The story behind the digitalHUB matching platform and startups.nrw
A digital platform on which startups, investors and corporates present themselves, their ideas and challenges and are matched with each other based on them – that is the concept of the B2B Tech Ecosystem Innoloft. Founded in 2015 as a spin-off of RWTH Aachen University, Innoloft is one of the founding members of the digitalHUB Aachen e.V. As such, Innoloft has designed and implemented both the matching platform of the digitalHUB Aachen and the NRW-wide platform startups.nrw, the official launch of which was announced by NRW Minister of Economic Affairs Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart on October 27, 2020. In an interview with Sven Pietsch, CEO of Innoloft and Iris Wilhelmi, Managing Director of the digitalHUB Aachen, we learned how the digitalHUB Aachen’s matching platform served as a model for the NRW-wide platform and how the stories of Innoloft and the digitalHUB Aachen have grown together.
Iris and Sven, how did the digitalHUB and Innoloft come together?
Iris Wilhelmi: Innoloft is one of our founding members and has been part of the digitalHUB Aachen from the very beginning, i.e. since mid-2016, as a start-up from the very beginning. When we moved to digitalCHURCH in 2017, Innoloft moved into our CoWorking with seven employees – today there are about 30 – and then rented two floors of office space in the Kaplanshaus at the beginning of 2019. Both Innoloft and we have grown in the meantime.
Sven Pietsch: Before founding the digitalHUB, we were a member of Startlab, the former incubator for digital start-ups at RWTH Aachen University. When the Startlab merged with the CoWorking of the digitalHUB, we were naturally directly involved.
Sven, how has your development been from the foundation until today? And what role has the digitalHUB played in it?
Sven Pietsch: We founded our start-up in 2015 as a spin-off from RWTH Aachen University with the goal of building a research database for research transfer. When it turned out that nobody wanted to pay for it, we changed our concept to a company database. Around that time the startup trend started and we got our first contract to screen startups. We soon realized that the mediation of business contacts does not work with a static database, but rather requires a digital business network. And so we came up with the idea of building an operating system for digital networks and marketplaces. The digitalHUB with its large network was a strong support for our market access from the beginning. And thanks to the digitalHUB matching platform that we implemented for the HUB, it is also a cool reference for us!
How did the joint project of the matching platform come about?
Iris Wilhelmi: The idea of the joint platform had been around for quite a while. But since we already had our digitalHUB Member Space and Innoloft – originally under the name Energieloft – was initially focused on energy companies, we were still waiting for the proof of concept. We also looked around the market but came to the conclusion that Innoloft’s white label solution and the integration of the matching platform into our existing member space was the best solution for us. And so it came to a joint launch in 2018. Our digitalHUB matching platform, was the first open-industry platform that Innoloft implemented at that time.
What opportunities does the platform offer for which target group?
Sven: In short: Startups find investors, cooperation partners or customers; companies find innovation ideas, suppliers as well as innovation partners or startups and investors find investment cases. In addition to the independent search, the platform also automatically presents potential business partners. We then count as a match every conversation that takes place between different parties via the platform.
How did it happen that the matching platform of the digitalHUB Aachen became a model for the NRW-wide platform startups.nrw?
Iris Wilhelmi: Here, both the NRW Ministry of Economic Affairs was the driving force and the HUBs that had emerged from the Digital Economy NRW initiative. The other digital hubs also wanted to have transparency about their ecosystems, the digital hubs also wanted to better network their ecosystems with each other, and the Ministry also wanted to prominently present the great potential of the NRW-wide startup ecosystem to the outside world. Due to the great experience we had as digitalHUB Aachen with our matching platform, our platform then served as a blueprint for the NRW-wide platform. Together with the Digital Hub münsterLAND we accompanied the implementation.
How did the first weeks of startups.nrw since the kick-off go and what are the next milestones?
Sven Pietsch: The developments on the platform are very positive. We have had over 400 logins from over 250 unique users since the launch. In parallel we continue to work on the platform. The next important milestone is the event module, which will go online in a few days. It will allow platform users to create events, invite each other to them, hold the events there and streaming tools like YouTube or Zoom can also be integrated.
Iris, Sven had just answered this question, so the last question for you: What role does Innoloft play for the digitalHUB?
Iris Wilhelmi: With the conception and implementation of the digitalHUB matching platform, Innoloft has mapped our ecosystem completely digitally – that’s a great added value for us and is elementarily important. If you know what a great team is behind Innoloft, it’s clear that we would be crazy not to work with Innoloft!
Thank you very much for the nice closing, Iris, and thank you very much for the interview, Iris and Sven!
The interview was conducted by Karin Bönig, PR-Editor at digitalHUB Aachen