The joint innovation strategy of the states of Berlin and Brandenburg has set itself the task of increasingly promoting the clusters "Health Industry", "ICT, Media and Creative Industries" (IMK), "Transport, Mobility and Logistics", "Energy Technology" and "Optics and Photonics". The cross-state innovation topics are coordinated by the cluster management at Berlin Partner. In addition, the economic administrations in Berlin and Brandenburg each support state-specific projects - in Berlin this is done through the state initiative Projekt Zukunft. We asked Amira Gutmann-Trieb, Cluster Manager "IMK", and Nadine Jüdes, Head of Department "Digital Economy | Startups", from Berlin Partner for Business and Technology about the topics and challenges in their areas of work.
The IMK cluster focuses on the digital economy and thus also on digital transformation. What is its significance for Berlin?
Amira Gutmann-Trieb (AGT): The IMK cluster combines technology focus and creativity, two main characteristics of our city. Here, the cluster works in a complementary manner and in close coordination with the Senate Department for Economic Affairs, Energy and Enterprises and the MWAE. Last year alone, a total of 98 projects with a total volume of 68.9 million euros - 42 of which were newly initiated - were carried out in this way. These projects include, for example, "AURA - Auralisation of acoustic heritage sites using Augmented and Virtual Reality", a European project with Germany, Italy and Ukraine, which uses model tests to show how musical experiences can be reinterpreted and created. We also accompany KORG Berlin, for example, a development lab of the Japanese musical instrument manufacturer, and support them in an advisory capacity. The cluster is a kind of engine and work surface at the same time.
Nadine Jüdes (NJ): The start-up ecosystem in Berlin in particular proves to be an ideal breeding ground for new trends and developments. It is often universities or other research and development institutions that serve as incubators for startup ideas. But more and more innovation hubs and labs of large German industrial companies are also setting up shop in Berlin. With its mix of many players, the digital economy in Berlin is ensuring the greatest growth.
All of this also strengthens Berlin's role in international competition. Entrepreneurs from all over the world come to Berlin because they appreciate the distinctive start-up culture, the diverse tech conferences and start-up competitions. Berlin was just voted the best startup location in Europe in a survey of 29 countries. This is the result of the "Startup Heatmap Survey 2021". Berlin has thus replaced London as the front-runner and takes first place in the annual opinion poll for the first time.
What does the daily work of a cluster manager or head of department look like?
AGT: We deal with very different people every day. With scientists who are doing cutting-edge research, with founders who approach us with project ideas, with SMEs who want to find out about new technologies like AI and blockchain, but also with companies and scientific institutions that apply for federal and state funding.
In terms of content, it won't be boring at all either. New technologies or fields of application are constantly emerging, which in turn could establish new industries in Berlin. For example, there is great potential in cross-sectoral applications, such as artificial intelligence in logistics or blockchain in the energy industry.
NJ: As head of department, I am responsible for the development and implementation of strategies and activities to attract companies from the ICT, media and creative industries, for the systematic and coordinated support and advice of the approximately 1,500 key accounts and district-based target companies located in Berlin, and for the coordination of start-up activities. The topic of internationalisation, the integration of cross-cutting issues into cluster activities and the identification of trend and innovation topics also play an important role. At Berlin Partner, we work with over 230 partners from business, science and administration, and our common goal is always to generate growth and employment effects in Berlin as a business location.
Our jobs are all about networking the various actors in the cluster on a daily basis. Even when we initiate or support innovation projects, we always do so together with partners. This is the only way we can plan measures in a closely interlocked manner and link the topics in the cluster with other focal points, such as designing smart city strategies or attracting international talent. It is precisely this integrative approach at the various levels that makes our work so interesting and is also always linked to the goal of designing solutions for the challenges of a growing Berlin.
Just recently, the cluster's master plan, which was created in 2015, was revised - with the participation of many of the cluster's companies and scientific institutions. How was the response to this opportunity for participation?
AGT: The response was very positive. We initiated a participatory process with strategic workshops on ICT, media and creative industries and with more than 80 expert interviews and 150 online surveys. This allowed us to define a common thread with the actors. I myself came on board while the process was underway and was really impressed by the active participation of the companies and academic partners.
The new master plan identifies fields of innovation in which the cluster companies have particular opportunities for growth. What are these? And how does the new orientation affect the future work of the cluster?
AGT: Core innovation fields in the cluster are Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), Digital Security, Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Extended Reality (XR) as well as Usability and Design.
NJ: We are working on many projects in which these fields of innovation play a central role. Currently, there are also cross-sectional topics such as Smart City and Smart Country, i.e. the revitalisation of rural areas with digital solutions. It is clearly an advantage that Berlin and Brandenburg work closely together within the framework of the joint innovation strategy. Because this makes it much easier to jointly shape and strategically develop the trends and topics.
AGT: What I find remarkable is that Berlin creates the freedom everywhere to test good ideas for their feasibility - in the real lab, in testing and in simulation. This is extremely important, because science and business are particularly dependent on each other in this field. We are therefore working ever more closely with our excellent research institutions, directly at the transfer points.
Not surprisingly, AI is one of the innovation fields that are considered to have particularly strong growth. Are there any particularly interesting projects in the media and creative industries?
AGT: Yes, of course. The creative industries are considered a driving force in the cluster. One particularly exciting project that we have supported with advice, funding and networking with VCs is Yoona Technology. Anna Franziska Michel founded her start-up last autumn. The focus of her AI-based software is sustainability in the fashion industry.
NJ: Or the software company Episerver, which combines content management and commerce with AI-based data and personalisation tools. Or the digital marketing platform Mapp Digital, which uses AI to score and visualise data to predict customer behaviour. And audiobook provider Audible, which applies AI to audiobooks.
What challenges did you face in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic?
AGT: With the pandemic came a break, a paradigm shift. In particular, the creative and event industry, as well as many artists and solo self-employed people, were deprived of their business basis from one day to the next. The performing arts, the music industry, the art market and the film industry have suffered the greatest losses in turnover. This is due on the one hand to the measures taken and on the other hand to the high proportion of solo self-employed. This is true for 2020 and equally true for a forecast that calculated sales losses of 18 per cent for 2021 compared to 2019 in the event of a lockdown until the end of April. But the truth is also that many founders and entrepreneurs who had already adapted digital innovations early on were able to continue working with speed and agility even in the crisis and in some cases even open up new business areas.
NJ: But we also see the massive challenges as an opportunity to strengthen the link between technology and creativity. Like in a burning glass, digitisation became necessary in many places at once, even essential for survival. The pandemic acted like a catalyst here, raising digitalisation to a new level. In relation to the rest of the Berlin economy, the digital economy is actually more resilient. In many places, the world has changed in a short time - and not just the world of work. In addition to the numerous emergency aid and economic stimulus programmes at the state level, Berlin Partner and the economic administration have sought contact with companies through numerous talks and town hall calls. We wanted to make it clear that we can and will manage and shape this change together.
The starting shot for the "Berlin Brandenburg Innovation Award 2021" has just been fired. Do you expect a particularly large number of submissions this year that can be attributed to the ICT, Media, Creative Industries cluster?
AGT: The start-up scene is strong and vibrant, just like our scientific environment. Therefore, we expect the submissions to reflect the engagement of our companies from science and industry. Last year, the IMK cluster actually received the most applications.
NJ: The "Innovationspreis Berlin Brandenburg" has a special position because it is closely linked to the Berlin Brandenburg Innovationsstrategie 2025. After all, the goal of the competition is to make future and marketable developments visible and to promote them. A central idea is that today's innovations can be tomorrow's jobs.
What projects are you currently working on?
Together with the IoT & FinTech Hub, we are currently intensifying cooperations with other hubs in Germany, especially with Potsdam, Dresden and Stuttgart. An international workshop at the Asia Berlin Summit is planned for October 2021. And the "Coffee Break IoT+" format will also take place again this year, specifically on the topics of sustainability, logistics, health, mobility, sensor technology, blockchain and AI. The cross-border project "MR4B" between Berlin and Brandenburg focuses on the use of VR/AR/XR technologies in industrial production. The cluster management also supports the "VR NOW Award".
You are both still quite new at it. Are there any projects you are particularly looking forward to?
AGT: Operating blockchain in new fields of application is particularly interesting for me. Many people associate blockchain exclusively with Bitcoin and the financial world. But we also see application potential in administration, creative industries, energy and the real estate market. In the project initiative "Digitale Zeugnisse", it is planned to implement report cards via blockchain at all Berlin schools. The start-up Licence.rocks, which won the "Deep Tech Award" last year, is applying blockchain innovatively to the music industry. We will soon be venturing further into the future with project ideas that ask, for example, whether a park could manage and finance itself via a blockchain.
NJ: I'm excited about the forward-looking innovation topics and, in general, the many opportunities for providing impetus, shaping and networking in my new working environment. I'm thrilled to be able to help drive so many exciting topics forward for Berlin. I'm also excited about internationalisation and the possible new trends that come with it: How will the topic develop after the COVID 19 pandemic? How are the working worlds and ways of working changing in the different sectors locally and internationally? Will hybrid models become established in the long term for initiating new business contacts? Berlin Partner is also launching a pilot project on Africa this year. That will certainly be interesting.
In your positions, you have an insight into the current IMK ecosystem in Berlin - what trends and developments do you see for the future?
AGT: On the horizon are trends towards high-performance computing, quantum technology and cross technology, the intertwining of technologies such as IoT and blockchain. A functioning, healthy ecosystem is growing - a community is emerging that can attract talent to Berlin from all over the world. People from more than 170 nations now live and work in Berlin. Two thirds of the people who move here have above-average qualifications and speak three or more languages.
As the "Migrant Founders Monitor 2021" shows, every fifth startup in Berlin is founded by migrants. Almost half of all German AI startups are in our city, and 42 percent of 314 funding rounds were carried out in Berlin. More than 120 companies and startups in blockchain are here in Berlin. This community, which operates in a decentralised manner, has chosen Berlin itself. It is important to support this: The IMK cluster continues to promote and accompany ideas, innovations and the people who implement them in our city.
NJ: For the Berlin startup scene, diversity is a key issue. Here, we are currently working with our partners to increase the visibility of the topic and improve the framework conditions.
Thank you both for taking the time to talk with us.
This interview first appeared here.