The DNA of digital innovation — a cooperation with Startup Mannheim
As managing director of the Stuttgart innovation hub CODE_n, Moritz Gräter is a pioneer of digital transformation in Germany. CODE_n is expediting the development of digital innovations and business models — it is a triad, consisting of innovation spaces, innovative services and events. The new.New Festival, which takes places in the Schleyerhalle, in Stuttgart, is a melting pot for founders, digital pioneers and movers and shakers, from all over the globe. At the same time the festival is a starting point for a groundbreaking cooperation with Startup Mannheim.
Moritz, you recently visited Mannheim, to get a picture of the possibilities and the start-up ecosystem Startup Mannheim. Do you see any parallels to the CODE_n spaces in Stuttgart?
The CODE_n spaces in Stuttgart are not purely coworking spaces, as for example bauteil.b in Mannheim is. We only apply certain elements of coworking. We focus on bringing together promising start-ups with the innovation departments of large businesses, as well as with experienced top managers, in one place. Think of it as a kind of “innovation community”. Here you might see board members, of globally operating firms, get together with business incubators and young start-ups. What everyone here has in common: passion for new challenges and high entrepreneurial standards.
What are the advantages of this model?
This model offers very direct access to people in innovation ecosystems, thus creating dependable networks! We believe the experiences that both established businesses and start-ups can make here, are very valuable. WE try to increase the awareness of large businesses, to go into cooperations with start-ups at eye level. Established firms – especially medium-sized enterprises – are excellent partners for start-ups. They offer both access to market and customers, as well as a lot of know-how, regarding patenting for example.
So the other two formats that CODE_n offers are these innovation services – and the innovation format new.New Festival?
Exactly. By now we have a team of 15 people and offer three areas of business: the SPACES, the innovation services and the new.New Festival, with an estimated 10.000 visitors this October, in the Schleyerhalle.
Tell us about the idea and concept of „new.New“!
The name coms from a book by Ulrich Dietz, called „The new.New“. Dietz founded the Tech Dax Business GFT Technologies, which in turn founded us in 2011. Ulrich Dietz is all about advancement. He is a very curious mind. In a lecture of his, dealing with “finding use in usefulness”, he talks about the importance of initiating projects that are open-ended, risky, and require courage. These endeavors, that see the journey as the reward, are necessary to create change. In his book he discusses the way new things come to the world, and he interviewed many different people on the subject. He asked people how they develop ideas – ranging from a chef to an engineer. Within this process he found we are dealing with innovation much to narrowly. When deciding on a name for the festival we remembered this.
What main topic is the festival dealing with this year?
This time around it is AI. For our competition we invited start-ups to deal with the issue by creating practical applications. Where they come up with their ideas is irrelevant. Be it the Black Forrest or South America – we want to find good people and bring them together at the festival.
What motivates start-ups to submit new business models at „new.New“?
Fame and honour … No. Honestly – there is prize money. But it’s also all about the exposure. 2015s award winners, a start-up called relayr, was just recently acquired by Munich Re, for 300 million dollars. We try to find exceptional business ideas, which have the potential for greatness.
This years edition of the festival includes a cooperation with Startup Mannheim. This is new. What’s the plan here?
Startup Mannheim will be part of several areas within the festival, both on-site and content-wise. The main topic is “music, design and digitization”. Mannheim is quite relevant in these areas. Mannheim has set a shining example with its start-up scene, and the start-up ecosystem, which runs under the Startup Mannheim umbrella brand, is exceptional.
So this led to the cooperation with Startup Mannheim?
Indeed! We found that we think in similar ways. There’s a lot of talk about start-up ecosystems, but we feel that they can only really thrive, if they are part of a larger innovation ecosystem. This includes start-ups in every phase of development: beginners, growers – but also the established players, large firms, support programs, infrastructure, research, administration, media … and an inspiring urban setting. Only if all these factors come together, can we create dependable networks and collaborations – and in turn: successful start-ups. Startup Mannheim and we are on the same wavelength, have the same DNA. And as we both like to think large-scale, we decided to initiate a cooperation, so we can move ahead even faster together.
What are the plans for the future?
The cooperation will be all year, not only during the festival. There will be many different smaller formats.
You love envisioning concepts for a digital future. But let’s look backwards for a moment. Tell us about your beginnings as a digital pioneer!
After I finished my business master’s degree in Munich, I got in contact with Ulrich Dietz. He was CEO of GFT at the time, and was developing the first ideas regarding CODE_n. CODE_n quickly grew larger, and during the first years I was in charge of building the business development side of things. We integrated many established businesses as partners. In 2015 I became CEO and we left Cebit, to create our own innovation event. This was the beginning of the new.New Festival, which kicked off in Karlsruhe, in 2016.
What did you lern about start-up culture through the years?
Those that are successful, are those with the right team. This is important in all phases of development. There will always be a point where founders need someone to do something they can’t do themselves. Also crucial are entrepreneurial courage, curiosity and the guts to question yourself. You will learn from failure, and this knowledge can propel your next project to success – this is all part of innovation. Having inspiring surroundings and access to dependable networks is also very important. Within the CODE_n SPACES the kitchens are very communicative places. Here people will share their experiences, over a cup of coffee, and exchange contacts. We offer phone boxes, creative spaces and a whole floor, which can be completely rearranged, by using cardboard walls. Every business must be able to function in their own space, at a highly professional level. We also use art and design as inspirational tools.
How important are art and design regarding a start-ups success?
We are very exact when curating. We don’t accept just anyone here. Start-ups must apply for office space here. If we feel they are capable of developing a successful start-up, then they can come aboard! Design in an artistic sense, is an important tool to us. We see it a part of the puzzle that makes up the way we think and act. Often we can see a change in the way top managers will act, when they come to us – they open up.
So the atmosphere and quality of the workspaces is an important factor?
Yes. It might not make your product better, but maybe your employees might feel better at work, they might be more creative. So you are definitely furthering the success of the business.
Last question: What are your goals for CODE_n?
Ultimately, with CODE_n, we want to show the possibilities of digital transformation. Medium-sized businesses still often feel threatened by it, but in reality it is a real chance for a successful future. This is a point of view we also share with Startup Mannheim.
More information: code-n.org
Interview: Paul Heesch / LA.MAG
Photos: Sebastian Weindel