Leg-up for Digital Help for Start-ups

Germany’s 12 digital hubs have continued to offer valuable resources to fledgling businesses during the pandemic. Workshops and networking events now take place as video conferences, offering foreign firms a unique opportunity to take part remotely.

February 2021

As any savvy tech entrepreneur knows, there is always opportunity in any period of disruption – after all, Uber, Airbnb and Slack were all founded in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. A German example is Dashbike, a start-up from Leipzig that is developing an app to help the growing numbers of cyclists on urban streets plan the safest and best routes through town.

Dashbike began as a pet project by two cyclists who “wanted to make biking safer,” but they needed help to move beyond the hobby stage. Enter the Dresden/Leipzig digital hub, which focuses on urban mobility. It mediated contact between Dashbike and the relevant Leipzig authorities. The start-up is now working together with the city to map out the cycling infrastructure. Founder Leila König hopes this will be the first step toward expansion throughout Germany.

In ordinary times, this intense phase of business development would have involved a lot of face-to-face meetings, but Dashbike and the local hub worked together in 2020 using virtual conferences.

Networking in a changed world

The Digital Hub Initiative is funded by Germany’s Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and describes its mission as “networking small and medium-sized enterprises and corporates with innovative partners from science and the start-up scene.” The 12 hubs are spread out from Hamburg to Munich and focus on everything from logistics and insurtech to cybersecurity and the Internet of Things (IoT).

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the pandemic, there are still plenty of young entrepreneurs eager to set up business. The database Startupdetector reported as many as 60 new companies being registered every week in mid-2020, with the most popular sectors being software, e-commerce, medical services and food. The pandemic has clearly not stopped innovation.

The Bottom Line

Germany’s Digital Hub Initiative has adapted to the current health requirements and continues to assist a large number of international start-ups looking to enter the Germany market.

A growing audience

That trend applies to the digital hubs themselves, which have moved most of their activities online. One example is the Start-Up Games sessions, in which ten start-ups nominated by various hubs pitch to an expert jury and an online audience in a live-streamed event.

“We are now meeting people for short video conferences, who might never have had time for an appointment with us in real life,” König explains. “And you usually know within ten minutes or so if it’s a good fit. If it’s not a good match, then it doesn’t matter, because neither of us wasted our time.”

“It’s now normal to meet everyone from clients and job applicants to potential investors online,” concurs Tobias Bäumler, the founder of Vitas, an artificial-intelligence-driven, voice-recognition customer service assistant, which is affiliated with the hub in Nuremberg.

Virtual help for foreign start-ups

Online formats mean a greater number of foreign entrepreneurs and young companies can now attend and benefit from the hubs’ training and networking events.

“In the three years since it was established, the Digital Hub Initiative has proven an invaluable and unique resource for fledgling companies with great ideas,” says GTAI Trend & Innovation Scouting director Stefanie Burgdorff. “They’re a fantastic tool to help start-ups from abroad find the suppliers, workforces, partners and potential customers they need in their new home. Once foreign start-ups and investors connect with a hub, they benefit from the whole network and its services and the remote programs,” she adds. “Becoming part of the Digital Hub Initiative means becoming part of the German ecosystem.”

If you’re an innovative new tech business with an interest in entering the German market, the best place to start is the Digital Hub Initiative’s website, www.de-hub.de, which lists all events and start-ups associated with the network.

A Handful of Digital Hubs

Germany’s 12 digital ecosystems were set up under the Digital Hub Initiative to connect SMEs and larger corporations with innovative digital partners from the scientific and start-up communities. Some examples:

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