By Henrik Lauridsen, Founder of GERBUS Academy:
Contribution in Thinkers50 Europe’s THiNKMAGAZiNE, March 2018

According to The Guardian, “Berlin is fast gaining a reputation as a creative hub for sustainable and social businesses, making the most of cheap working spaces”

Not that many years ago (in 2013), the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, stated that “the internet is still new to us all” (Internet ist für uns alle Neuland). The statement did make headlines, but that was it. During recent months of negotiating a new government, however, many business leaders have been arguing strongly for a much higher, centrally, managed focus on digitalization in Germany. Some have even called for a completely new ministry “Ministry of Digitalization”. Times have changed. Political action is now being required.

The concern, that something needs to change, is understandable. Traditionally, Germany has been so successful in industrial engineering and production, that is has failed to look beyond product and process for new types of innovation. Their innovation has largely been incremental – making existing business, products and processes, better.

Germany is clearly still successful, worldwide, but in terms of new game-changing, fast-growing, business and new business models, close to none have a German origin. The digital infrastructure is – as addressed by German business leaders – running behind and the public service and education system is still to embrace the digital age.

Having said that, there is hope. Startup communities, in particular around social innovation, are popping up everywhere, and picking up speed. In fact, according to The Guardian, “Berlin is fast gaining a reputation as a creative hub for sustainable and social businesses, making the most of cheap working spaces”.

Berlin has a youth culture driving a new mindset in business, through collaboration and new communities. In particular, the ability to meet other dreamers, entrepreneurs and visionaries – people, who believe in their idea – is one of the draws for these communities – supported by the city and well in line with its ties to the creative and culture industry. Not narrowed or limited by traditional and conservative thinking, these communities seem to offer just the right framework for those who dare think different.

In Berlin, as other places, it is a challenge to connect innovative initiatives to business. Crowdfunding platforms are partly the answer, but to ensure scaling and market grip, it is not enough.

At the same time, large corporations are desperate to find new ways to innovate differently. And where these companies might previously have looked inside – towards their R&D departments – they are now turning their attention to such innovation hubs. Collaboration models between large corporations and innovative communities are high on many a CEO’s innovation agenda and could in fact even lead to a geographic shift in terms of German innovation power – from the south to the north.

Germany still has a significant challenge in catching up digitally, and fully embracing “the fourth industrial revolution”.

But there are areas where Germany still has a chance to take the lead, areas further away from traditional business – such as social innovation. This is a discipline where Germany can really thrive, bringing business and society together in practical and useful ways. Enabled by new technologies, this fusion of business and society could be even more powerful.

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