Daring to innovate at Buchholz's ISI Centre
The pandemic, inflation and the war in Ukraine all make for a world marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity or VUCA. First coined in the 1990s, the term remains frighteningly up to date. However, founders at the Initiative for Start-up and Innovation (ISI) Centre for Start-ups, Business and Innovation in Harburg remain largely unfazed by the economic repercussions of the combined adverse factors. Kerstin Helm, Manager of ISI, noted: "Of course, fledgling companies are not immune to the latest developments. But the mood is mostly good when we talk about business.” Most founders are optimistic as they believe firmly in their respective business ideas and situations. "Many companies are still in the development phase and are well able to adapt to the prevailing conditions," said Helm, who trained in the banking sector, and has worked as a start-up consultant for many years. Opened in 2014, the ISI Centre is operated by Wirtschaftsförderung im Landkreis Harburg GmbH (WLH).
Flexible leases and expert support
Around 36 start-ups and fledgling companies rent space in the five-storey building in Buchholz, which was designed to promote entrepreneurship and innovation. Thus, ISI is almost fully occupied. However, leases are limited to five years maximum, so space is always opening up. The offer includes flexible rental contracts for offices, function rooms and workshops. "The flexibility of the contracts is crucial. A founder might start with 16 sqm for EUR 240. If things go well, he or she might rent another 16 sqm or return to the kitchen table until better times come," said Helm.
Expert rounds and knowledge transfer
Tenants have access to space and benefit from WLH's regional competence network. "We arrange contacts with experts on issues-related to start-ups, financing or funding opportunities, and we bring knowledge on a wide range of topics to the ISI Centre. To this end, we are networked with many regional universities including TUHH, the University of Hamburg, HAW Hamburg and with Leuphana University in Lüneburg," Helm pointed out.
The broad range of advisory and information events reflects the heterogeneous make-up of ISI's tenants. "We have many specialised start-ups and like to support innovative approaches. Founders who want to break new ground do not always have an easy time with conventional landlords," said Helm. The ISI Centre is home to many digitally and technologically-minded start-ups such as Sequence6, which offers AI solutions for business processes. Another tenant named Engenigs specialises in engineering services and building prototypes. University spin-offs like Traceless launch their market entry from ISI. Now, Traceless is developing a compostable plastic alternative from biomass and received funding from the European Innovation Council (EIC) based on its novel approach. But the ISI Centre also houses traditional business sectors and in late 2021, the Möschter & Knittel digital agency, the Jeromin personnel consultancy and the Infrawarm heating system provider became tenants.
Fostering young founders
"The various companies cross-fertilise each other even though or perhaps precisely because they are active in different fields." That makes it easier to look further afield. Many of the tenants are around 30 years old, have years of experience in large companies and a good knowledge of their market. "But we also have the very young in mind and have offered our start-up class since March." This latest offer targets “entrepreneurs under 22 years” and who often develop or even launch their first business idea while still in school. "These very young founders often do not fit into any of the established schemes due to their age and face very specific legal and business challenges as a result. They see things in far simpler terms and more clearly than experienced professionals,” Helm noted. Fostering these young founders and their esprit is now a top priority for both WLH and Helm. These budding entrepreneurs can expect even more support when the next start-up class begins on September 20, 2022.