least one project with us, but none of them works exclusively with us," says Scharf.

Each of these six companies is involved in at least one project with us, but none of them works exclusively with us.

Ubitricity

Such as Ubitricity. Founded in Berlin in 2008, the company is present at the Cube Tech Fair with a green e-Golf, which is charged up at a street lamp. The company offers a kind of roaming service for electricity, explains Ubitricity founder Knut Hechtfischer: "We integrate the electricity meter into the car or charging cable — if you charge your car on the go, you always take your own tariff with you."

This means that not only automotive companies are among the cooperation partners of the 40-strong, already quite large start-up, but also energy and telecommunication companies.

Or predict.io: The young company, specializing in big data and also based in Berlin, is developing a technology to collect and convert all sensor data gathered by cars and smartphones into projections. "Take the example of finding a parking spot", says Business Development Manager Christian Schneider: "Up to now, your system has only notified you of a free parking space when it is actually free — and then it is often too late. But the smartphone can already identify if its owner is getting into the car, and the car can recognize that the engine is being started in the parked car. So the free parking space could be announced a few seconds before it actually becomes free."

Theoretically, a Volkswagen or Audi driver could therefore find a parking spot faster than the driver of a competing product. In practice, however, the technology will probably be used by cities to improve traffic flow for everyone. A first pilot project has already been carried out in Copenhagen. At the Cube Tech Fair, predict.io was awarded the Mobility Award by Ideation:Hub Manager Jennifer Geffers.

Nobody can solve the great problems of this world alone.

"Nobody can solve the great problems of this world alone," says bridge builder Felix Scharf. "Not even if you're as big as the Volkswagen Group. This is achieved only through partnering." For him, the opening up and exchange between inside and outside, big and small, is part of restructuring the economy in the digital age: "Previously, the alternative was always: make or buy. Today, it is a triad: make, team, or buy." And for teaming or partnering you have to bring the worlds together. "Hi-tech is always a human subject", says Scharf – and moves on to the next item on the agenda.