From Wednesday September 27 to Friday September 29, the Nordic Centre for Internet and Society (NCIS) members Christian Fieseler and Christoph Lutz were in Berlin teaching the Master’s course GRA 6843 Doing Digital Business.
The course emphasizes the importance of innovating business and service models, due to changing business environments. An intention of the course is that the students visit and work with digital innovators and develop business model reinvention in practice. Hence, as part of the course, the students get to participate in a 3-day study trip to Berlin, where they visit companies, experience guest lectures, and do other activities relevant to the course.
Company visits: Zalando, Factory Berlin Görlitzer Park, and Axel Springer
The group visited three companies over the three days. On Wednesday, September 27, the group visited Zalando. The company has a strong presence across Europe and is one of the biggest online retailers in the world, especially in fashion. The group visited the company´s BHQ-X building, which is part of its bigger campus in Friedrichshain/Kreuzberg. Here, they received a presentation by Zalando´s Talent Acquisition Partner, Kate Hockey, in which she spoke about the company’s approach, including its customer focus, business model and logistics, as well as their plans for the future.
On Thursday, September 28, the group visited Factory Berlin Görlitzer Park, an ecosystem consisting of more than 3,500 members from more than 70 nations. Factory curates the most ambitious creators from the tech, creative, and corporate sectors. The group was hosted by Factory’s Head of Platform Charlotte Hook and Director of Strategy and Development Nika Apriashvili, who gave an insightful presentation about Factory’s mission, their network, and their strategy as a key connector and incubator in the Berlin start-up ecosystem. Nika then provided a guided tour of the premises, showing them different coworking and community spaces at Factory.
The group also visited Axel Springer, on Friday, September 29. Axel Springer is a large German media company, responsible for publishing, among others, Germany’s biggest tabloid, Bild. As part of their visit, the group had a guided tour of the company´s iconic building in Berlin Mitte, which was opened in 2020. The building provides a space for several thousand employees, in addition to some digital startups and smaller companies.
Insightful guest presentations
The group also experienced five guest presentations. On Wednesday, September 27, Christoph Gerling from the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society gave an inspiring session about design thinking, lean startups, and ideation, with a fun group exercise for the students.
On Thursday, September 28, there were three guest presentations. Matthieu Binder from iRights gave interesting insights into his work at iRights, what it’s like to work for a think tank, and what they do in a large publicly funded project about artificial intelligence and the general public (i.e., a project to increase awareness and public knowledge about AI among ordinary citizens).
Bastian Halecker then gave a great presentation about the Berlin tech startup scene and some of his personal impressions having worked as a connector and entrepreneur in that space for a long time. In his presentation, he addressed the need for more collaboration rather than competition, as well as the importance of science-based and often misconstrued as “boring” ventures, so-called deep tech.
Concluding the program for this day, Sana Ahmed gave a fascinating guest lecture about the workers behind AI systems, specifically in the context of social media content moderation. Based on her extensive research, she showed how content moderation is still a lot of manual labor that is psychologically and emotionally taxing, poorly paid, and hidden by the big social media companies.
The last presentation was held by NCIS affiliate Philip Meier, from the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, on Friday, September 29. Philip provided the group with an engaging guest lecture about his experience of working for Peregrine.Ai, which is a startup in the field of computer vision, including aspects such as fundraising, hiring, pricing, and scaling.
The main themes of the trip mirrored the course content, focusing on aspects such as digital technology start-ups, digital innovation, and emerging technologies. This year, there was also an extra focus on AI, especially in many of the guest presentations. Overall, the goal of the trip is to sensitize the students to digital business in a different context from Norway.