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No time to lose: Cologne needs digital pioneers

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first − According to a study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for System and Innovation Research in May 2017, just 6.6 percent of Germans have fast fibre optic internet connections (source: In comparison fibre optic coverage in Estonia has already reached 73 percent, in Sweden 56 percent and in Spain 53 percent. This means that Germany is lagging behind in comparison to other European countries. Now for the good news: A large proportion of existing fibre optic cables are located in the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region around the cities of Aachen, Bonn, Cologne and Düsseldorf. As the strongest economic, start-up and university location in North Rhine-Westphalia, the Cologne Metropolitan Region already has the ideal infrastructure for pioneering digitalization. Around 110,000 students, 850 start-ups, 15 start-up centres, major investors as well as pioneering events and effective networks make Cologne Bay a high-powered ecosystem for future-oriented developments.

Story by Larissa Mélotte, Digital Hub Cologne

Digital Hub Cologne. Photos: Sabastian Züger

Digital hubs as beacons for start-up culture in NRW

In 2016 digital hubs were established by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The Digital Hub Cologne is one of a total of six initiatives which are intended to digitally empower businesses. With events such as the “Business Mixer” or the “Coffee Club Cologne”, the Digital Hub Cologne brings innovative start-ups and established companies together to explore mutual benefits. “Some have the capital, others have the ideas, but so far most companies don’t know about each other” explains Managing Director Mathias Härchen. “We make sure that companies discover each other which often develops into business opportunities.”

The Digital Hub Cologne and its founders: IHK Köln, University of Cologne and the city of Cologne. Photo: Sebastian Züger

The UoC is among the pioneers of the Digital Hub Cologne

Leading the way, the University of Cologne, the Cologne Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the City of Cologne support the Digital Hub Cologne as ideal partners and incubators. Through collaboration with associations, politicians and other social groups, the Digital Hub Cologne focuses its activities on the strong SME backbone in the Greater Cologne area. One example of this approach is the Digital Readiness Check,, which allows companies to see the progress they have made towards digitalization and the Cologne Bay community platform which will be launched in October 2017 for start-ups in the region to showcase their activities and network. The University of Cologne is right in the middle of it. Chancellor Dr. Michael Stückradt would like to see an even stronger university presence on the start-up scene: “We are holding talks about setting up a sponsored professorship for Entrepreneurship to anchor the start-up spirit even more firmly in teaching,” he says. “In our HR strategy, we want to encourage spin-offs from the University in the coming years.”

Today, it’s speed that wins the race rather than size matters. We need to be faster and more agile.

Andreas Pinkwart, Economics and Digital Minister of North Rhine Westphalia

The Digital Hub at the Cologne MediaPark. Photo: MediaPark Köln Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH

New values for sustainable development

In addition to networking opportunities for start-ups and business, the Digital Hub Cologne aims to bring business and science closer together, as well as international partners and regional innovators. “We are primarily concerned with strengthening the digital economy in the long term and safeguarding sustainable development,” says Härchen. “We want to incubate sustainable transfer in all sectors to create new values which will benefit the economy in many years to come.”