A lot has happened since the launch of hubraum in 2012. It isn’t just the founder scene that has changed in Berlin, but also the tech scene’s startups. Find out why Telekom’s incubator also needed shaking up in an interview with Axel Menneking, the head of hubraum Berlin.

Axel, hubraum no longer seems to offer startup programs for everything and everyone. Instead, you have positioned yourself with sharper focus areas – how did this come about?

Axel Menneking: Deutsche Telekom was one of the first corporates which was open to working with startups. What we offered back in 2012 was considered extraordinary in Berlin at the time. Even back then, we offered financing of up to €300,000, a coworking space, mentoring and access to Deutsche Telekom. At that time, there were only a handful of investment fund management companies in Berlin. The number of coworking spaces was also limited. Securing a place in hubraum often was a stroke of luck for startups.

I feel like there’s a “but…” coming.

Axel Menneking: Well, kind of. Years of figuring out our direction followed. Corporates and agile startups were completely foreign to each other and regarded one another with suspicion. The big question was how large companies could benefit from the spirit and innovation of startup founders. Companies like Telekom didn’t want to miss out on this intellectual gold rush and this led to a certain element of working with startups before we’d settled upon a clear strategy for doing so: as such, when viewed from the outside, the list of the hubraum startups looked a little unfocused and scattered: with hubraum collaborating with everything and everyone from a games platform and a radio app to a school network and a reading platform. When dealing with startups covering so many different topics, it was difficult to make out a connection to telecommunications, at least at first glance.

Do the startups from that time which hubraum was working with still exist?

Axel Menneking: Yes, but some of these companies are no longer significant. But some of the startups made it big, such as the IoT platform Relayr. At the beginning, Josef Brunner’s founding team were guests in our coworking space. In 2018, the platform was sold to the insurance group Munich Re for EUR 300 million. Or the Blinkist read app, which summarizes non-fiction content in a few sentences. It received $35 million in the last investment round.

Almost all of the DAX companies are now running innovation hubs. What makes hubraum stand out from other startup incubators?

Axel Menneking: We were looking for a positioning which we could use to create real value. Access to the Group’s technology, networks, product platforms and data — nobody else can offer that. In the future, Deutsche Telekom will focus on teams that can enrich their business model. We call this “Coworking Plus” and we’re already offering this package. This means access to Telekom’s networks, tech and customers but also an innovation funnel between Telekom and the startup, so it’s a win-win situation for both sides. From a strategic point of view, the focus is on two things: ensuring Telekom and start-ups can trade innovation easily and using both the connection between Deutsche Telekom and the startups and the ease of communication that comes with using our coworking space to create new business models for both sides. Over the past two years, hubraum has worked with 150 startups, two-thirds of which have implemented their solutions using futuristic Telekom infrastructure. In the end, 35 of these startups ended up launching a Telekom product: under the Group name, as resellers or as projects with Group customers.

What is currently the most important project that hubraum is working on?

Axel Menneking: Our 5G prototyping program. We have 15 startups from nine countries enrolled on the hubraum program working on concrete MVPs for 5G. That’s what they do on our network. In the newly opened 5G garage, we offer startups access to millimeter-wave networks and to our edge computing platform. Together with Deutsche Telekom, the startups are developing 5G products for a wide range of scenarios, from virtual and augmented reality to robotics, gaming and mobility.

Sounds exciting!

Axel Menneking: Oh, yes. Anybody who wants to check out the startups and their prototypes live will have the opportunity to do so on July 3, when the results of the program will be presented at the hubraum 5G Ecosystem Summit in Berlin. Partners and startups will present their products and services which use the 5G network..

So swing by for startup pitches, keynote speakers (like Deutsche Bahn’s Sabina Jeschke and Deutsche Telekom’s Claudia Nemat), panel discussions, marketplaces, and networking. If you’re into the business side of things, there’ll be a lot of opportunities for networking and exploring the corporate possibilities of 5G and edge technology, with over 15 services or products shown which run on 5G. Or if you’re more into the party side of things, you should still come — we’ll be hosting a barbecue in our courtyard and a summer after party with DJs and drinks.

You can register for free for the event via Eventbrite.