How Challenge Up! shaped IoT

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This May marked ten years of hubraum! To celebrate the occasion, we’re compiling a potted history: the milestones that defined hubraum, year by year. This chapter focuses on a year in which hubraum teamed up with two other tech giants to fuel innovation in the IoT sector: 2016. We spoke to Lukas Ciesla to find out more about Challenge Up!.


Lukas Ciesla now works as the MD of Open Innovation House, a company which matches corporations and VCs with startups. But back in 2016, he was an Operations Manager at hubraum Krakow — and one of the bright minds working on the Challenge Up! Program (which launched the following year). In that year, Deutsche Telekom, Cisco and Intel teamed up to address the challenges of IoT. The aim of the program was to help innovative IoT startups go to market faster. We sat down with Lukas to ask him about the highs and lows of setting up Challenge Up! 

Callendar with highlighted "Challenge Up! Demo Day"

What prompted the creation of the Challenge Up! program?  

Lukas: In a nutshell, we wanted to collaborate when it came to innovation. We wanted to embark on “industry-wide innovation”, which meant we felt we would achieve much more in the innovation space by partnering with companies who had expertise in supply chain, such as Cisco or Intel. This program was created in 2015 and ran in 2016 to develop IoT use-cases which would be relevant for each of the partners (Deutsche Telekom, Cisco, Intel).  


Nice! And it was clearly a big success — it’s been described “an example of true pioneer Open Innovation 2.0.” What IS Open Innovation 2.0?  

Lukas: Open Innovation 2.0 is a mindset. It appears when you stop thinking only about your own garden and start thinking about someone else’s too! Effectively, it’s a philosophy which argues that by limiting your attention to ideas and sources of innovation exclusively within your own company, you’re cutting yourself off from varied and rich other sources of ideas. In this instance, we opened ourselves up to partners — though I should stress that this wasn’t unprecedented. Prior to Challenge Up!, our Berlin campus worked with Telefonica and Orange on the Go-Ignite initiative. 

people talking at the event

Can you tell us a bit about the program – what was the timeline, who was involved?  

Lukas: Sure! While Challenge Up! received applications from over 40 EMEA countries and over 1500 entrepreneurs registered on the platform, only 12 IoT startups were selected for the four-month incubation period, which took place over 2016. One of those startups was ProGlove, who hubraum continued to work with for many years afterwards. They’re a company which provide hardware and software around wearable barcode scanners with multiple IoT sensors that allow for hands-free data capture — really handy if you work in a factory, for example. And they now have over 250 employees across Munich, Chicago and Belgrade and work with huge-name clients like BMW, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Gap, DHL…I could go on.  

But back to the program: We kicked off the acceleration week in early July in Krakow. Incubation began at our Berlin campus in early September, with the help of sales validation sessions, putting together a 12-month sales activity plan, a price list validation and a pilot customer project. Things moved to Dublin in early October, where incubation continued in the form of a joint innovation project execution guide, startups had to put together customer presentations and complete go to market preparation. Finally, we held the summit at unBound Digital in London, an innovation festival, where startups got to pitch to the press and investors and do demos of their products. 

Challenge Up! program participants

Obviously hubraum is based in Berlin and Krakow, so those components make sense. Why were other parts of the program held in Dublin and London?  

Lukas: These parts were about scaling up. After we built the right foundation for the use cases i.e. achieved the best-case scenario, that each corporate partner had a use for the startup’s proposed product, we were ready to show the alignment and partnership model to the public. The Dublin phase was great for reassuring the startups involved that the R&D processes of Intel were very conceptually bold and that they were already part of that process. As for London, we wanted to make some noise about everything we’d achieved with the program and build even stronger partnerships with other or external partners (which is why we held the London program meeting at a conference).  


Looking back at that time, what do you think has changed in IoT since this time?  

Lukas: I’d argue that the sector has changed on two levels: both in terms of business potential and the approach taken to innovation. In terms of the former, there’s a greater focus on pragmatic use cases, where pragmatic means more client-oriented. But arguably there’s even more innovation in the sector despite this, since 5G technology is opening up new possibilities and directions. 

People talking during the event

This sounds exciting! But to return to the past: what was your biggest challenge in running the program?  

Lukas: We had some challenges in terms of aligning on a style of work – each company had a different approach to collaborating with others or used a different project management style. But thanks to regular team gatherings and drinking a lot of beers (and other Polish drinks) together, we were able to overcome this challenge. In retrospect, this was a crucial experience, as I learnt a lot during those times.  


Do you have any other great memories from the program?  

Lukas: What stays with me till this day is the team spirit – the energy on this project was completely unique, one of a kind. What made hubraum so special during that year was that we were in the creation phase – it was like a return to childhood. It’s a beautiful time. You learn a lot, you make mistakes, but in the end: you don’t suffer any consequences for those mistakes. Then you grow up: you realize that you can cut your finger, injure a leg or simply trip down some steps. You are entering adulthood. And hubraum has already left the childhood period, so everything has inevitably changed. Now the protective umbrella is not that wide open, as it was in 2015!  



“We felt we were doing something extraordinary, something which was a once in a lifetime opportunity to accomplish such things.” Check out how we came to found our Krakow campus in 2013 in a previous chapter of our potted history.

Or fast forward to 2017, when “the only thing anyone could talk about was NB-IoT” (which experienced the same sort of hype the Metaverse is enjoying now). Did it live up to the very high expectations people had for it? Find out more here.

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