In the past the Ruhr area was one of the most important coal and steel regions in Europe. With the decline of coal and steel, the Ruhr area developed to become a center for culture, science and modern industries in Germany. This development is attracting more and more young entrepreneurs, creating a vibrant startup scene.
With a Duisburg Special within our series of Rhein-Ruhr cities we want to take a closer look at the business region Duisburg. We start with an event for startups - Bits4Kohle. Anina Behm and Vera Hugenroth from the Bits4Kohle organizer R. Heitjans Projekt Management GmbH gave Tom Felber for SUPERIOR Business some insights into the event which takes place at the Landscape Park Duisburg-Nord on September 19th/20th.
Bits4Kohle is an interesting name for the event. What's the story behind it?
2018 is the year of coal exit in NRW. Our team has its roots in NRW and we want to help shape the structural change with our knowledge and expertise. It's also a heart project. Culture and services were the first movements now the economy is to be driven by digitization to remain internationally competitive. Startups are an essential innovation factor. But the interaction between the Old and the New Economy is crucial. Networking plays a decisive role in this! Because even if there are all actors and opportunities, they only work if they also find each other sustainably. That is our strength not only to find the talents and hidden champions, but also to bring them together. This has a lot to do with knowledge, knowledge of human nature and above all trust. The big vision is "exchanging BITS for KOHLE and earning MONEY". [edit.: "Kohle" is the German word for coal and coll. for money]
From your perspective, is the Ruhr region a good environment for startups?
The Ruhr area has great potential because the density of industries and medium-sized companies is enormously high there. In addition, NRW is a pioneer with its digital agenda. That alone is not enough. The "fragmentation" of the region, perceiving itself as a community but often ending at city limits, is an enormous challenge. Everyone cooks their own soup here. However, there are initiatives that have a new attitude and mindset. They have understood that you can achieve more by cooperating, creatively engaging with other ideas and acting outside the box. Not Derby but Champions League should be the goal. But this is always associated with personalities, with people who not only seem to move but really big. Finding these people, bundling the energy to be faster and more successful together is our goal. We prepare the platform and act as a catalyst.
Is the startup ecosystem here different from other regions in Germany?
For startups, the starting point for potential customers or cooperation partners is good, but the framework conditions are often local and therefore limited. In addition, the spirit of entrepreneurship and the number of startups is still clear compared to startup cities such as Berlin, Munich or Hamburg. The breeding ground that the universities and colleges prepare is already a good basis. However, the networking and / or interlocking of the individual actors also plays an important role here.
Why have you chosen Duisburg for Bits4Kohle?
It is not the city of Duisburg, but the landscape park with its incredible creativity. The old ThyssenKrupp site, where steel used to be produced, is now a perfect location to recharge your batteries for the new beginning of the digital economy.
The blower hall we are in is extremely beautiful and combines all this power and possibilities of a "location" that contributes to the success of a different concept of an event. It's like a puzzle piece that has to fit the spirit and success of the big picture. For a successful event, in which it comes to people, content and goals so infinitely many details play a role. It's about moods of light and sound, about stage design, dramaturgy and the right rhythm. This is a very fine system coordinated with each other and the basis for the success of events.
Our secret recipe lies in the interplay of intimacy and closeness. Because events are always about people, networking and doing business is "relationship work". Therefore, the Bits4Kohle also bravely goes for two days with different formats. The actors thus have the opportunity to deepen and condense their encounters in different constellations. This is something quite different than having a conversation at a booth on the stand and only collecting business cards. So for the rework, the real work, we create a foundation to get in the follow-up communication and in the business process higher. Time is an essential resource!
Again the question "Why Duisburg" - here the clear answer: The special location! But other cities in the Ruhr area are also beautiful and have actors who live the described mindset and creativity.
What is the concept behind Bits4Kohle? Which goals do you like to achieve with the event?
We have a holistic approach to the Bits4Kohle. This is not just about the merger of actors, but above all and the background of "digital change". This is a process on all levels! The goal of Bits4Kohle within the two days is to be able to experience this change on a small scale and to design it yourself. We give the space and the time that all actors can use for themselves.
Therefore, the concept is designed like a camp: we hold BarCamps, in which the participants are invited to actively become partakers. Everyone is an expert and contributes to a new perspective on a topic. We also have a curated exhibition area where we can consciously designed the booths and the composition of the actors in order to be able to communicate more clearly and to focus on personal encounters. There will also be a classical concert in the evening. Because the vibrations of "right" instruments touch us humans more directly and create an emotional experience that we all share together. An experience and a prerequisite for finding each other better.
So on the first day, we plunge into the "work". It's not until the second day that the official opening takes place and everyone gathers in plenary to listen to exciting lectures and speakers together to discover insights and solutions to "their" problems. The experience "You are not alone" is crucial. Especially for the medium-sized enterprises. Many have not started using "digitization" to inject intelligence into machines. We encourage you to start. And starting means also thinking about tomorrow and new potential business models. That's why Bits4Kohle is fed up with small and medium-sized businesses.
Can you tell us about some of the program highlights?
On the first day, 19.9., We have the BarCamp sessions, where we mainly work on topics together. It's a mix of exciting topics that we curated, of course: financing, business valuation, creativity, rapid design, logistics, e-health, smart home, social responsibility and sustainability. And, of course, à la BarCamp idea, themes that only develop at the event, which burn the participants' nails.
On the second day, 20.9., it continues. Again, we have deliberately selected all our speakers. In a personal conversation, we developed the topics, lectures and, ultimately, the agenda together. For example, we contacted the Google Zukunftswerkstatt because the topic of digital education was in the room as a key point of "empowering people" so that digital change can even succeed. We asked ourselves: how does a private company come to realize free offers, which should be the task of state and entrepreneurial institutions?
Or we got in touch with Peter Borchers, who built the first major accelerator of a large enterprise of the Telekom and now helps medium-sized enterprises with the digital transformation. We would like to show an example company with STIHL and have it deliberately and unvarnished by the experience. Courage, just start - that is always our topic and motivation.
And we also offer solutions: digital agile infrastructure is the backbone of every digital enterprise. With Citrix we have an actor who also offers solutions. And even when it comes to "technology", everyone should be able to listen in order to get fitter in this area of their company, in understanding with colleagues and for a basic understanding of complexity. This is not just for Chief Technical Officers & Co!
Finally, we go live to Silicon Valley to Kati Schmidt, and to Beijing to Konstantin Herrmann. Both will report which trends and developments are currently up to date there and may soon be spilling to Europe ...
Is there also a side program?
The program has indeed grown a lot. That also surprised us extremely. Especially because we really made a conscious choice. In addition to the BarCamps, which take place in parallel in two arenas, all startups and partners of "Bits4Kohle" will present their ideas briefly. Since an exciting side of the program has emerged.
In the late evening after the classical concert we will have a kind of networking "party". An exciting situation for recruiter in a relaxed atmosphere to talk.
If you compare your event with other startup events. Where do you see the main differences?
One of the reasons why we designed Bits4Kohle was that at one of the most popular events on beer crates we had to experience pitching Startups with projection on the T-shirts. We did not think that was appropriate, it has nothing to do with fun and appreciation.
The main difference is the quality of our production, our social approach and speed. It is important to us that the Startups that are part of Bits4Kohle are optimally cared for and valued. So together with Maren Lesche we conceived a coaching and set up that was only offered for "our Startis" in order to prepare perfectly for the event. We also take care of the booth design and branding of the Startups, so that they can put their time and energy to their core competence.
Is Bits4Kohle open for everyone? Where do visitors get the tickets for the event?
The event is basically for founders, corporates, SMEs and investors, but of course there are also Solution Partners and students, political actors, fellow admirers and simply people for whom the topic is exciting. That's why we also have trial tickets that you can easily join.
Tickets can be purchased through the website: www.Bits4Kohle.de Or directly here:
It's the first time you organize Bits4Kohle. Are you planning a series of events like that? May be also in other cities?
As Hermann Hesse said: "Every beginning is filled with magic!" Yes, we are mega-curious about the opening act and the vision is to go into production. Gladly also in Duisburg, but perhaps also in other cities. The basic recipe of Bits4Kohle is agile project management. And that is influenced by the actors. It will show how the Bits4Kohle evolves or specializes. We are ready and looking forward to the sequel.
Thank you for the interview and have a successful Bits4Kohle event!