• Olivia Budek und Tobias Kirschnick, CHIC, Brain City Berlin

    CHIC - Business Incubator at the “Zukunftsort”

The Charlottenburg Innovation Centre CHIC hosts around 50 start-ups. Opened in 2015, the incubator came into being through a joint initiative between WISTA Management GmbH, TU Berlin, Udk Berlin and Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district council. Situated at Brain City Berlin's “Zukunftsort” (future location) Campus Charlottenburg, the CHIC boasts excellent networking opportunities. The CHIC primarily focuses on technology-driven companies and software development.

“The start-up scene at the universities is very different from the one in Berlin-Mitte’s co-working spaces. Most of the entrepreneurs already have an idea that they have developed during their studies, written a thesis on their start-up concept or even obtained their PhD. Therefore, they know exactly what they are doing and know how they can transform their idea into a product. They have also often also singled out a niche in the market that their product could fit into.” Tobias Kirschnick spends most of his days working with start-up teams in the university sector. As head of WISTA’s incubator team, he doesn’t just oversee Berlin-Adlershof’s Innovation and Business Incubation Centre (Innovations- und Gründerzentrum - IGZ), but also the Charlottenburg Innovation Centre (CHIC) with the help of his colleague Olivia Budek.   

The CHIC was brought to life in 2015, thanks to a joint initiative by WISTA Management GmbH, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district council, the Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin) and the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK Berlin). The centre was opened in a former insurance building on the Bismarckstraße 10-12. Situated just a few hundred metres away from the Ernst-Reuter-Platz, it lies in direct vicinity of both universities and renowned research institutions such as the Heinrich-Hertz-Institut (HHI), the Fraunhofer Society (FhG), the Physikalisch Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) and the Telekom Innovation Laboratories (T-Labs). Covering some 5,500 m2, the CHIC is now one of the largest and most modern business incubation centres in Berlin. It is also maintains close links to the Berlin “Zukunftsort” Campus Chatlottenburg, which is one of Europe’s largest inner-city university complexes.

Main focus: Information and communication technology

Although Campus Charlottenburg provides a wide range of course content, the CHIC focuses primarily on technology-driven businesses due to its proximity to the TU Berlin. “Our main focus is information and communication technology. We currently host 50 start-ups at the CHIC”, says Tobias Kirschnick. This includes companies such as “CODARY”, which provides online programming courses for children and young people and “R3Solutions”, who develop wireless communication solutions for industrial use.

Start-ups can stay within CHIC’s support framework for up to 8 years, by which point they will ideally already be well established within the market. This is exactly what happened with “Betterguards”, a team who developed flexible joint supports which prevent sporting injuries. Now a fully-fledged company, they are looking for new premises in the area.

Help establishing contacts

Most of the companies based at CHIC are spin-offs from the TU Berlin, many of whom came to City-West from the IGZ in Berlin-Adlershof. “The universities supervise the ‘pre-seed-phase’, which is the first stage of a start-up. This is when the teams develop a business plan and sometimes even build a prototype”, Tobias Kirschnick explains. “We then pick up from the next phase and provide companies with further opportunities to grow and become marketable. This all takes place in a secure premises with subsidised rent.” 

Aside from the low rent, which is at a fixed net rate of €9.55, CHIC’s start-ups also enjoy a range of infrastructure advantages such as conference and meeting rooms and even a postal service. The CHIC also provides valuable access to Campus Chartlottenburg’s network and the city’s start-up scene. Tobias Kirschnick and Olivia Budek provide support for entrepreneurs when establishing contacts: “Co-operation at the Campus is very good. We know the businesses who operate here and are well acquainted with the network. We’re also in close contact with the IBB Investment Bank for funding and collaborate with the Centre for Entrepreneurship at the TU Berlin and the business-developers at Berlin Partner when it comes to topics like finding talent.”

Tobias Kirschnick and Olivia Budek also play a role in selecting tenants in their team. “We don’t only look at applications from the TU Berlin and UdK Berlin - we also consider start-ups from other universities. It’s their idea that counts”, Olivia Budek says. “Their concept must convince both of us.” Unlike at the IGZ Adlershof or the TU Berlin’s Inkulab, which focusses on start-ups from the chemical sector, the CHIC does not provide any lab facilities. Nevertheless, it is still used to its full capacity, even if some start-ups have taken a greater step towards working from home as a result of the pandemic. Because of this, Tobias Kirschnick and Olivia Budek are now looking into ways to make the facilities more flexible by introducing sharing models.

Start-ups - a viable alternative to scientific research

In general, Berlin’s start-up scene has become much more professional - Tobias Kirschnick is convinced of this. “The entrepreneurs are bringing much more experience to the table than ever before, and they know exactly who to turn to for help. Our support system and its resources have also improved.” However, the shift towards the business world often represents an identity crisis for scientists. “Research institutes and universities are trialling transfer facilities to help researchers translate the findings of their research into products. However, many scientists don’t find this prospect appealing. Their entire life’s plans collapse when they realise: ‘there won’t be a place for me in research’”, Tobias Kirschnick explains. “It’s a contentious issue. That’s why we need to get better across the board and show researchers that the transition to business is a viable and respectable alternative to a career in academia.”

The door to Tobias Kirschnick and Olivia Budek’s office is always open to those seeking advice, and applications for a place at the CHIC are always open. The CHIC is currently a 100% rented facility, but just like in Berlin’s start-up scene, things are always changing at the Charlottenburg Innovation centre. (vdo)

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