The knowledge conglomerate

The Charlottenburg Innovation Centre (CHIC) has been at home on Bismarckstraße for the past six years. The centre was set up to foster the development of young startups. A success story

Lars Hansen © WISTA-MANAGEMENT GMBH

“We have to talk”. These words often precede a deep – and usually unpleasant – conversation about a relationship. In fact, this kind of tête-à-tête tends to end with at least one person deciding to terminate the relationship. Lars Hansen has had many such conversations. And, indeed, most of them have revolved around coming to the end of a relationship.

Hansen is director of the Charlottenburg Innovation Centre (CHIC), a site created in 2011 out of a project called “The sustainable vitalisation of the creative quarter on and around Campus Charlottenburg”. The idea behind the project was to foster innovative spinoffs emerging out of Berlin’s Technische Universität (TU) and University of the Arts (UdK). Young companies are invited to take advantage of CHIC’s infrastructure and low-rent office space to develop their business in peace and quiet. After eight years, however, they are asked to leave. “We try to push the companies out as gently as possible”, says Hansen. In other words, after six years, Hansen approaches the company for a talk about ending the relationship. Today, the enterprises that launched together with CHIC in 2011 are reaching the point where they’re going to have to have that talk. And there’s good reason for it: CHIC is explicitly intended for small-scale startups, that is, for everything from one-man companies to 25-member teams.

Some startups stay for the entire tenure at CHIC. “Others grow so fast they have to move out after one year because there’s simply not enough room anymore”, reveals Hansen, rattling off some impressive numbers: at the moment, there are 65 companies with approximately 300 employees spread out over 4,500 square metres. Roughly 90 percent of the companies are active in the IT industry, and more than half are spinoffs from the university sector. Hansen calls his centre a “conglomerate of knowledge”. The most important number, however, is the centre’s 95 percent occupancy rate.

“We’re bursting at the seams”, says Hansen, noting that this makes it almost impossible to be flexible regarding a young company’s space requirements. Hansen is hopeful that local political administrators will consider expanding CHIC to include an additional site, especially seeing as “CHIC is an absolute success story”. Indeed, even though things look relaxed and casual at first glance – most employees are wearing t-shirts and runners – the centre has a highly professional atmosphere. “People work very hard here”, says Hansen, who is not only the head of the centre, but also the complaints box and a jack of all trades. Hansen knows all the managing directors. He also knows what companies are working on, what difficulties they’re having and which hurdles they need to overcome. Of course he gets caught up in each company’s growth development. But the moment always comes where they have to make that big leap. At which point it’s time to have ‘the talk’.

Stefanie Paul
Kluge Köpfe 2017