Negotiating the digital ′playing field′ | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 21.04.2016
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Negotiating the digital 'playing field'

Swarm intelligence and mini burgers – it's quite obvious that the startup scene has a lot to offer even to already established businesses. Is it time in Europe to combine the old economy with the new?

A burger joint at Schlesisches Tor is just a few hundred meters away, a Korean restaurant just a short walk. Inside a red-brick building that was once a post office - now listed for protection. Overhead trains on elevated rails rattle by at five-minute intervals in the direction of Oberbaum Bridge. Welcome to hip Berlin.

It's the ideal place for a digital hub - a catalog of design for the startup scene. And it's where business consultancy Roland Berger and Visa Europe Collab are together trying something different. The firm has converted 1,000 square meters of industrial architecture into feel-good workspace, with 'cubes," "break-out rooms" and "scrumboards."

"No European company is named within the top 20 worldwide digital firms," says Björn Bloching, head of the digital department at the firm. He is worried about the German and European digital economies. "It's time for cultural change," he says.

A new working environment

In the main working room of the startup hub, there's not a tie to be seen. Instead, the young entrepreneurs wear hoodies and jeans. "Inspiration, creation and interaction," is the motto. The young creatives sit in front of their laptops and write. The firms are called Innosabi or Kreait. They develop infrastructure for a connected world or program apps. Their working language is English.

The workspace provides a place to make phone calls, a sitting room and writing boards that help with planning. Almost everyone here in Kreuzberg is a revolutionary in their own way, but even large, established companies are able to work with startups here to develop business concepts.

Modern playing field

His jeans are faded, a loose sweater hanging over the top. Tobias Rappers does not look like your typical business consultant. He leads the digital hub that has the simple name "Spielfeld," German for playing field.

"Strategy and planning only among people you know, that can't work. We have to work outside the box and become connected."

Michael Hoffmann is the head of Visa Collab and works with business consultancy Roland Berger on Spielfeld in Kreuzberg. It's away with the old concepts and focusing on customers.

Conference room Copyright: Roland Berger

Many companies are dependent on advice from experts on the road to digital transformation

Card company Visa has experience with that. The firm has an impressive 500 million customers, but innovation took time, the company's own processes were sometimes cumbersome. Something had to be done. Visa sent some of its employees into the creative space and gave them the time to think freely and independently.

The sharing economy

The challenges being dealt with by companies can be well demonstrated with cars. Customers don't want their own cars anymore, they want to share a car. It's a focus on the "sharing economy." Carmakers can no longer just manufacture cars, instead many different fields have to be included in the development process. For example, credit card companies that enable the payment process, energy firms that provide environmentally friendly electricity for cars, or insurers.

"If we only speak to our own colleagues, the only thing that comes out is what was already there. That doesn't bring anything," says Rappers. He's all for pulling down barriers when it comes to cooperation. In the digital world, products are developed simultaneously. And in some cases, it works.

Johannes Comeau Milke from "Journey 2 Creation" has a similar view. He has already tried and failed with different ideas a number of times. But then he always tries something new. He lives "entrepreneurial leadership" – he's curious, not afraid of making mistakes, he can develop ideas and work in a team.

His skills are ideal in the digital world, which is built on swarm intelligence, and where an idea is often found, worked on and then let go again. "The perspective of the user is crucial," he says. "The technology takes a back seat."

US investors getting on board

The entrepreneur and his four co-founders logged revenues of more than 1 million euros last year. They develop new business models or run workshops for companies. Business leaders in Kreuzberg and other places are learning that it is important to leave the old world behind - structures and processes are a product of yesterday. Today, it's ideas and how quickly they can be implemented that matters most.

"Journey 2 Creation" also undertook projects for business consultancy Roland Berger. Young and old working together as part of a network, something that "works when everyone takes each other seriously," says Braun.

Comeau Milke picks from the available finger food – small salads, wraps, mini-burgers. With it, he drinks a freshly brewed organic Fairtrade tea. The delicious food comes from a startup called "Eating with the Chefs," founded at the beginning of 2016. "We like good food and are already known in the restaurant scene," says Clemens Riedl, founder of the firm.

Well-known US investor Peter Thiel is already on board and got involved through his investment fund. Riedl doesn't want to say how much the investor put in, but says mischievously that "maybe he enjoyed the food."

Six cooks at the startup make fresh regional dishes. The recipes are created by top chefs and the food cooked at a low temperature. The airtight packaging keeps the meals fresh.

Riedl didn't want to work in restaurants with their strict rules and structures anymore. He preferred to found his own company. Now he often goes to Spielfeld to network. He likes the bridge it provides between the old economy and the new.

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