Axel Menneking is the head of hubraum, one of Europe’s leading telco-tech startup incubators. We spoke to him about launching Europe’s first 5G antenna; why a can-do mentality is worth its weight in gold and more.
What does hubraum stand for for you?
For me, hubraum makes startups and Deutsche Telekom more successful by creating joint business opportunities and innovation transfer. We aim to create end-to-end solutions that can potentially be launched commercially. How do we support this goal? By giving startups access to our customers, to our internal people and to our tech infrastructure. We also provide them with funding and with the option of office space if needed.
What are three things that have changed at hubraum in the time you’ve been there?
One thing that has changed a lot has been our approach to working with internal customers. We’ve now changed from a push model – showing customers solutions not knowing if they are needed or not – to a pull model. We start by listening, then understanding, then looking for what our internal customers are looking for before bringing in startups that fit their needs.
A second change has been bringing our two Krakow and Berlin campuses together and building one team. Historically, the Berlin and Krakow team were located in different organizations within Deutsche Telekom, which meant we had parallel leadership instead of one single lead, which of course impacted our collaboration, target setting, resources, budget and so on. It’s been a complete upgrade to bring both teams together in a single organizational structure.
Thirdly, we’ve been expanding our activities. We created our own investment fund because providing money has always been a part of hubraum’s selling proposition — when you work with young companies, you’ll know the reason many young companies fail at the beginning is running out of money. We are also about to establish a new business area for hubraum called developer relations. In addition to working with younger startups or young companies we will serve external developers — these could range from single developers with APIs to very large companies — to work with Deutsche Telekom in a much more scalable and broader way.
What are hubraum’s greatest assets?
If you were to ask a startup or a developer what they’re primarily interested in at hubraum, of course they would say they are most interested in getting access to our customers; in scaling their businesses; in getting access to our technology and also to all the brainpower and talent within Deutsche Telekom. And of course, let’s not forget money. I’d argue all of this is a huge asset — hubraum is not an island. We are very close to the mothership of Deutsche Telekom and are able to leverage Deutsche Telekom’s core assets.
The second asset is that we have two groups of customers. We have Deutsche Telekom’s internal customers, ie. stakeholders, we serve their needs. We also have external startups, who of course have their own needs. We understand both worlds and are in close proximity to both worlds. So I’d argue another asset is our understanding of these two groups and the fact that we can talk with them and help them communicate with one another.
The third asset I see is the can-do mentality of our team. We always talk about this idea of a tangible tomorrow, which means we make tomorrow’s tech innovations tangible today. For example, we worked with external startups on Europe’s first 5G antenna long before the 5G standard was standardized, the frequencies were auctioned and the network rollout and the commercial rollout started in Germany. This mentality feels key to hubraum’s success.
What is your vision for hubraum for the next five years?
Well, if you answer this question in a purely visionary, rather than practical way — in five years, hubraum would not exist anymore because everything we do at hubraum would have already become part of the mindset of the genetic code of Deutsche Telekom. As such, a dedicated unit like hubraum would no longer be needed anymore to seamlessly work with external startups and developers.
Perhaps a more pragmatic response: we would like to develop hubraum into a brand that is not only for young companies or startups but also for developers and the place to go to whenever people want to work in this telco-tech space.
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