Let's bring back the village with urban innovation hubs

#CriticalThinking

Picture of Udo Schloemer
Udo Schloemer

Udo Schloemer is the CEO and founder of Factory Berlin

Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google met on a Stanford Tour. Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook met at a Christmas party. Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak met on a walk. The most successful tech companies in the world were built out of complete coincidence because people met quite randomly.

Factory Berlin wants to make that coincidence a little more likely. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and we feel the same way about ideas. Creative spaces and innovation hubs have begun to spring up globally, enabling start-ups, entrepreneurs and change-makers to exist within the same sphere. These new spaces have become urban retreats where ideas are formed, executed and able to prosper. So, what makes them so alluring? It’s simple: everyone you need to know is under the same roof.

We are more connected and digitally educated than ever. As a result, we have seen an incredible rise in freelance-based work, the materialisation of start-ups and emergence of entrepreneurial spirit. The growth of shared offices has naturally followed. They offer far more than an accessible working area. They create a sense of community in which the individual and the collective can not only work together but create an urban space in which everyone has the same goal: to form ideas that will change and improve our world.

But the key word here should be community, not co-working. Co-working suggests working alongside each other, whereas community implies working with one another. It’s this tiny difference in phrasing where the difference in meaning lies. We have heard time and time again that although tech is transforming our world it also has the ability to alienate us. But it is human nature to crave interaction and to want to belong to a community.

We have heard time and time again that although tech is transforming our world it also has the ability to alienate us

Factory Berlin is a next generation business club fostering innovation. Our aim is to ‘bring back the village’ and a feeling of neighbourhood in the digital era. Our curated community brings together the brightest minds from all over the globe, connecting them in our home in the German capital. Our network includes freelancers, a wide range of start-ups, established corporations, investors and leading influencers from politics and science. We operate the first and largest start-up campus in Germany, and our locations provide our members and partners with an inspiring work environment and access to exclusive events. We created a community where innovative concepts can thrive, valuing the journey of each company, the community of innovators created and the positive impact on the wider innovation ecosystem.

When defining the role of a space like our own, it might initially be assumed that it is no more than a stepping stone before a start-up gradually builds itself up and moves on. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Although exclusive, our community doesn’t discriminate when it comes to business size. All of our members are part of an ecosystem and are cogs within the same machine – a machine that is always churning and updating. We are with companies throughout their entire journeys, not just at the outset.

Our members – whether a small start-up or a medium-sized business, has access to meetings with venture capitalists or big companies where they can garner both advice and inspiration. Large businesses have access to a community full of fresh talent, new ideas and new visions. We help to connect the old and new economies, providing the network, formats and space for our partners to take their innovation and digitalisation efforts to the next level. Everybody benefits from each other.

These spaces are for more than just work. They are about events, community and opportunities, with features such as political discussions, ‘meet and pitch’ sessions, conferences and evening yoga sessions.

Community spaces themselves are just locations – it’s the values and individuals that inspire the innovation taking place within them

Over recent years, Berlin has been identified as the European start-up hub but this didn’t happen overnight. As start-ups began to establish themselves in the city, outside investors, politicians and lawyers were subsequently drawn to it. The ecosystem we know today started to develop and connect with multiple other ecosystems internationally. This connection process didn’t just benefit Berlin; as the spotlight falls on one place, it inspires innovation in another. Multiple hubs have popped up all over Germany and across Europe. This is, of course, a large-scale example of the importance of togetherness, and the endless possibilities of collaboration.

Connecting the dots within the startup ecosystem creates a network that stretches far beyond the boundaries of any one city, allowing us to work beyond borders and access talent almost effortlessly. Now, easier transport links between European cities are facilitating the existence and success of entrepreneurial projects in quieter parts of the continent. Increased and improved transport connections would help spread opportunities further, creating an opportunity domino effect within and outside the European Union.

Diversity of location is important, as is diversity of discipline. Factory’s community includes people of all disciplines who collaborate to combine their talents. It all about connecting people who would not have initially foreseen a connection, an even partnering with individuals and corporations whose talents and approaches are very different to those of a startup. When combined with the startup mentality of creativity and innovation, they can really make an impact. For Berlin and Europe to continue evolving, it is important that policymakers on both a local and national level make the right investments – such as in infrastructure and telecoms – that enable such connections to be made across the continent.

It’s the people and the interactions that make these ecosystems function and thrive. When founding Factory, a question that continually sprung to mind was ‘How can we build a vibrant, thoughtful, diverse and innovative ecosystem in Berlin?’

The answer is ‘together’.

This article was first published in Europe’s World print issue number 35. Read more on the issue and order your copy here

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