Charlottenburg Innovation Centre is looking forward to new young companies
Eight-year incubation period ended with successful departure of the first founder generation
2019 saw a turning point at the Charlottenburg Innovation Centre (CHIC). Young companies are eligible to stay there for eight years. Now that CHIC’s first eight-year period expired, some companies, including Virtenio GmbH and bitplaces GmbH, had to relocate. This created space for two new additions, Airxelerate GmbH and Palaimon GmbH.
Anyone sending something anywhere wants it to arrive at its destination undamaged, in good order, fresh, and on time. What happens on long transport routes, however, has not been sufficiently monitored until now. Setting out to change this, the company Virtenio has developed and manufactured a ‘digital bodyguard’ contained in an inconspicuous little cube. Over a very long time, this wireless autonomous device can capture data and save them to the cloud. Data gleaned on temperature, humidity, brightness, and air composition are sent directly to their producer via satellite. This facilitates identifying those causing damage to goods in transit, thus speeding up claims for compensation.
Virtenio was founded in a one-room office at the entrepreneurship centre of Berlin’s Technical University (TU). It moved to the CHIC offices a year later. ‘For a small company in the start-up phase, the flexibility of kicking off with just one room is a great advantage,’ says Henri Kretschmer, the company’s founder and manager. ‘The conditions of the lease were very low-risk. We could rent additional space whenever we needed it. CHIC’s existing infrastructure makes it easier to focus on core business without creating additional effort or permanent costs.’
Nina Sifi from the company Airxelerate, a start-up with ties to Air Berlin, the former German airline, would also not have been satisfied with merely renting offices. The start-up moved to CHIC in May 2019. Sifi and her colleagues produce a software to automate business processes in airlines and travel companies as well as tapping and operating new sales channels. ‘Travel companies and airlines work with various systems that are often based on different logics. We aimed at closing that technology split,’ says Nina Sifi. In addition to CHIC’s central location and ready-to-use infrastructure, the fact that the centre and its tenants focus on technology also motivated Sifi to move in. ‘It is ideal for small start-ups.’
Sonja Strothmann agrees: ‘CHIC offers great opportunities for technology-oriented start-ups to rent affordable office space and to network with other start-ups. The closeness to TU Berlin is also convenient.’
Strothmann is the head of Palaimon, a spin-off company from the University of Konstanz, which moved to CHIC in 2019. It focuses on research and development in artificial intelligence (AI) for digital optimisation of processes through so-called smart assistants. Making use of the advantages created by machine learning algorithms, they support people with repetitive tasks over a long period of time, for example, quality control in manufacturing. Using artificial intelligence makes the gradual automation of process chains cheaper and more efficient. The start-up is currently working on developing a system for automatic monitoring of the German motorway system.
‘I really enjoy the friendly working environment,’ says Strothmann. She is especially fond of the cafeteria. ‘There’s some real cooking going on there.’
By staying for eight years, Virtenio was on the court for the ‘full playing time.’ ‘In view of the complete scenario, factors like office space, expansion opportunities, and cost levels balanced each other out over the years. We periodically looked at relocating, considered efforts and effects, and always reached the same conclusion: we’re staying,’ says Henri Kretschmer, explaining his motivation. He adds: ‘There are many more advantages. Networking with like-minded people is made very easy. The atmosphere in a normal office building with many small units is different. We wanted something else for our company’s post start-up phase.’
By Rico Bigelmann for Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine