Corporations need to digitalize in order to overcome their challenges. That’s especially true for the large industrial corporations in Germany’s Ruhr region and its over 50 cities and municipalities. By collaborating with startups, they are able to drive the change forward, and that’s what the Data Hub program by Gründerallianz Ruhr is all about: cupid’s work between corporates and startups. 

The German Ruhr region has been undergoing a unique transformation. For a century it was the place for the steel and mining industry, but it has been rediscovering its identity in the past decade. Today, the region that is home to over five million people is aiming to integrate the knowledge and experience into the new digital era. 

Gründerallianz Ruhr is part of this mission to make the Ruhr region a forerunner and show its huge potential – especially for B2B startups:’. Christian Lüdtke, himself born in the Ruhr region and successful founder of digital consultancy etventure, thinks the Ruhr region offers opportunities like no other area in Germany, for startups and companies alike. “What we need in order to benefit from these opportunities are companies willing to open their doors to digital specialists and innovation drivers from the start-up ecosystem”, he tells

That’s why he launched the Data Hub Ruhr, a three-months curated program, where startups can get to work on the challenges that various Ruhr corporates want to tackle. “As digitalization processes are catching up in the Ruhr region, data and talent support are greasing the wheels”, said Dr. Frank Dudda, mayor of the Ruhr city of Herne, during the demo day of Data Hub Ruhr, where five startups presented their results.  

Startup AdiutaByte emerged that day as the winner, for helping waste management company Entsorgung Herne reduce their kilometers driven for bulk waste pickup by up to 30 percent. They were able to shorten the resident’s waiting times by two thirds. The startup won a well deserved 10.000 euro and a chance to collaborate with Herne further. 

Finding the right match

The program turned out very valuable to Herne, as they were looking for “out of the box thinking”. “Cities need different perspectives to solve problems, the digitalization is the answer to some problems of the cities, for example in the fields of mobility, energy or climate change”, says Pierre Golz of Herne’s Office for Digitalization. “The disruptive thoughts and the general mindset of startups are important to solve those difficult problems.” 

Important for Herne is that a startup can match with their specific profile, as the company is not seeking to maximize profit, but to maximize the welfare of its citizens, organizing state services in an efficient, paperless and transparent way. It is important for startups to understand this context: “To understand the needs of citizens is important to create qualitative solutions for the problems.” 

Data Hub proves to be valuable here, by helping the city formulate its needs and finding the most fitting partners. “I think that the cooperation between cities, research, and industry, in general, is one of the most important change-processes the public sector has to solve”, says Pierre Golz. “The Data Hub program could be an important partner to create this ecosystem of innovation which is needed to solve future problems.” 

Sparking innovation

For Evonik, another corporation participating in Data Hub Ruhr, digitalization is essential to overcome some of their challenges for the future. Over the next years, a lot of knowledgeable people in the specialty chemicals company will retire. Databases and other online tools might be the key to preserve expertise for younger scientists in the company.

Another challenge is that the company has a lot of innovative ideas, but not always the time and resources to test them out. “Here, collaborations with startups help. With the Data Hub program we can test potential ideas to see if it’s promising and worth spending more money and time on”, says Udo Goecke, Digital Strategist at Evonik.

It’s also important for Evonik to inspire a more entrepreneurial and agile culture within their company. “Startups have this already in their DNA”, says Goecke. “Collaborating with a startup might also spark some new ideas and transfer part of this culture into our company.” 

To select the startup they wanted to work with, Goecke thinks it’s important to find a startup that shows certain confidence that they can deliver a good result. “You see it in those pitches, most of them look very confident”, he says. “But they also have to really give you the feeling that they are able to deliver what they are promising. They need to have a unique ingredient that others don’t have that we cannot get somewhere else.”

Another important criterion is that the company culture should not be too different. For example, when it comes to the pace of work some common ground is needed. “Some startups are very aggressive in their development pace – sometimes, we can already see from the beginning we won’t be able to work together”, says Goecke.

The runner-up that matched all of Evonik´s expectations was Berlin-based startup Industrial Analytics. They won 5000 EUR for developing an Artificial Intelligence with which Evonik can develop ideal mixing ratios for polymer compounds. 

For the startup, it can be a challenge to find the right contact person at a big corporation. “Who, besides their daily tasks, is willing to explore new products and services and can push this within the company as well”, says project manager Robert Strube. Data Hub makes the process very smooth. “We already know what challenges to solve, who is the contact person, what is the budget, the time frame. It makes it all easier.” 

And hopefully, says Strube, it will also lead to collaboration after the project: “If the connection is good between the partners, you can move forward, either with the same project or in order to solve new challenges.”

Got excited about Data Hub Ruhr? Good news: you can apply for their freshly released open call here! Hurry – deadline is May 8th to upload your application.

About Data Hub:

The Data Hub is a business building program that connects startups with established companies from the Ruhr region. Your task is to tackle the use cases with innovative ideas and to create a proof-of-concept within a 3-month cooperation period.

Funding: €20K per case + additional €10K for Data Hub Demo Day winner – 100% equity-free.

How Startup Collaborations Are Boosting The Ruhr Region
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