IOXP: Digital Insights
“Mannheim has got the pull factor”
The Augmented Reality experts of ioxp know what the digital future of business is going to look like, how to intrigue Business Angels – and how to look at Mannheim not only through digital glasses.
Nils, you started ioxp as a research project in Kaiserslautern, but moved your spin-off to Mannheim. Why?
Nils Petersen: We had been doing research in Kaiserslautern for some time, but after the spin-off, there was this big question: where do we have enough room and opportunity to grow, where is the perfect location? To move to Silicon Valley was not the first thing that came to mind since we wanted to stay close to our Kaiserslautern research mother ship DFKI. The team put a lot of thought into the decision to go with Mannheim – and then we all agreed very quickly.
What good factors does Mannheim have going for it?
Philipp Hasper: The city is a traffic hub in the South of Germany – whether you travel by car or train, and bear in mind the proximity of the Frankfurt Airport. We quickly put Mannheim on our radar and all our customers had Mannheim on their radar too. And if you look at Mannheim from a more personal point-of-view, it has a lot of positive factors to offer, but what really tipped the scales for us was, above all, the professional angle.
Your focus is on Augmented Reality Technologies. Do you find experts with the right skills in Mannheim?
Alexander Lemken: Mannheim is perfect for our staff recruitment needs because it is smack in the middle of the triangle of the technical universities in Darmstadt, Kaiserslautern and Karlsruhe. Mannheim University has a computer engineering department which comes in quite handy too. And, of course, there is SAP in Walldorf close by, another positive factor.
Is Mannheim evolving into a center for IT startups?
Jan Hirzel: Mannheim definitely has this „pull“ factor as a startup city. On a national level Mannheim still does not compare with Munich or Berlin – but the pull is getting stronger.
What tipped the scale in favor of moving to the Mannheim startup center MAFINEX?
Nils Petersen: At your normal startup center you are offered broadband structures. Important for us, however, was to find a center that is focused on IT. Other than that, everything here works just great on a personal level plus the rents are rather fair and very good network options opened up rather quickly. For example, we already started a successful collaboration within MAFINEX.
Everybody’s talking about Industry 4.0, and many companies want to have a successful finger in that pie. What is ioxp’s approach?
Nils Petersen: We do research for applications! One of our goals is to demystify tools such as data glasses and move them out of the show rooms. Such tools can already be used successfully in your daily work. Our aspiration is it to bring this technology to the market.
What is so unique about your business model?
Alexander Lemken: We develop Augmented Reality manuals for data glasses that throw step-by-step instructions directly into the field of vision field of the user. That makes learning work steps in the areas of production and maintenance so much easier. The system can be integrated seamlessly into our daily work environment and helps reducing rejects and shortens on-the-job training periods. With this, we turn all-purpose workers into specialists. Our technology assist in carrying out complex processes independently – in the spirit of our philosophy: „learn, share, do“.
Will there be a time when we can thank iopx for making it easier to assemble an IKEA closet?
Philip Hasper: In theory, yes, but right now our focus is definitely still B2B business since the conditions in an industrial environment lend themselves to this technology, thanks to extensive standardization there. For use in the comfort of your home, it is still too expensive.
Your products are already being used, among others, at Bosch. How do you successfully develop a customer base?
Jan Hirzel: In the industry, it’s like preaching to the choir: We hardly ever have an appointment that does not arouse strong interest.
How did you get in touch with Business Angels?
Alexander Lemken: Through good networking. Here at MAFINEX the conditions are excellent. Building Management or Mannheim Wirtschaftsförderung (Economic development) brought us to the attention of Business Angels. Once we start a conversation with investors, they quickly realize the potential of our business idea.
What is your goal?
Jan Hirzel: Rapid but healthy growth. At the moment the number of installations is double-digit! For next year, we want to double the number of installations and staff.
What would a possible exit look like?
Philip Hasper: A buyout is not on the front burner! Becoming rich could be a nice side effect at some point – but it is definitely not our strategy. The whatsapps of this world are preoccupied with turning out scalable models for the consumer market to generate the highest number of users and then sell their customer base. We, in contrast, have specific know-how solutions for the industry. I also think this is the healthier way – for the company and for the employees.
What are you looking for in an investor?
Nils Petersen: Our technology is time-critical and the demand for Augmented Reality support systems is very big right now. We have to take advantage of our technological edge and that’s why we have to enter the market with as much thrust and as broadly as possible. That works best with support on the money side and financially strong partners from the industry.
How do you stay creative and productive in spite of all the pressure?
Alexander Lemken: We love being in dialog with people of different stripes because a direct exchange of thoughts breeds the best ideas – that is always inspiring.
Where can you meet the ioxp team if they are not at work?
Jan Hirzel: We all are enthusiastic hobby boulderes (a form of rock climbing). Our favorite spot in Mannheim at the moment is without any doubt Boulder Island on Friesenheimer Insel – it comes with the authentic and nostalgic charm of Mannheim’s industrial legacy.
Nils Petersen, Dr.-Ing.
After finishing his studies in computer science he in connection with his research project at the DFK developed a large part of the ioxp technology. He is responsible for representation, business management and technological development.
Philipp Hasper, M.Sc.
As a computer scientist he contributed substantially to the ioxp system. His major field is visualization and mobile implementation of the software.
Jan Hirzel, M.Sc.
He is responsible for the author interface of the system. He possesses extensive knowledge in the core technologies of Augmented Reality. Other tasks include customer contact and patent protection.
Alexander Lemken, Dipl.-Math., Dipl.-Inform.
He is in charge of customer contact, the business plan, the commercial side of the company and public relations at iopx.