Start-in Factory for medium-sized companies

New innovation concept connects the best of two worlds

© Digital Hub Logistics
Maria Beck is responsible for the start-in factory in the Digital Hub Logistics Dortmund.

In times of digitization companies must change a lot – in particular, how they design innovation processes and generate innovations. A new approach to the implementation or the acceleration of transformation processes is the establishment of innovation teams similar to start-ups, in particular in traditional companies. This innovation concept is called “start-in”, a development of the innovation ecosystem of the Digital Hub Logistics. Maria Beck explains what is behind the offer of the start-in factory.

One of the biggest challenges for companies on their way towards digital transformation is the question of innovation approaches with which transformation processes can be triggered or controlled. However, it goes to show that product development is often very lengthy, in particular in traditional medium-sized companies. A fundamental reason for that are the traditional and rigid processes. Today, speed plays an increasingly important role in the digital transformation, the generation of new business ideas and, thus, a new entrepreneurship.


The freedom to do something

Companies can lay the foundation for this with so-called start-ins: these are digital teams or units of classic companies managed like start-ups that deal with innovations beyond the daily business and outside the usual product development processes. Embedded in the parent company and on the basis of its financial and organizational backing, but necessarily physically separated from it, start-ins develop new digital products and build up new digital business areas. To put ideas into practice, they receive the necessary freedom to decide for themselves and not least their own budget. Here, the legal form of a start-in is not a decisive criterion: start-ins can both stay as an internal unit in the company and be spun off as a separate company.

Of far greater importance is the fact that start-ins work mostly independently from the parent company respectively have sufficient time and space to develop and pursue their own ideas. Because: capacities for the development of ideas are not absorbed by other, supposedly more important task in the main company. Start-ins are flexible because of flat hierarchies. That results in shorter decision processes and in fast implementation. The willingness to try new things is – like in classic start-ups – simply stronger.


A new self-understanding

Actually, the term “start-in” is also understood as equivalent of the term “start-up”. This term has extremely positive connotations in business, science and society. In the meantime, the now proverbial start-up mentality is shaping a whole generation. The term “start-in” is taking on the positive connotation of the term “start-up”. A company that follows the path of digital transformation with a start-in transports a new self-understanding and sets an important signal for companies, employees, customers and stakeholders.

In the start-in factory of the Digital Hub Logistics in Dortmund, recognized as Digital Innovation Hub by the European Commission, such start-ins are professionally accompanied. Here, digital units of established companies receive support in three areas: process, place and community. An innovation coach accompanies and manages the innovation process and makes sure that the start-in receives the right support at any time by precisely fitting innovation components. These range from workshops on specific innovation methods, from cooperation with scientists in testbeds of the hub's innovation ecosystem up to the development of digital business models and market. The possibility of using coworking spaces and the access to a community that can accompany a start-in from idea to market, provide a 360-degree support.

The concept of start-ins is only just beginning to establish in the German innovation landscape. In the start-in factory, however, numerous renowned medium-sized companies from various industries are already demonstrating how they are pushing forward the digital transformation with new innovative projects.



Maria Beck is responsible for the start-in factory in the Digital Hub Logistics Dortmund.



In 2019, the Digital Hub Logistics Dortmund won the Champions Challenge of the European Digital Innovation Hubs. You can download the flyer about the award and further information on “One of the world´s leading ecosystems dedicates to logistics” here.