Tapping Eastern Europe's startup potential: Deutsche Telekom takes incubator to Poland

The German telco's first overseas outpost is based in Krakow and will be casting its net wide across the continent in a hunt for startups with smart ideas.
Written by Michiel van Blommestein, Contributor
Krakow, home to Deutsche Telekom's first overseas branch of hub:raum. Image: Shutterstock

Deutsche Telekom is hoping to catch the wave of startup potential currently coming out of Central and Eastern Europe with a new Polish incubator, hub:raum.

Hub:raum, located in Poland's second city, Krakow, has been open for around a month and aims to support startups with viable business ideas. In return, the startup's services will be offered to customers of Deutsche Telekom's various businesses, including T-Mobile.

Like every incubator, hub:raum provides funding, access to mentors, office space, and launch pad services to its chosen startups.

Deutsche Telekom opened the first hub:raum, based in Berlin, moe than a year ago. To date, it's backed five startups, including an online reputation management service and a tool for finding beauty parlours and hairdressers.

Currently, the Polish hub:raum is still in the exploration phase, attending small scale events in Poland. "We are currently preparing a shortlist of potential startups," Jakub Probola, innovation unit manager at Polska Telefonia Cyfrowa, the Polish arm of Deutsche Telekom, says.

The Krakow branch already works with about 10 mentors and is extending that network (according to Probola: the hub:raum website currently lists six).

Probola cites the obvious reasons why Deutsche Telekom decided to set up its first overseas branch of hub:raum in Krakow: "It's a good place with a good atmosphere that drives creativity, and there are at least two very good technical universities."

A base for Eastern Europe

While the southern Polish city may be hip, Probola knows all too well that the city alone probably won't deliver all the startups hub:raum needs. The Krakow branch will serve as a central location for the whole region east of Germany. "We are hoping Krakow can attract startups from this region of Europe," Probola says. "So that would include the Czech Repubic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary and further south."

Reaching the scattered startups in the area is a question of attending events and building up a mentor network. "We will also use our network of local operators," Probola says, adding that for now this will only include companies owned or partially-owned by Deutsche Telekom. However, personally Probola does not see a problem in working with with non-Deutsche Telekom businesses at some point. "There are currently no plans to do that, but generally speaking we could choose to partner up with other companies in the future," he says.

Deutsche Telekom's local operators will support the eventually chosen startups by offering a launch pad, a core part of the Hub:Raum initiative. "Basically, we will be offering tools to get access to customers," Probola notes. "It depends from case to case, but customers would access to these services through pre-installation, marketing or customer care activating a service on demand."

Of course, hub:raum isn't a charity, and it gives Deutsche Telekom first access to ideas that the startups come up with and eventually to make money out of them. However, getting involved with hub:raum won't mean those startups having to sign any exclusivity deals for the services they develop.

"We work like any other accelerator," Probola says. "The main focus for us here lies in the local markets. We are not aiming to create value for Hub:Raum as such, but rather for local operators by getting them services which their customers can use on a day to day basis. When we succeed in getting a startup and let them work together with an operator in the Czech Republic or Hungary, that would mean hub:raum is working."

Beside Polska Cyfrowa, these include T-Mobile Czech, T-Mobile Slovakial, T-Hrvatski Telekom and Magyar Telekom.

"The startups are free to work with anyone else they want to," Probola says. "The second thing that would balance it out is that we work with independent mentors. Once a startup is healthy enough to do so, they are to reach out themselves to other customers and markets as well. We help them to start and to start growing, without any strings attached."

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