The Engineers of Serendipity
– written by Clara Niedt, Acceleration Team
Do you remember this one time, when you were introduced to this person who told you something seemingly random – and it completely made you change your life path? Yes? That was serendipity getting at you!
For the ones that have not been this lucky (just yet), the good news is that this is exactly what we do at Impact Hub Berlin: we facilitate connections between unlikely allies and act as ecosystem builder – you could say, we are the engineers of serendipity. The implications of this work are far-reaching and stood out to me during this last year especially while managing the second edition of the Digital Imagination Challenge that we ran together with Unitymedia and Sozialhelden.
The Digital Imagination Challenge is an innovation competition for tech solutions that reduce barriers to foster inclusion of people with disability in all areas of everyday life. Rapid technological developments and the digitalization revolutionized our society and offer previous unimaginable chances and innovations, that have the possibility to touch millions of lives. Unitymedia together with its cooperation partners Sozialhelden and Impact Hub Berlin searched for innovative approaches that use technology to reduce barriers and make inclusion at home, at work and in the leisure sphere possible.
But what is ecosystem building actually and why is it so important?
In dynamic environments, where uncertainty and change prevail, players cooperate to learn from different perspectives and build on each others resources to create new forms of value. The purpose of ecosystem builders thereby goes beyond acting as hubs in centralized systems, introducing different entities to one another. It is about identifying opportunities in bringing together unfamiliar partners whose spheres of operation would usually not overlap – unlikely allies – and encouraging them to work together (Furr, Shipilov, 2018).
Ecosystem building at the Digital Imagination Challenge
In the context of the Digital Imagination Challenge, this meant the involvement of all stakeholders: Unitymedia as initiator, Sozialhelden and us as cooperation partners, as well as media, event and network partners, the jury, the press, relevant potential partners and investors … and as fundamental element of this ecosystem: the entrepreneurs themselves.
Taking this further, involving the teams meant more than facilitating peer-to-peer exchange between winners. Managing already the second edition of the DIC, it meant finding synergies between all previously accelerated teams to move away from a thinking of consequent and separate cohorts to building an ecosystem that comprises participants from across unfamiliar spheres and thus lays the stepping stone for further development for them.
Serendipity at work
How serendipity was engineered within the Digital Imagination Challenge is wonderfully depicted by telling the story of participating team everGuide. They developed an awe-inspiringly correct indoor-navigation system which helps you find your way around places, where GPS fails the user. Like this, the technology enables blind and visually impaired people to navigate independently in large buildings, underground stations etc.
Their challenge during the DIC was to grow their business to the next level and get investment ready. Despite having first customers, they struggled to convince with the advantages for blind people, as customers such as airport operators cared more about efficiency gains involved in guiding people through buildings in certain ways, causing everGuide to miss out on reaching some 1.2 million blind potential users in Germany (Bertram, 2005). Eventually a use-case was found that clearly shows the gains of the navigation technology for blind people: a cooperation with the German Central Library for the Blind (DZB), who had won the challenge’s last edition with their solution to scan e-books for accessibility, was initiated through the DIC mentoring program. The DZB benefits from everGuide’s solution as it is highly relevant to their visitors. In exchange, it acts as feedback platform for everGuide and opportunity for them to get in touch with blind users. Who would have thought this would happen when everGuide first applied to the DIC?
Call to action
By focusing on the entrepreneur, identifying possible intersections and telling their stories, we hope to lay the ground work for creating more synergies (Kauffman Foundation, n.d.). If you are active in the field of inclusion, have interesting connections you would like to share or want to learn more about the teams that were accelerated through the Digital Imagination Challenge, do not hesitate to get in touch and become an engineer of serendipity yourself!
Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org