New formats for the exchange with start-ups: The coronavirus pandemic has also affected the work of start-up and innovation centres

14. January 2021

New formats for the exchange with start-ups

The coronavirus pandemic has also affected the work of start-up and innovation centres

Tobias Kirschnick © WISTA Management GmbH

Tobias Kirschnick, head of the Adlershof start-up projects team © WISTA Management GmbH

Lars Hansen vom CHIC © WISTA Management GmbH

Lars Hansen of CHIC looks on the start-up scene with optimism despite the pandemic © WISTA Management GmbH

Steffen Terberl, Startup Villa in Dahlem © FU Berlin

Steffen Terberl in the garden of the start-up mansion in Dahlem © FU Berlin

These are turbulent, crazy times. Rarely has an issue dominated all areas of work and life as much as the coronavirus. Start-ups and other developing companies are being hit particularly hard by the resulting restrictions. Naturally, the coronavirus pandemic has also affected the work of start-up and innovation centres.

Pandemic or not, start-up founders, actual or prospective, depend on support – no matter which development phase they’re currently in. First of all, they need a “home”. For freelancers, start-ups, and small companies, loss of income and the resulting financial challenges are especially problematic. However: Regardless of these obstacles, the Charlottenburg Innovation Centre CHIC, Technology Park Adlershof, and the start-up centre PROFUND at Free University Berlin (FUB) show that small, innovative, and knowledge-driven companies are extremely quick and flexible in reacting to changes and follow their path in spite of difficult conditions. While doing so, the centres provide them with invaluable support. “We are committed to helping young companies,” says Tobias Kirschnick, team leader of Adlershof’s start-up projects team.

First and foremost, it’s about creating a safe working environment. “We have guidelines from the universities that we pass on to the start-up teams – social distancing rules, mandatory face coverings, and meticulous cleaning and sanitisation,” says Steffen Terberl, head of Profund Innovation at FUB. While it was still possible to get together in the start-up mansion’s large garden in small groups in summer, this is now over due to the weather conditions. The start-ups are rarely on-site anymore. Instead, the founders come together in their respective teams or work from home. Due to the pandemic, many have stopped using public transportation. “In winter,” says Terberl apprehensively, “everything will be different.” Consulting sessions and other events have moved online. The focus of some consulting meetings has shifted from business consulting to crisis management. But, luckily, that only applies to a few cases.

In Charlottenburg, Lars Hansen is optimistic. “Until now,” says the head of the CHIC innovation centre, “there haven’t been substantial changes other than the fact that companies went back to working from home and there are less people in the building.” One reason, according to Hansen, could’ve been that CHIC companies tend to move into their offices about six to twelve months after they were launched. “Their focus is on further developing their business models. During the pandemic, too, we support them by providing information on funding, facilitating exchange among the companies, offering a flexible infrastructure, for example, by adding more or downsizing spaces, expanding our services, and so on.”

Tobias Kirschnick also finds that the more established companies are weathering the crisis more calmly and “take care of themselves.” Nevertheless, consulting is what counts right now according to Kirschnick. “We help by providing information.” This includes a newsletter that shows ways to apply for aid, subsidies, or research funding. Adlershof, too, has companies who benefit from the pandemic, those that develop new pandemic-related products and services, and those that suffer due to dwindling markets and suppliers.

Moreover, many start-ups miss being in personal contact with their teams and other companies. The ever-important events for exchanging ideas and support between start-ups are not disappearing but are being reorganised using new formats. Digital networking is one of the challenges during the pandemic. “The demand for coming together is gigantic,” says Steffen Terberl. “We have twice as many people taking part in some of our standup-meeting than we did when we held them offline. Online, we also have the chance to stay in close contact with our founding teams outside of the start-up mansion.” With the weather getting colder, face-to-face meetings are now held while walking around the block. “Personally, I will stick to doing that,” says Terberl, “because the exercise helps me think.” Tobias Kirschnick is also optimistic. “However, measured restrictions are important. In the end, companies want to work and move forward,” he says about the situation in Adlershof.

By Rico Bigelmann for Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine

Potenzial: Start-ups (in German)
Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine. Edition: Start-ups 2021