Smart Thinking

The eastern German cities of Leipzig and Dresden joined the country’s digital hub initiative in 2017 to focus on smart systems and smart infrastructure. After just one year, ­Saxony’s de:hub has attracted some impressive partners and is open to foreign investment.

June, 2018

The Digital Hub Initiative was launched in November 2016 by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) to promote digitization across key industries. Twelve interlinked digital hubs (“de:hubs”) were founded, each focusing on different areas of expertise according to the strengths of each region. Their broad aim is to promote cooperation among established companies, startups and local research and educational facilities, to further the development of innovations for the digital age. The underlying idea is that clusters will emerge and cross-fertilize with other industries within the hub.

In 2017, one of the digital hubs was awarded to the cities of Leipzig and Dresden in the eastern German state of Saxony. The partners have different but complementary emphases in smart systems (Dresden) and smart infrastructure (Leipzig) and will collaborate across the R&D value chain.

Leipzig – fashioning a smart future

Just one hour south of Berlin, the city of Leipzig is home to many well-known corporations, startups and research institutes in the fields of energy, eHealth and “smart cities.” It offers foreign companies and investors a perfect mix of excellent research facilities and a powerful business network made up of established companies and innovative startups.

The ultimate goal of the de:hub is to achieve digital transformation

Launched in 2017, the Leipzig Smart Infrastructure Hub is coordinated by the City of Leipzig in conjunction with SpinLab, a joint venture of the internationally-renowned Baumwollspinnerei (Cotton Mill) cultural center and the HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management. SpinLab mentors startups, helping them to find office space, technology partners and, crucially, financial support (a new VC fund has been created). The hub opens doors to an international business network and to leading investors.

Netzwerk Energie & Umwelt (Network for Energy and the Environment) – or NEU for short – is a key support network within the hub. NEU brings together 75 organizations under the umbrella brand Energiemetropole Leipzig (Energy Metropolis Leipzig). The ­Association for Promotion of the Healthcare Industry (VFG e.V.) is another important partner. VFG promotes cooperation between local companies and international players, with the aim of making Leipzig a leading center for medicine and clinical practice.

It is still early days for the Leipzig hub, but some foreign companies are already investing in startups: Seventure Partners from France in Webdata Solutions and Lecturio; Rockaway Capital from the Czech Republic in Invia.

Sensape Chimp is an interactive infotainment system that uses artificial perception to interact with customers or passersby in a creative and engaging way. It was developed by Sensape, a startup that benefited from Spinlab’s accelerator programme.

© Sensape GmbH, Clemens Jurk

Dresden – harnessing the potential of the Internet of Things

The vision of Dresden’s Smart Systems Hub is to become a global center of excellence in the Internet of Things (IoT). The initiative aims to build a strong network that integrates hardware, software and connectivity, in order to develop the basic technologies that will digitize industry and support Industrie 4.0. Since October 2016, the Smart Systems Hub Initiative – a task force that includes the State of Saxony, Dresden’s City Hall and Technical University, Silicon Saxony, a renowned trade association for the semiconductor, electronic, microsystems and software industries, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nano-Systems – has been working hard to establish the hub, acquire partners and attract investment. Key industrial partners of the Smart Systems Hub are SAP, T-Systems MMS, Globalfoundries, Infineon and National Instruments.

With the ultimate goal of achieving digital transformation, Dresden’s “Smart Systems Hub – Enabling IoT” will bundle expertise in the three key areas and develop a software platform that is standardized, secure and globally accessible. The hub will foster a business ecosystem that will give Dresden an edge in the highly competitive field of IoT design and applications. The initiative will provide long-term support for key industries, especially microelectronics, with a primary focus on SMEs.

The Smart Systems Hub offers interested parties – investors, entrepreneurs and managers – a guided tour or “Trail.” Each Trail is organized by a hub partner to demonstrate innovative applications, technologies and business models for digitization in specific fields, with the aim of promoting knowledge exchange and collaboration between stakeholders inside and outside the hub.

Foreign investors welcome

Saxony’s de:hub is still at an early stage, but as it develops, a wide range of opportunities will open up for foreign investors. While the current players are mainly German, foreign partners and startups are most welcome, says SpinLab’s Eric Weber. “Whether a startup joins one of the hub’s accelerators to get a soft landing into the German market, or whether an established corporation wants to exploit the technological competences of hub’s partners, we are always open to international partners.” One example is the U.S.-based computing giant DELL, which is exclusively supporting the Smart Infrastructure Hub in Leipzig.