A Hotspot for Innovation
The start-up incubator at Freie Universität Berlin has moved into the building at Altensteinstraße 40 in Dahlem, a location steeped in history.
Feb 19, 2019
The villa has been freshly painted white, wooden pallets and cardboard boxes are leaning up against the wall, and the bare ground in the front yard has been freshly raked. Inside, Steffen Terberl and Georg Wittenburg are carrying a desk down the stairs.
“It doesn’t fit in our office anymore. Maybe another team will want it,” Wittenburg says. He and his startup, Inspirient, are just moving into a room on the second floor of Freie Universität’s new start-up incubator.
The company, which specializes in big data, uses artificial intelligence to perform automated analysis of business data. Terberl, for his part, is the head of Profund Innovation, the service institution tasked with supporting start-ups and innovation within the research division of Freie Universität. His team advises spin-offs, helps them find financing, and offers office space for founders.
That space used to be spread all around the university campus, but now the organization that supports start-ups and the start-ups themselves are housed under the same roof – at the new incubator, a breeding ground for innovation. Terberl views the move as a big step forward. He expects it to strengthen ties among founders themselves, but also their links with Freie Universität. He pitches in during the move, making every effort to avoid scraping the walls. The building at Altensteinstraße 40 is more than 100 years old, and it has been renovated and refurbished with great attention to detail in keeping with its historic status.
More than 100 Workstations on Three Floors
Occupants and visitors alike are thrilled at the results. Ornate wrought-iron railings harmonize with modern hanging light fixtures, and white stucco meets smooth green cabinet fronts. The building’s centerpiece is its coworking space, which occupies 150 square meters. It can accommodate events and seminars for as many as 100 people. On a day-to-day basis, the space is subdivided with soundproof curtains. It encompasses a seating corner and a 3D printing shop. There are also tables and chairs for flexible workspaces. Electrical outlets are suspended from the ceiling, and a projector, partitions, and blackboards are available for use. Some of the equipment was financed through funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.
The offices, which offer more than 100 workstations in all, are spread across three floors. Almost all of them have been assigned by now. To promote communication, a large shared kitchen with a patio and grill was set up. The site also hosts regular meetings. To Wittenburg, these are not the new location’s only advantages: “Our customers like to come to us for meetings. Now we finally have a presentable space where we can host them.”
The Dearemployee office is located on the ground floor: seven workstations with a view of the garden. Dearemployee, a spin-off of the Division of Health Psychology, offers companies a digital infrastructure for their health management activities. Founder Amelie Wiedemann used to work as a research associate in the Rostlaube building. Her old institute is now just a short walk away.
Being located in close physical proximity is important to her, since dialogue works better when people can quickly meet up in person. Her spin-off might apply for a research grant together with her former colleagues soon. Wiedemann thinks the new incubator really looks great and has appropriate equipment. “A smoothie bar or the other bells and whistles like you might find at the incubators of big companies in Berlin’s Mitte district – we don’t need any of that,” she says.
The building at Altensteinstraße 40 has had an eventful history. It was built in 1912 to house the Royal Astronomical Calculation Institute. After World War II, the American armed forces used it as their clubhouse, “Melodie.” The building was later turned over to Freie Universität, and in 1951 the Friedrich Meinecke Institute moved in. It was used as the headquarters of the university management from 1973 to 1995, and after that by the Institutes of Islamic Studies and Religious Studies.
The key factor in the building’s new use as an incubator was its close proximity to the FUBIC technology and start-up center, which is being built right next door, on the grounds of the former U.S. military hospital on Fabeckstraße. The plan is for the FUBIC to offer young technology firms room to grow when it begins operating, a couple of years from now. WISTA-Management GmbH, which also operates the Berlin Adlershof science and technology park, is responsible for building and operating the center. The empty hospital will be used as a film set until late December, with demolition slated to start in January.
If all goes smoothly, Vincent Pohl and Johannes Budau can imagine working at FUBIC one day. The two business founders have been receiving a Berlin start-up scholarship for a few months now, and they just moved into an office on the second floor of the incubator. The goal of their planned start-up, Quantum on Demand, is to help researchers through automated theoretical simulation of chemical experiments. Their business model is digital, but personal dialogue with customers on site is really worthwhile, especially during the development phase. “It’s just a few minutes from here to the Institute of Chemistry and other scientific institutions,” says Budau, pleased. An official opening ceremony for the new incubator is scheduled for next year. Many guests will be invited. The hotspot for innovation is bound to make a name for itself in Dahlem and beyond by then, if not before.