hubraum team with trophies

“It’s always easier for us to bring the startups to the management than vice versa”

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What you will learn after reading:  

  1. How hubraum has changed its approach to running programs over the last four years  
  2. The one key metric they’re looking for in a startup
  3. Why running programs with partners has opened up more commercial opportunities for participating startups

 

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. Our sixth chapter focuses on a year where we really switched up a gear in how we ran our programs: 2018, when we launched the hubraum Low Latency Prototyping program. And who better to report from this eventful year than a man who was there to witness it for himself — our program manager, Tim Akgül?  

 

Tim joined Deutsche Telekom in 2014 as a trainee in the HR department in Bonn and eventually graduated to Deutsche Telekom’s digital division. At the end of 2017, he moved to an exciting magenta world — hubraum — and an even more exciting city, Berlin, to join us as a program manager. One of the biggest challenges he’s faced in his career came in his first year, in 2018, when he had to launch hubraum’s edge computing program.  

What use cases would benefit from low latency and would further the course of 5G? In what sectors would low latency play an important role — would it be more decisive in gaming or in robotics? These were just some of the questions that hubraum hoped to answer with hubraum Low Latency Prototyping, the startup incubator’s first ever prototyping program on edge computing. The goal was to deliver eight to ten prototypes developed on an edge computing platform.  

When Tim joined hubraum, he was looking forward to the challenge of helping run the program, but he wasn’t worried — after all, the program would be headed up by Daniel Schröder, who had already been working there for six months. Daniel would steer the ship, so to speak, and Tim would offer support.  

“But he was ill for a long time and ended up taking more than half a year off work,” Tim explains. Back then, Tim wasn’t aware how programs were ran and he felt intimidated. “There was the first onboarding session with the developers and I didn’t know what to do because I was completely out of my depth here.” What could he do? Perhaps inspired by the “quick and dirty” startup process for developing a project, he made lots of decisions, fast, and hoped for the best.  

Originally, the plan was to run the opening session in Berlin, another session in Krakow and return to Berlin for the final session. But in Krakow, Tim points out, there were at least three experienced program managers, while in Berlin, there was just him. “Nothing had been prepared, no flights, no trips had been organised, no events had been planned, no workshop agenda had been written down whatsoever, and my first decision was: we can’t do it here, we have to do it in Krakow.”  

Tim at the stage

350 startups were scouted for the program and 38 of those pitched. The aim was to find 10-12 great startups to take part, and in the end they easily exceeded that target and recruited and trained 16. Amongst their number were startups like Texel (who we still work with), Smart Mobile Labs, Fuero Games and Holo-Light. The startups worked in different sectors: gaming, robotics, VR and AR, streaming, drones. “In terms of what edge computing could bring to the field, the area we were most excited about was robotics.”  

Back then, similar to the 5G prototyping program that came later, hubraum offered them the chance to become a pioneer in this field. The program gave participants a virtually one-of-a-kind offer — access to a network feature offering a latency so low that it wasn’t yet commercially available. “Plus, they got tech mentoring, business opportunities and the opportunity to reach our customers.” Tim notes that the startups were also able to become more visible in the market, since they took participating startups to fairs — and even to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  

The finale of the program was something really special — for the first time ever, Tim explains, they held a big summit in Bonn. “It didn’t advantage startups in terms of technology – you have great access to technology in Berlin and Krakow. However, as a startup you stood a much better chance of being visible to Deutsche Telekom management — it’s always easier for us to bring startups to the management than bringing the management to the startups in Berlin.”  

Tim laughs when talking about the video of the summit: “It’s interesting when you watch it — back then, a lot of people in Bonn wore suits. When I go to events organised by us these days and look at the audience, we have much more loose and relaxed kind of gatherings instead of everyone being suited up.” 

What was his favourite moment of the program? “Besides the summit, probably the onboarding sessions we had with the developers in Krakow and in Berlin. There were so many creative minds coming in here — it was exhilarating to talk about gaming and then just round the corner you got chatting to a team working on service robots.”  

The outcome was mixed – for some sectors, great use cases were generated. For gaming, low-latency enabled complex multiplayer experiences and real-time betting. “But not all the use cases needed super low latency — if there’s a cleaning robot moving round at a very low speed, it’s not a huge deal if it stops almost immediately or in half a second.”  

What has changed in terms of programs since then? A lot, Tim says. For a start, almost everything has improved. “The programs are run much more professionally, we take a more structured approach than before but still have the flexibility to shift things according to what the objectives in a program are. We’re still open to flexibility every single program.” Besides this, he thinks they’re better at running programs, working with partners, working with developers, at digitalization and the tools they offer developers and in branding hubraum.  

Back in 2018, Tim says, hubraum was far more focused on early-stage companies. Nowadays while hubraum continues to work with some early-stage startups, they prefer to collaborate with late-stage startups, those applying for Series A funding or even post-Series A funding. “We can also offer value and create impact with bigger partners because it’s not so much about startup incubation or startup programs, it’s about an innovation program, which involves confirming a use case.” He believes that a company being more mature and having their own portfolio of investments, perhaps even a running product, improves the chance of a successful collaboration. 

Tim speaking from the stage

“Sometimes it’s not necessary to only work with really early-stage companies because then you still have this issue that they need to identify what business model they want to use, what their customer base is, what their target group is, what is their product and the use case about? We don’t really have time to focus on those questions. We wanted to deal with partners that have this maturity so we could collaborate on existing ideas or existing products.”  

A second change is found in the type of programs they run. Previously, he says, they were all about prototyping programs, which is all about exposing a network feature to the outside world at an early stage, and gathering information about developers’ first experiences working with this platform (which is then used to refine the feature).

Then, hubraum readjusted towards more partner-orientated incubation programs, like those they’ve run with Qualcomm and Nreal. “It was not only about exposing our own infrastructure to developers but also about exposing a partner infrastructure to them, too. The Nreal program is a good example: the platform was from Nreal, the device was from Nreal but we contributed a customer base and offering their device to German customers through Deutsche Telekom. It was much more focused on a commercial level with a partner program, a partner innovation program, a partner-led program.” This allowed them to commercialize the startup’s use cases to a greater degree than before.  

Nowadays, Tim says, hubraum has moved back to a middle ground between these two points – they focus on exposing features of the network, but also on offering dedicated partner programs. “In a nutshell, we want to have the best network for the best customer experience and we want to be in the pole position when it comes to business with partners.”  

 

 

Want more insights into hubraum’s past? In 2015, there was a huge transition — hubraum’s original founder handed over the company to Axel Menneking, who still leads the company today. But why was hubraum full of “pirates”? Find out more here.

 

Or go back in time to 2012, when hubraum was first founded. “It’s still the most interesting place I can imagine working. Nobody continuously innovates in the way hubraum does.” Andreas Dönges has been with us since the very first year. He tells us about how hubraum was born and why it’s so special.

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