The most interesting innovations don't always happen in Germany's so-called start-up capitals. For example, Wandelbot software was developed in Dresden: It allows users to program their new robots without having to learn how to write software, using only gloves and special sensors. It's the kind of thing that would really make it easier for smaller companies to automate because one of their biggest expenses is programming, explains Wandelbots founder Christian Piechnich.
Those are the kinds of mutually beneficial introductions that German Economics Minister Peter Altmaier wants to make with his new Digital Hub Initiative, a platform to better connect the country’s Mittelstand with burgeoning startups. More than a hundred new companies have been curated by Altmaier’s ministry for the platform, which will offer opportunities for companies to meet in 12 different locations.
"Cooperation between startups and established companies is one of the key elements in making Germany's economy fit for the future," Altmaier has explained. And they could use the help. According to a survey by consultancy Deloitte, only 22 percent of Germany's Mittelstand companies have experience working with startups.
“If we then find a start-up company with a good idea, it can help us," says Gunther Kegel, president of the Association of Electrical Engineering and head of Pepperl und Fuchs, a sensor technology specialist with 6,000 employees headquartered in Mannheim.
Talk to each other
Kegel hopes the platform will help him filter out the noise and allow start-ups relevant to him to get his attention. The Economics Ministry’s exchange may also help startups and established players learn from each other. Not all of the larger companies are slow moving because they want to be, he points out. Often it is because they have laws and rules to adhere to, and many more stake holders. It's possible that smaller, younger companies could learn from them too, he suggests.
Larger firms “sometimes take a very long time to make decisions,” says Ersan Günes, founder of Quantitec in the town of Hofheim near Frankfurt. His products help logistics companies keep track of their vehicles. “This takes time that a young company doesn't have, especially since investors often want to see quick results," says Günes. In addition, he notes, there is often a lack of willingness to pay appropriately for the services of the newcomers.
The platform may help to bridge not only innovation gaps, but also differences in perspective and acceptance.
Miriam Schröder covers startups from Berlin. To contact the author: [email protected]