From founders to entrepreneurs
Interview with Lars Hansen, the head of CHIC
The Charlottenburg Innovation Centre CHIC is now home to nearly 60 start-ups. The building complex close to Berlin’s Ernst-Reuter-Platz is part of Berlin Campus Charlottenburg, one of the largest inner-city university campuses in Europe and one of the city’s ‘Zukunftsorte’, sites across Berlin that produce future innovation. Lars Hansen of WISTA Management GmbH, who runs the business centre, tells us what attracts technology and IT founders to CHIC and why he is running out of space.
When did CHIC start?
Lars Hansen: The first 20 firms moved into the side wing of CHIC on Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Strasse in 2011. At the same time, the centrepiece of today’s Innovation Centre – the landmarked six-storey building on Bismarckstrasse 10-12 – was being fully renovated. CHIC’s official opening was in 2015.
Who are the founders and where do they come from?
Most of them are spin-off companies from universities, especially graduates from the nearby Technical University Berlin. But the excellent inner-city location and the subsidised rents of 8.80 euros per square metre attract founders from all over Germany. We have a clear focus on technology-oriented companies and software developers.
What do you have to offer founders in addition to office space?
We offer flexible space for growth. Some of our teams started with one office and expanded every year. R3 Reliable Realtime Radio Communications GmbH, who develop industrial radio communication solutions, are a good example: after starting with 57 square metres in 2016, they now rent 235 square metres. Moreover, start-ups benefit from using our common infrastructure, including reception, meeting rooms, and phone and mail service. My door is always open to tenants. Whether it’s about grant applications, looking for partners at universities or industry associations, or financing issues, we support the teams with our experience and network. A decisive factor for CHIC tenants is the amazing surroundings, which includes two of Germany’s most renowned universities, the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt Berlin (Germany’s national metrology institute), the institutes of the Fraunhofer Society, and several large companies.
Do you have enough space to meet the demand?
No, CHIC is fully let out. The demand is much higher than the space we can offer.
Are you planning CHIC number 2?
I would like there to be one, but there is currently not a nearby building or property worth considering. This is one reason why, on the one hand, I was glad as well as sad watching our first teams move after staying for the full eight years, our maximum grant period. On the other hand, it is gratifying to see companies move on and make space for new founders. It would have been even better to be able to provide our alumni with non-subsidised spaces nearby.
Start-ups that were fully or partially sold also had to move out. Who did this include?
Yes, these success stories are another reason why things at CHIC are always in motion. Just two months ago, the start-up Cassantec was bought up by ABB, a technology company that is active in over 100 countries and has 147,000 employees. Cassantec focuses on predictive maintenance of industrial facilities. Another sale was Pyramics UG, a hardware and data provider for market research. They were bought by Hella Aglaia Mobile Vision GmbH, who develop smart image processing solutions. The list goes on. Beneto Software GmbH was taken over by Dampsoft GmbH, a developer of dentistry software.
Interview by Sylvia Nitschke for Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine