…whereby we match innovative solutions with challenges from industrial practice.
What on the face of it might sound a little suggestive is actually a rather fitting description of what Volkswagen Financial Services are planning to achieve with their newly created hub. This is a place where mature product services and process ideas are sought, identified and developed and teamed up with the business concepts and strategies of the world's leading automotive financial services provider on its way to digital transformation.
In telecommunications, devices that connect network nodes in a star topology are referred to as hubs (technically a 'nodal point' or 'junction'). This may sound a bit unexciting, but it still vividly illustrates how the new Volkswagen Financial Services hub works: the hub connects start-ups and their new ideas or approaches with the business model of Volkswagen Financial Services in a tailored and focused manner. Although the method is not entirely new, it is somehow different, more directed, and still largely unknown in Germany.
Small and swift versus large and sluggish
The many start-ups, digital labs and innovation incubators that exist – mostly spun-off from universities – face a common problem, and not just in Germany.
Almost all of them have developed great new ideas based on groundbreaking concepts. After this initial conception phase, these ideas are then tested in a number of so-called validations and field trials – all well and good so far, one might think. But actually it's more suboptimal than good.
Why? Because this is exactly the point where the majority of start-ups fail, for the simple reason that they don't manage to scale their ideas and implement them as a cross-industry innovation or transfer them into large-scale operational application. The problem frequently lies not within the start-up itself, but in the immobility and inflexibility of the companies and industrial partners at the other end that should be adapting accordingly. A lot of companies are simply too large and often have hierarchies and structures that are much too rigid to be able to respond to the small start-up entrepreneurs and their unconventional energy and vigor. What's more, the "If it wasn't thought up here, why do we need someone else's idea?" attitude regularly hinders the quick and effective adaptation of any proposal coming from outside. Metaphorically speaking, one could also paint the picture of small, maneuverable speedboats getting together with huge, ponderous tankers to raise a treasure trove (of ideas, in this case) from the seabed – unfortunately, that rarely works effectively.
How the hub sparks things off
The new hub at Volkswagen Financial Services is different because it functions (more) autonomously and is therefore a little more liberated from typical corporate structures. It works in two directions: Outwardly it acts as a docking station for start-ups that have developed use-case-based solutions for different problems posed by the business model of Volkswagen's financial services providers. Inwardly it serves a focal point for all the VW FS business units that face different implementation challenges difficult to master within the given structures and that therefore need new, creative impulses from outside the company.
Our hub is a pioneering collaboration project between the business, technical, academic and start-up communities with the aim of pooling ideas, collecting experience and building up networks. At the same time we are also enhancing our company's existing links to the universities and technical colleges.
The hub, whose new umbrella name Ubility is to stand in the medium to long term for brand-independent services and products from Volkswagen Financial Services, accompanies, mediates and nurtures the origination process at exactly those interfaces where those with a problem come together with those offering its solution. At precisely this point, the hub "matches" the participants effectively and fuses their capabilities into a mutually beneficial symbiosis. It "sparks something off" between them, so to speak, to bring about a classic multiple-win situation. After all, in an ideal world the success of the hub should not just enhance the business performance of Volkswagen Financial Services, but can also – depending on the particular "match" made – ensure the ecological and social success of the company, and ideally that of the region in which the start-up is flourishing as well. In the course of this process, there is no reason not to expand into the international arena as well and cooperate with other hubs like the one set up by the Volkswagen Group in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Admittedly, the hub still has a long way to go until such a point. It is difficult to say where this path will lead at the moment – so soon after the hub came into being on 21.11.2019 at the High Tech Entrepreneurship & Innovation Forum (HTEIF) in the presence of the German Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek. That having been said, the first practical successes of the new "Innovation Tinder" are already taking firm shape on the horizon.
Uwe Tschischak, Innovation Hub Director at Volkswagen Financial Services, is certainly convinced. As he describes the project, which is indeed itself an innovation: "Our hub is a pioneering collaboration project between the business, technical, academic and start-up communities with the aim of pooling ideas, collecting experience and building up networks. At the same time we are also enhancing our company's existing links to the universities and technical colleges."