“We don’t take just anybody”
In his professional career Gerhard Raetz has had a lot to do with business plans: Nearly twenty years ago he wrote his first one. It was “torn into tiny pieces” by the bank. Nonetheless something did come of the idea: A startup centre that has now accompanied over 350 company setups and will be celebrating its “age of majority” this year.
With a remarkable resemblance to stone barracks with annexe modernised to western standards the low built structure caused mixed feelings among the assembled press on the day it was opened on 11th September 1991. In a time the institutes and establishments of the former Academy of Sciences in Adlershof were being phased out the media commented on the spectacle presented by the new startup centre as “a celebration of a sham” on the one side and as an “initial signal for a new dawn” on the other. Five companies with a total of fourteen employees moved in. One of the first was the company Jünger Audio, which – still in Adlershof – will soon be celebrating its twentieth anniversary.
“The idea of startup centres was nothing new at the time,” explained Florian Seiff, Managing Director of Innovations-Zentrum Berlin Management GmbH (IZBM) that runs the innovation centre. As far back as the early 1980s the whole of Germany was thinking about fast technology transfer from the university to the field. Only, Berlin thought the fastest. “Where you study should give you the opportunity to set up a company from what you have learned.” These considerations were not taken quite so seriously, and the arising startup centres regarded as a passing fad.
The experience gained from these initial years, specifically at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences, led in 1986 to the founding of IZBM. Renting out and supervision in a startup centre cannot be the core task of a university, explained Seiff. Since then IZBM has been running the startup centre BIG in Wedding.
Raetz and Seiff are a successful East-West duo. Raetz, today an authorised signatory for IZBM, is an Adlerhofer born and bred, having completed training for a precision mechanic at the Academy and working after his studies in the general planning of the Academy’s science buildings. At the time a scientist at the Free Institute’s Space Institute Seiff sought and found his new challenge on a sign in an Adlershof canteen: “Wanted for a startup centre …”
This “recipe” from Wedding, the vacated guards battalion buildings in Adlershof, and funds provided by the GDR Ministry of Research gave rise to the planning concept for an Adlershof innovation and startup centre (IGZ).
Raetz and Seiff still attach the greatest importance to sound corporate concepts – and the stone barracks with annexe has long been history. In September 1994 the new IGZ opened its doors on Rudower Chaussee, and a little later the extension on Kekuléstrasse. This was followed in 1997 by the international startup centre OWZ, which initially intended to promote the exchange of trade with Eastern Europe, but later allowed founders from abroad to become familiar with the markets in Germany and Europe and to set up companies – an opportunity that was also seized by the electronics maker Hitachi and the British company Andor.
“We don’t take just anybody,” emphasised Seiff when asked about the significance of a highly promising, sustainable business concept for “acceptance” into the IGZ. “We see ourselves as a sparring partner for founders, and when we think the idea is good we’ll move heaven and earth. We have connections everywhere, and young entrepreneurs can benefit from our entire network and the experience we have gained from 350 setups.”
“In twenty years you develop a feeling for what works and what doesn’t,” continued Raetz, and added with a smile: “even though your first business plan was a total failure.”
The success proves both are right: The companies Lasertechnik Berlin, Auconet, and Jerini are only a number of examples. In eighteen years only seventeen of 350 companies failed to make it.
At present the two are developing ideas for the Charlottenburg campus. That Adlershof can adopt a model role is thought by Raetz and Seiff to be improbable. “Our experience will help us,” said Raetz, “but the requirements there are completely different.” Unlike in Adlershof at that time there is little pressure for action in Charlottenburg, scarcely any land, and a rigid city structure. “We’ll have to think again on that count.”