Following last year’s Digital.NYC initiative, IBM has recently announced techberlin.com in partnership with City of Berlin. The arrangement is similar to what IBM has been doing with the City of New York since October 2014. Techberlin.com which also involves some other local organisations is a portal aimed at technology start-ups. The features include a job board, local events information, news and a city map of resources beneficial to start-ups such as work spaces. Start-ups can join the portal through which they can then be easily discovered by investors, job seekers and others. As with the New York venture, the portal will be hosted by IBM in its SoftLayer cloud, and there will be other incentives such as up to $120,000 in cloud credits for qualifying local start-ups.
There is no doubt that any support for emerging technology companies from a collaboration between large organisations like IBM and government is a good thing. We have seen for a number of years how government support in Silicon Valley, London and Israel has driven successful start-up based economies. Enterprises and big tech vendors have been keen to both feed this community and benefit from it. What IBM is demonstrating in New York and Berlin is how tech vendors can collaborate more directly with government.
However the true value to start-ups is not in the technology or features of the portal itself. Start-ups do not need IBM or local government to create a jobs board, they can do that themselves. What they do need is access to customers and markets. Unlike the Facebook and Twitter generation, today’s new businesses tend to be more enterprise focused. Just consider the likes of Box, Huddle or Xero. To be successful they need to win the business of enterprises, the kind of customers that IBM has been working with for decades. It is here that companies like IBM can prove incredibly helpful.
Fortunately enterprises are also interested in learning from and working with start-ups. As software is becoming the key differentiator amongst enterprises, they realise that they need to be more innovative and deliver that innovation to market faster: something that start-ups are especially good at. While at the same time many employees within enterprises are using or demanding the type of products that start-ups provide. The aforementioned Box and Huddle are great examples of enterprise focused start-ups with products that enterprise users actually want to use.
That means enterprises having to engage with new micro-organisations as suppliers or partners or in some cases through acquisition. We’re seeing this across industries from banking to pharmaceutical and retail. A lesson learned from Digital.NYC was that enterprises wanted to use the portal to find and engage with start-ups. This is to be reflected in Techberlin.com where discovery will be easier for enterprises. IBM’s ability to act as a bridge between enterprise and start-up is a role that the company has embraced through various activities and across global markets.
In addition to entrepreneurs, there is also the developer community that IBM is working to engage more broadly than it has done for a while. Developers within the start-up ecosystem often fit a different profile to those in traditional enterprises and gravitate towards different architectural patterns and technologies. Recent changes to IBM’s developer portal developerWorks which provides technical resources in a number of different languages including Chinese and Brazilian Portuguese have gone a long way towards helping developers engage with its technology. developerWorks, which currently attracts 4 million developers across 195 countries per month, has undergone a major overhaul which includes a specific focus on key technology trends such as Cloud, Mobile, Web, Internet of Things, DevOps and Cognitive computing. Some areas that are especially of interest to many start-ups. Its 50k+ resources include a heavy focus on open technologies, a passion which both IBM and many new developers share.
What we will be looking for is how these initiatives are delivered on the ground, especially in Berlin which is not in IBM’s backyard. Events like Meetups and Hackathons are great ways to directly engage entrepreneurs and developers. But vendors also need people and resources on the ground and engaging through multiple third party events and organisations. Techberlin.com and Digital.NYC shows IBM is willing to collaborate with others. It will also be interesting to see where IBM may go next and will there be a similar engagement but in one of the big tech hubs (no disrespect to NYC but it is second to Silicon Valley and perhaps even now behind London) like the Valley or London?
The NYC portal has seen engagement according to the industries and special interests of New York. The Techberlin.com portal on the other hand will showcase the strong industrial foundations of the region and the prominence of the Internet of Things. If vendors like IBM are going to succeed in driving new products and services into existing customers and new start-ups, then it needs to engage directly and at a local level. Digital.NYC and Techberlin.com are great ways to achieve this and create relevance at a local level.
We have seen others do this in London and have success. Just as enterprises need to learn what makes start-ups so successful so does IBM and that cannot be done from a sprawling HQ tucked away somewhere remote. It requires action on the ground were start-ups live and thrive. So, while start-ups in Berlin may not be excited about a job board they will be by the opportunities that directly engaging with IBM and its partners could provide. At least the smart ones will.