Verena Fulde-Abs


5 years hub:raum: about the cooperation of a huge company and start-ups

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Happy birthday! hub:raum was founded in Berlin in May 2012. It is one of the oldest so-called incubators in Germany and Europe.

hub:raum’s open office space

hub:raum’s open office space

Deutsche Telekom funds new start-ups through hub:raum and actively supports the development of these young business ventures. More than 200 start-ups at sites in Berlin, Krakow and Tel Aviv have been supported, and direct investments were made in more than 20 of them. Many of them are quite well-known, such as Blinkist, flexperto, Contiamo and Reparando. hub:raum has a special focus on B2B when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), big data, smart home, the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics.

The start-ups receive four different kinds of assistance: investment, co-working space, mentoring and access to Deutsche Telekom and its experts. In Berlin and Krakow start-up events and internal Deutsche Telekom innovation events are held at regular intervals – these include hackathons and boot camps about AI, IoT and cyber security.

Since April hub:raum has been collaborating intensively with Partnering and Business Development at Deutsche Telekom. We spoke with Thomas Kicker, head of Partnering with responsibility for Deutsche Telekom's start-up activities, and with Axel Menneking, Managing Director of hub:raum Fund.

Today hub:raum is celebrating its fifth anniversary. What has happened since 2012? 

Axel Menneking: A lot has happened since then. Back then it was already quite clear to us how important close contact and collaboration with young start-ups really is. Since then we have followed a steep learning curve: We began as an independent start-up program based on an accelerator approach, and today we are an incubator focused on strategic innovations at Deutsche Telekom as we work closely with the business units on programs over several months at a time. 

Thomas Kicker: Of course, it takes some time before young start-ups can produce measurable results with success. But I think the colleagues have done a really great job: For example, they had the intuition to make the right investments and have made profits from the sale of shares in many of our initial start-up ventures. And they have been successful in selecting the right innovators: Blinkist and Vigour have been very successful in the USA and attracted many investors there. The colleagues from the Customer Touch Points unit are collaborating with Contiamo on their marketing analytics solution. Together with Reparando, our youngest and most recent start-up partner, we are working on new offerings in the areas After-Sales Service and Technical Service.

What's more, hub:raum has also been a winner when it comes to new technical developments for Deutsche Telekom. Prototyping programs for Narroband (NB)-IoT are just one example. Or look at our specialist boot camps – the one covering AI recently attracted 12 international start-ups and some 100 investors, partners and Deutsche Telekom experts.

How does hub:raum stand out in a world where there is growing competition to win over start-ups? And how can Deutsche Telekom profit in this segment?

Axel Menneking: The unique thing about hub:raum is the combination of professional seed investment and access to Deutsche Telekom. It's a genuine win-win situation for both sides: We gain early access to new technologies and business models, and the start-ups benefit from having a strong strategic partner and access to customers and our know-how. Especially when it comes to emerging market segments like NB-IoT or AI, where there are still no established standard applications, we can benefit enormously from collaborations involving start-ups and our own innovation activities – both sides profit and results are achieved much faster.

In the future hub:raum and Partnering will be intensifying their collaboration. What benefits can be expected from that? 

Thomas Kicker: The coordination and interaction of Partnering and hub:raum activities will be much better. Both Partnering and hub:raum will scan the market together in search of many new start-ups. Together we will gain even more insights into trends and teams so that we can optimize our support of start-ups and decide how we can leverage our strengths to best advantage. This applies to both the partnering model and the incubator model. We have already launched a successful model in Israel and want to do the same in Europe and the USA. I work in Silicon Valley, where we can identify trends at an early stage, and we can use that to our advantage when searching for strong teams in Germany and Europe.

Axel Menneking: Partnering can benefit from the prototyping and open innovation formats at hub:raum, such as a hackathon with young developers and start-ups. The exploration approach taken at hub:raum and the commercial approach of Partnering are really ideal for each other.