Duisburg's interior port is a space for the logistics solutions of tomorrow. That's the place where startport is located. Tom Felber talked for Superior Business with and Johannes Franke and Jan Herzogenrath about how startport promotes and challenges young startups in Duisburg.
Johannes, Jan, what are your tasks at startport?
Jan: Both of us joined startport last year, coming from its parent company duisport. There I was working in many projects, especially with the focus on digitalization. This helps a lot, because one of our tasks at startport is to get startups into contact with partner companies for Proof of Concepts (POCs), so it is good to know the obstacles that companies are facing in the digitalization process in order to give advice in advance to the startups, e.g. about Do’s and Don’ts. When startups and companies work together there is inevitably clash of cultures. Startups often lack experience and professionalism, this means sometimes that the interaction is not so easy, however both can learn a lot during these projects.
So basically our job, as an accelerator, is to make this interaction as smooth as possible, so that no one loses time on things aren’t directly linked to the development of their product. It is also necessary to ensure that the startup does everything a company has to do as well as assisting them to find new POCs.
Startport is called an “innovation platform”. What does this mean? What’s the concept behind startport?
Johannes: Our Innovation Platform Concept is a place, for people who need innovation and people who offer innovation to come together. This is not a simply a marketplace for IT Product Solutions, primarily a place where knowledge and experience are exchanged.
Who are your addressees?
Jan: On the one hand startups who want to get access to the industrial and logistical B2B market. This is especially difficult for young people lacking the knowledge, so one of our roles is to ease the market entry.
On the other hand basically any company that wants to innovate with the help of innovative people.
Most importantly our focus is on logistics – which is still a broad field, logistics being the core of quite a lot of industrial processes in industry.
And which services does startport provide to them?
Johannes: Startups are offered a one year program. During this time they get access to work space, to workshops with the focus on setting up a company and how to get in touch with clients. They come into contact with industrial companies. All companies involved at startport share the willingness to cooperate with startups, so this augments the chances for a POC.
Other services we provide are support in marketing, press relations and technology access, for example free software etc. Moreover, we are also trying to connect them with financial partners in order to attract investments.
Which startups do you host at startport at the moment?
Jan: At the moment 13 startups are taking part in the program. Because of the nature of the accelerator program there are constant changes. Check out our website for the latest innovative ideas!
Startport is located in an interesting venue in the Duisburg port. What’s so special there? How important is the connection to the port for you?
Johannes: Startport is located in one of the hippest areas in Duisburg only 15 minutes by feet away from central station and 20 minutes by car from DUS the third biggest airport in Germany. The building, where our loft is located, was formerly a silo for grain and was in 2001 transformed into an office space, with beautiful view over the inner port and the city center.
Duisburg is the end of the so called “new Chinese silk road”. How does that affect your work at startport?
Jan: The new silk road offers huge opportunities for Duisburg. By now there are already up to 35 container trains arriving each week! The number of Chinese businesses in the city keeps rising as well. China is a huge market, also for startups. If startups can successfully implement a project with a Chinese company this may help convincing other companies in China later on. But it also works the other way round: If Chinese logistics startups want to conquer Europe, Duisburg is the perfect place, with over one thousand Chinese students at the University of Duisburg-Essen, in one of the most important logistic hubs in the center of Europe.
And more in general, what do you think how important is China for Duisburg and the whole Ruhr Area? And for the startup ecosystem? What’s the perspective for the next time?
Johannes: China is an important trade partner for the companies in the Ruhr Area. Although the silk road facilitates this trade by providing a great alternative to sea and air freight, there is always something to optimize. Our startups provide innovative logistics solutions, so they can make this route even more competitive.
Thank you for the interview.