Innovation labs: Disruptive hot spots.

“Innovation Labs”, “accelerators” and “digital hubs” – there are several different ways to describe the new kind of work model that’s pervading all manner of industries. Interdisciplinary groups come together in labs to develop future-proofing solutions outside of conventional structures. Here is a small sample of exciting examples.

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Today, for example, the data kitchen is serving curried turnip soup, beetroot pearl barley risotto and meatballs from Königsberg. Food can be ordered and paid for with the app or on the website. It’s served in a take-away box with the customer’s name and personal, algorithm-based logo. 20 of these boxes are embedded in the “food wall”—the whole thing looks like lockers in a very modern, style-conscious bank—contemporary but fancy. It doesn't hold ingots of gold, though, it’s the kitchen of trendy Berlin restaurant "Cookie"—and SAP. This is because the "data kitchen" is located on the ground floor of the "Data Space by SAP", which the software company runs in the centre of the capital. Here, not only high-end canteen meals are experimented with—the primary focus is developing recipes for digital services and business models. Free space for disruptive ideas and forward thinkers—something more and more companies are developing.


In “Innovation Labs”, is mostly to provide in-house digital researchers with a place to can develop. Start-ups are hatched and encouraged to fledge in “accelerators” or “incubators”. In “Digital Hubs”, interdisciplinary groups come together. The terms are not selective and all approaches and hybrids have the common goal first and foremost of developing future-proof solutions outside of conventional structures. Their second goal is to find and attract young talent, not just as a side project.


Numerous companies with innovation drivers have settled in Berlin—many consciously independently of their headquarters. But at many other German locations, too, the model thrives across all sorts of industries. Here is a small sample of examples.

This is an article from Bechtle’s ZUKUNFTSSTARK special release on digitalisation. Read the whole magazine here (in German).

Lakeside view and further perspectives at SAP.

Software company SAP has Innovation Centres in Palo Alto, Singapore and Nanjing amongst others—there are currently ten worldwide. Since 2014, there has also been a centre in Potsdam, started in the rooms of the Hasso Plattner Institute, which is affiliated to the university there and strongly influenced by the design thinking concept. Today, around 250 software developers, business developers, UX designers and other digitalisation experts are working on future business areas at the Innovation Centre on the Jungfernsee lake. Employees from 30 countries are split across two buildings and there’s a daily shuttle out of Berlin.

Bechtle and start-ups: ACCEED 4.0

Bechtle AG is a shareholder of Acceed 4.0 Beteiligungs GmbH, which supports start-ups in the field of digital industrial solutions. These can be hardware components such as for robotics or sensors, applications for big data or augmented reality, security systems—everything that advances Industry 4.0. Together with three other industrial companies and experienced business angels, start-ups are supported from early-stage financing through to the implementation of business models.


An example of a current investment is Quantitec GmbH, developers of “IntraNav” technology, the world's most accurate location system for indoor and outdoor areas in the industry. (Image: Screenshot  of

Behind the glass façade, the focus is on looking for marketable solutions with perspective, in close coordination with the other innovation locations and the corporate strategy. Dr. Jürgen Müller is not only the boss at this lakeside location, he’s also Chief Innovation Officer for SAP as a whole. Current focuses for development in Potsdam are, for example, machine learning, blockchain solutions and the future of work. The latter, of course, refers especially to software, but it also applies to organisation, methods and models of individual and cooperative work. Many things are tested or put into practice on the premises. The rooms are very flexible and offer every opportunity to do this.


Walls with whiteboards can be moved anywhere, tables and mobile platforms can roll around, and small teams can work in so-called garages to concentrate on their project. And when the doors open up, who knows, maybe the next big thing will roll out. “Personalised medicine” was one of the breakthroughs that has developed into a new, important business for SAP intelligent software. The critical point of innovation projects, according to Benjamin Nickel in Potsdam, is always the handover to operative business. At the Innovation Centre, the teams get their projects ready for the market with co-innovation customers. If they are successful, the result is handed over along with employees, so that their thinking and methods flow into the entire company, too. This is how a functioning "innovation flow" can be imagined.

The image database in SAP’s "Data Room" acts as a trigger for new ideas.

Since the beginning of 2017, the "Data Space by SAP" has belonged to the software company’s sphere of development. At Hackescher Markt in Berlin-Mitte, just a few blocks away from the SAP office, the ecosystem for innovation is being expanded. In addition to cooperation with customers—part of everyday life in Potsdam—co-innovation with start-ups is the focus here. Young companies undertake a three-month programme that focuses on the Internet of Things, the goal being to develop prototypes for marketable application scenarios together with SAP and its customers. Start-up Engagement Manager Ignatz Schatz gives an example: "Let's say a team using drones to inspect industrial equipment, aeroplanes and wind turbines, and a wind farm operator, work together with SAP. They can develop a consistent process, where, in the end, the right technician (or robot) steps in with the right tool—and all maintenance is fully documented and analysed. We want to develop end-to-end solutions like these here.” A good 70 start-ups have been looked at so far, with space for around ten teams at the same time.


The SAP IoT Startup Accelerator offers the opportunity to carry out testing close to the market in the "data hub" and, in the best case scenario, to eventually become an SAP partner. Below, on the ground floor, is the "data hall" with ample space for workshops and other events. In the "data room" you can find inspiration for design thinking processes on the interactive touch screen. Creative databases project inspirational content and links onto the video wall.


The "data kitchen" is right between the two. It acts as a meeting place, not only for the Data Space, but for visitors to the ecosystem. It also acts as an interface between the digital and the physical worlds.



Klöckner & Co. – Steel in your shopping basket.

The digital Competence Centre of the steel company Klöckner & Co. has only been around for just over two years—and is already a much cited example of how to tackle disruption. More than 30 people work on digitalising the steel and metal industry at kloeckner.i. The entire value creation chain of a traditional industry, one that is used to taking order via fax and phone, will be created anew in Berlin.


In the Klöckner Online Shop you can buy as much or as little steel as you need. Just put however many tonnes you want into the shopping basket and checkout. Orders and current contracts can be managed online, all in much the same way as with Amazon—a definite plus for the customer. Klöckner has consistently developed its digital activities with experts from outside the company, who make up for what little they know about steel with their extensive knowledge about innovation processes, CRM, e-commerce and online marketing, as consumer platforms also set many rules for the B2B business. For example, the "daily deal" at kloeckner.i is the "08:05 e-mail" which informs customers about current offers. An easily scalable sales tool that brings the traditional world of steel into the digital age. Klöckner is also opening up to other members of the market—including competitors—that are to be integrated into a common platform. This could develop into a marketplace with Klöckner in the centre offering all of their service. This would successfully cast the platform principle of digital business models in steel.

ARP Future made by ARP.

Our customers understand. Showing them as yet unknown paths. Offering new value. All online, but still individual and personal. These are the requirements of a modern customer journey. Bechtle brand ARP’s digital staff has its eye on these topics and on the future. In the Innovationsfabrik (Innovation Factory) in Heilbronn, the team is working on opportunities and prospects for their own brand and therefore the entire Bechtle Group—in the spirit of networked decentralisation.

Siemens accelerates “business as unusual”.

next47 is a name that promises a lot. It alludes to a start-up that went on to become a global corporation: the "Siemens & Halske Telegraphen Bau-Anstalt in Berlin" (Siemens & Halske Telegraph Construction Institute in Berlin), today called Siemens AG. In 1847, the founding members set the standard for the biggest innovators of tomorrow,


and by now Siemens has collaborated with or invested in more than 180 start-ups. By creating next47, Siemens bundled together these activities and provided up to one billion euros for projects over the next five years. The main focus is on five fields of innovation: Artificial intelligence, autonomous machines, decentralised electrification, networked mobility and blockchain applications. The start-ups are therefore in close proximity to Siemen's business areas while remaining independent of the group organisation. Quick, agile, and with lots of disruptive power. At global technological locations like Munich, Silicon Valley, Shanghai and Tel Aviv.


Some 100 employees at next47 will work on creating further innovations. Heading these up is an experienced path finder: Lak Ananth has come from Hewlett Packard Enterprise's (HPE) venture capital programme to develop new solutions and companies for the future of the industry. He sees next47 as an interface between the start-up community, Siemens and customers—as a moderator and catalyst for co-innovation.


An example of this is the "Robotics Challenge", in which five start-ups and partners from the USA, China, France and Germany entered into a competition. Their goal was to develop a lightweight robot to automate the assembly of printed circuit boards, which, had required manual assembly up until that point. The main challenge was ensuring the robot can work at speed when components of different shapes and sizes have to be mounted. After only a few months, a team from Berlin cracked it, and were able to get more than just Siemens factories around the world on board as potential customers.


Among other projects, next47 is currently working with Airbus on developing a hybrid-electric passenger aircraft. They hope to have feasible solutions ready by 2020.



innogy SE – the outposts of Essen.

The energy industry is one of the largest branches to undergo fundamental changes. innogy SE, a new and prominent subsidiary of RWE AG, based in Essen, chose a name that sums this up to a tee. Innovation, energy and future technology rolled into one. The innogy Innovation Hub is developing digital and platform-based business models in order to play a key part in designing future energy systems.


The innogy Innovation Hub is designed as a virtual network organisation with “outposts” in Tel Aviv, Berlin, London and Silicon Valley. From these locations come technologies and ideas used for customer solutions under the umbrella of “smart and connected”, “urban solutions” and “disruptive digital”. In addition, the Innovation Hub forms partnerships with start-ups that are supported in the “innogy Generator Programme” for up to twelve months.

The Innovation Labs are united by their openness to partnerships which enrich their own business, all steadfastly believing that you get more out of agile networks if you foster interdisciplinary co-operation. Co-innovation is not a science; it is shaped by attitudes and methods that can also be adopted outside of laboratories.

“ucair” is an exemplary corporate start-up which was founded out of the Innovation Hub. It's a platform for a simple and fast inspection of photovoltaic systems from the air. ucair’s business model combines the newest technological developments in the field of drones and sensors with the advantages of a scalable market model that can generally be operated without high capital expenditure. A network of more than 40 drone pilots throughout Germany takes images of photovoltaic plants using thermographic drones. With the ucair evaluation, damage to cells and modules and even complete breakdowns are visible due to temperature differences—and the customer quickly receives a report and a recommendation on how to optimise the yield of their photovoltaic system.


The innogy Innovation Hub began further activities with their Berlin outpost in early 2017. As a co-organiser of the "Start Up Energy Transition Tech Festival", which took place in March, they hope that climate change will be met with new ideas and that viable solutions will be found.

InnovationLab GmbH (iL) – The printing house of the future.


In the south west of Germany, several companies have grouped up to form InnovationLab GmbH (iL). The application-oriented research and transfer platform of science and economics in the populous Rhine/Neckar region is supported by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the University of Heidelberg, and the companies BASF, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen and SAP.

They all share common ground in their work in  printed and organic electronics. Highly efficient electronic components requiring the lowest possible energy consumption are developed based on conductive and semi conductive plastics.


Over 190 employees from 21 countries work at the Innovation Lab in more than 20 work groups. The iL also offers young researchers and start-ups the opportunity to carry out their projects, such as the development of electronics made of compostable natural materials or novel thermoelectric generators, which convert heat directly into electricity as soon as they are exposed to a temperature difference.


With the aid of printed electronics, components with completely new properties are sometimes produced—for example they can be transparent, flexible or expandable. This makes innovative product solutions viable in fields like energy conversion, the Internet of Things, bioelectronics and medicinal diagnostics.


The print method developed in the InnovationLab allows cheap and resource-friendly mass production of large scale sensors, for example. These sensors can be fixed to ultra-thin, flexible materials like foils, for example, and integrated into the smallest of spaces. Pressure sensors in the floor measure motion patterns and weight distribution. They can sense the levels in intravenous pouches—This could improve and simplify care in hospitals and nursing homes.


This is how new solutions are created cooperatively. And not just in Heidelberg. The Innovation Labs are united by their openness to partnerships which enrich their own business, all steadfastly believing that you get more out of agile networks if you foster interdisciplinary co-operation. Co-innovation is not a science; it is shaped by attitudes and methods that can also be adopted outside of laboratories.

Published on Mar 16, 2017.