Martin Mahn, CEO of HI, names five essentials of innovation

17 November 2020
How science-based ideas become successful business concepts revealed in interview with Hamburg News

A profusion of inventions and unique discoveries with start-up potential are emerging at universities across Hamburg. This wealth of ideas can provide the economy with new technologies that have a long-lasting impact on society. To ensure such a transfer of knowledge, Hamburg Innovation GmbH helps scientists find partners and companies to make progress by commissioning research. Martin Mahn, CEO of Hamburg Innovation, reveals how he and his team identify and advance the most promising ideas from hundreds arriving on their desks every year. 

Hamburg News: Mr. Mahn, your company name includes innovation. What in your opinion is the essence of a good innovation?

Martin Mahn: Any invention or innovation that is applied and benefits people. Everything that makes life easier and better now or in future.

Hamburg News:  Which five attributes are essential?

Martin Mahn: What we lack most in Germany is courage. That includes the courage to make mistakes and secondly a culture of error. We also lack strong personal drive and a change of perspective. You have to be able to see things from a different perspective. Money is part of that. You cannot launch on the market without it. And lastly, you need partners, networks and an open culture that creates the right conditions.

Hamburg News:  Hamburg Innovation ensures the transfer of good ideas from science to business via the Startup Port, the online sites beyourpilot, Science Scout and others. What is the greatest challenge during this transfer?

Martin Mahn: Clearly, patience. You have to be patient and persevere. We associate science and business with very different worlds and values. Both speak different languages; we are the translators and catalyst. You need empathy and patience.

Hamburg News: How many ideas have seen the light of day with your help? Has an idea become a marketable business model? Can you put a number on that i.e. name three start-ups?

Martin Mahn: Around 160 of the total number of start-ups that we supported are still on the market. That is a success rate of 75 per cent. We conduct between 120 and 150 talks a year, resulting in around 10 per cent successful companies. We supported the logistics start-up Nüwiel, which is now working very successfully with DHL and IKEA and the environmental technology start-ups Vilisto and Comydo with their cloud-based solutions for parcel delivery. 

Hamburg News:  Is there a trend or particularly interesting development among university spin-offs? 

Martin Mahn: Apart from the basic digitalization trend, augmented or virtual reality is increasingly being used in the media industry. Many founders originating from the Hamburg University of Technology (TU) start out with an idea in the field of sustainability or the environmental protection. The founders of LignoPure and winners of the 2019 Future Hamburg Award and the non-plastic start-up, Traceless, are good examples. 

Hamburg News: What makes Hamburg a successful hotspot of innovations?

Martin Mahn: Hamburg is a cosmopolitan trading city with solid commercial expertise thanks to its port. That is a great advantage as 80 per cent of start-ups fail because they lack business management skills. Yet, business people frequently have little understanding of technology. But we are working on that. We also have top specialists in Hamburg. But that is not well known. We are a "hidden science city".

Hamburg News: Thank you for the interesting interview Mr. Mahn.

Interview by Karolin Köcher 



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