A hub for the future of logistics

Reading time: approx. 8 minutes
Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: Stefan Bungert, Digital Hub Logistics Hamburg, NautilusLog

The Digital Hub Logistics in Hamburg has been connecting established companies with start-ups and players from the fields of research and education for two years now. The former warehouse in the city’s Speicherstadt warehouse district is a place where new ideas and business models for the future of logistics are taking shape.

With its brick buildings, canals and bridges, Hamburg’s Speicherstadt warehouse district is a UNESCO World Heritage site – and has been a symbol of global trade for over 140 years. Local companies have stored coffee, tea, cocoa and other goods from all over the world in the area. At Sankt Annenufer 2, the aroma of the area’s historic past meets the logistics industry of the future: at the Digital Hub Logistics Hamburg, start-ups and established companies are working together on fresh ideas for the transport industry. The 900-square-metre co-working space provides a relaxed atmosphere where they have chance to get to know each other, make progress on joint projects and work desk-by-desk. ‘This is a place where ideas are exchanged and concrete steps are coordinated,’ is how Johannes Berg, the hub’s managing director, describes the goings-on in these historic halls. The warehouse is kitted out with the latest equipment: it offers a glass meeting room and soundproofed wooden booths where people can make calls undisturbed.

Instead of a suit, Berg wears a dark-blue sweatshirt depicting the nautical coordinates of Hamburg’s Speicherstadt under a ship’s knot: the end of the rope turns into a fibreglass cable – the location’s history and roots meeting its digital future. According to Berg, connection is one of the key drivers of success on the path towards this future. ‘Successful players in logistics often believe completely in what they’re doing, because they’ve had success with it for decades,’ explains Berg. ‘But increasingly rapid innovation cycles and the disruptive power of digital solutions mean that in the next ten years, they won’t have the market to themselves any more, or succeed exactly in the same way with their current processes and business models as they have done previously. That’s why it’s important to say: now, we’re doing things differently. For instance, by joining forces with a start-up or another business – or even with a competitor, if competition law allows – to develop something new.’

»In the next ten years, companies won’t have the market to themselves any more, or succeed in the same way with their current processes and business models as they have done previously.«

Johannes Berg, managing director of Digital Hub Logistics Hamburg

Twelve hubs in Germany

The hub is part of the national Digital Hub Initiative, connecting businesses with new innovation partners from the world of scientific research and the start-up scene in 12 centres of excellence in Germany. Dortmund and Hamburg focus on the subject of logistics. And they’re making a success of it: in Hamburg, there are already over 60 newcomer businesses and just under 30 partners involved in the hub. According to Berg, anyone who wants to take part must be active ‘at some stage of the logistics value chain’, or simply bring an appropriate idea to the table. They pay rent for the workstation on a monthly basis. This means that companies and start-ups usually send employees or whole teams to work there temporarily. Events such as innovation workshops, meetings and project talks can also be held at the hub.

A desk for the Minister

Hamburg’s Minister for Economic Affairs, Michael Westhagemann, even has his own desk at the hub – that he also actually uses from time to time. ‘It means you can just go up and talk to him. It’s a really relaxed conversation,’ says Otto Klemke from NautilusLog. Contact with authorities and the world of politics is particularly important to him and his fledgling business, as he is ‘attempting a monumental task’. Otto Klemke founded NautilusLog together with his father and a friend from university. The trio invented a digital logbook app for shipping aimed at appraisers as well as shipping companies: the software tracks ships and automatically generates tasks and events, reminds the crew to change fuel in good time before reaching an Emission Control Area, for instance, and documents all relevant data and actions in the digital logbook. ‘With our business, we’re doing something which was previously unregulated. For instance, we wrote a new DIN norm,’ explains Klemke.

As well as contact with authorities, the hub’s network facilitates invitations to conferences and the opportunity to accompany delegations and discover hubs in Asia and America. Klemke’s favourite aspect of the hub is that it all runs extremely professionally, but with a refreshingly relaxed atmosphere that promotes the creativity of all co-workers in the hub: ‘there’s no formality here and hierarchies are practically dissolved – that’s very nice. This is a place where the old and new worlds of logistics come together and inspire each other.’

»This is a place where the old and new worlds of logistics come together and inspire each other.«

Otto Klemke, managing director of NautilusLog

An exciting place to be

Within the hub, NautilusLog has already connected and collaborated with Lufthansa Industry Solutions (LHIND). The IT consulting company, a full subsidiary of Lufthansa, works internally within the group while also handling external projects in the automotive and logistics sectors. LHIND is one of the hub’s business partners supporting its work. ‘For us, the hub is an exciting place to be, as one of our goals is scouting start-ups to connect with them. And we just want to see and be part of what’s happening in this scene,’ explains Dr Moritz Schellenberger, head of Innovation Management. ‘We could have gone to other co-working spaces, but we liked this one as we’re particularly interested in logistics and mobility.’

He and his team haven’t just been able to make lots of great contacts so far. It’s also the place itself that keeps them coming back: ‘We now also put on a lot of internal events in the hub, such as design thinking workshops, as the atmosphere is very special.’ After all, when you’re invited to an official meeting at a big company, it isn’t always particularly relaxed. The hub breaks that right open. And at the end of the day, it’s scientifically proven that the environment you work in has a direct impact on your creativity,’ says Schellenberger.

The freedom to be flexible

Otto Klemke also believes that an unusual place inspires thought. ‘The hub gives you freedom: there are a relatively large number of options for working here. It’s like a kind of platform. As well as desks, there are containers you can move around – so you can simply go where you like and get together for a few days here and there as a team, for instance. When I need a bit of peace and quiet, I put on my headphones, sit on a beanbag and look out at the water.’ Johannes Berg also sees this freedom as a real boon: ‘For start-ups and business partners, the hub offers a different environment and a place where different rules apply. There’s less reserve. Sometimes, sitting here does take more energy, but you can experience a lot of new things here. And not everyone likes networking all the time – there are also people who come here who just want to be left in peace all day, and that’s OK too. But, in principle, this is a place where conversations happen and contacts are made.’

According to Berg, for the concept to succeed, everyone involved needs to dare to immerse themselves in the new working environment and the ideas being uncovered at the hub. He then shares businesses’ joy in their successes: ‘When a new business comes in and develops prototypes with a start-up within the first two months, it’s just fantastic to watch that happen.’

The Digital Hub Logistics Hamburg specialises in logistics by land, air and water. Past tradition and future innovation intersect at this historic location in the city’s Speicherstadt district.

Collaboration with research and science sectors

This kind of prototype, for example, can also be created in collaboration with scientific research institutions: the hub works with organisations such as the Manufacturing Technology Lab at the Helmut Schmidt University/University of the German Federal Armed Forces in Hamburg – the university offers options for additive manufacturing. In the hub itself, there are also four students from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences’ Blockchain Innovation Lab, who work with start-ups looking to implement blockchain technology solutions. The hub also has a partnership with the Hamburg School of Business Administration.And to give examples of best practice, a study has been being run by the University of St. Gallen, TU Dresden and the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt in collaboration with Digital Hub Logistics since autumn 2019.

Passion: a driver of success

Making ideas public and sharing them in the hub always means that they could be taken up by somebody else. But according to Otto Klemke, there’s no reason to fear this: ‘If a business really wants to copy an idea and do it themselves, they’ll usually fail,’ he says. ‘After all, you need the brains behind it – the people who are passionate about the idea and truly ready to make it a reality. Passion is crucial to success.’ Moritz Schellenberger adds: ‘As a representative of a major company, I can tell you that we are absolutely not in the business of taking ideas from start-ups to develop them quicker than the start-up can themselves. That wouldn’t make much sense, either. I think there’s a lot more power in cooperation: on the one hand, you need the experience of experts from established companies, and on the other hand, the creativity, fresh thinking and speed that a start-up brings with it. You could also put it this way: established companies are tankers and start-ups are speedboats. They work in different ways and have different things that make them tick, open different doors and often have fresher ideas.’

»Combining the experience of experts from established companies with start-ups’ speed and creativity is a great way to make digital ideas a reality.«

Dr Moritz Schellenberger, head of Innovation Management, Lufthansa Industry Solutions (LHIND)

A flagship for logistics

Johannes Berg can look back with satisfaction on two years of the Digital Hub Logistics in Hamburg: ‘In this time, we’ve proven that we’ve really set off on our path to considerable success, in a relatively small space.’ This means that interested people and organisations frequently ask him whether they can get involved – and whether the hub is growing: ‘Which it is. The idea was and still is for the Digital Hub to become a flagship for logistics in Hamburg and beyond. And to become this kind of flagship, you need the right space. We want to grow into this in the next two years.’ For him, the challenge is offering the business partners, who ‘are paying for most of the party’, a constant flow of innovation, incentives and inspiration, and expanding into other countries. ‘Attracting even more global expertise to Hamburg is certainly on our agenda.’

Striking up conversation at events

The hub doesn’t just host its tenants’ events; it also puts on events run by Berg and his team under the ‘Connected’ banner. ‘In 2019, we put on over 80 events of all shapes and sizes. At these events, we try to offer start-ups, established companies, official representatives and university tutors opportunities to get talking. Anyone who’s part of this community can attend these events.’ In 2019 alone, the result was 42 joint projects between start-ups and established companies, in the form of investments, joint prototypes, direct orders and more.
The hub brings together established businesses and start-ups and figures from the science, research and education sectors, allowing them to share knowledge, push on with joint projects and create business models.
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