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German Startup Changemakers: Fridtjof Gustavs & MotionLab.Berlin

Fridtjof Gustavs is the Founder of MotionLab.Berlin, a HardTech innovation hub, which provides HardTech startups with tailored tools to improve our way of living. In addition to coworking offices, and meeting rooms, they primarily offer access to a large machine park consisting of 3D printers, laser cutters, electronics, and a creative community of engineers, designers, creators, and inventors. With the MotionLab.Academy, Fridtjof supports the community in terms of knowledge and services. Find out what is it about entrepreneurship that attracts him, what he thinks is the next big thing in the startup world and more about his mission at MotionLab.Berlin.
A bald young man on stage with a microphone and one arm raised
1. Hi Fridtjof, thank you for agreeing to do the interview. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you entered the startup world?

I was born and raised in Potsdam. When I was 17, I made my first attempt at starting a company in the men’s clothing online shopping sector but ended up studying economics at the Technical University Berlin (TU Berlin). Shortly before graduating, I got to know the Formula Student TU Berlin project (FaSTTUBe) and quickly took over project management for two years. The time at FaSTTUBe shaped me a lot. I learned a great deal and made amazing contacts. Amongst other things, I got to know great companies and manufacturers who supported FaSTTUBe and met my current co-founders from MotionLab.Berlin. At the same time, I experienced all the challenges of building a hardware product and asked myself, ‘How do we want to shape the future when it is nearly impossible to invent new technologies without big budgets?’. So we decided to change that and make HardTech innovation possible for everyone. 

2. You’re the Founder of MotionLab.Berlin, a HardTech innovation hub & makerspace, which offers exclusive access to high-end machinery for prototyping in combination with office space, coworking, startup services, and a HardTech driven community. Tell us more about your mission and the idea that got it all started!

Think of MotionLab.Berlin as a huge coworking space with a lot of space, machinery, and crazy people. Our mission is to create an inspiring environment and provide tailored tools for HardTech startups to improve our way of living, driving us to give the brave ones in our society a place to create the future. When we look into the future, we strongly believe that we will see HardTech startups that will fundamentally change our everyday lives by creating revolutionary new technologies.

HardTech startups are companies that find new ways to connect hardware and tech. They develop physical products with an innovative technological character to disrupt society and improve our way of living. 

At MotionLab.Berlin, we offer you everything to help you turn your ideas into reality in a quick and cost-efficient manner. In addition to coworking, offices, and meeting rooms, we primarily offer access to a large machine park consisting of 3D printers, laser cutters, electronics, and a creative community of engineers, designers, creators, and inventors. With the MotionLab.Academy, we support our community in terms of knowledge and services to develop physical products with an innovative technological character. 

This is how it got started: At the end of 2017, my two co-founders and I were in our current location in Alt-Treptow, and we thought, ‘Wow! This is the perfect place for something that’s hardware-related where anyone can invent and build anything, no matter how big or crazy it is.’ We saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but there was a challenge: 2500 square meters of space costs both rent and a deposit – which is money that I, was a student, and my co-founders didn’t have at the time.

We activated our network and met the founder of Berlin.Industrial.Group, Igor Hascke, who was, at the very least, as crazy as we were and gave us the capital to start. In the end, it was way too little, but that was the best thing that could have possibly happened. 

At the very beginning, we were able to win great customers like ONO and Citkar; and together with our community, we created a place we believed could make HardTech startups successful. Due to the low budget, we had to keep asking ourselves what was urgent and important, and soon realised that having our customers around us helped us a lot, and that’s how we set up MotionLab.Berlin, together.

3. You’re also the Founder & Chairman of the Board of the IoT+ Network, a platform for the joint implementation of projects and for an equal exchange between startups, business, and science; and MotionLab.Academy, which specialises in a holistic workshop design that focuses on the didactic integration of digital media in training courses. What is it about entrepreneurship that particularly attracts you? How are you shaping the startup ecosystem in Berlin?

What inspires me about entrepreneurship is working on new ideas with others, having a chance at success, or failing, and learning from it. At the same time, I feel a strong sense of community in which people stand up for each other and motivate and cheer one another.

How am I shaping the startup ecosystem in Berlin? I think we have great inventors and founders in Berlin, but I don’t count myself as one of them. What I’m perhaps, not that bad at is empowering people to live and realise grand visions. I try to do this through my work with great people in the IoT + NetworkMotionLab.Academy and MotionLab.Berlin. In addition to that, I firmly believe that we need more courageous founders in the field of HardTech because we can only solve the challenges of our time with new technologies. We don’t need another great app. We need technological progress in all areas of life. My mission is to support everyone in realising their ideas and developing a culture of optimism and courage. If I can help a founding team invent a world-changing technology that fundamentally changes our everyday lives with one of my projects, I am more than happy, and my hard work has paid off.

4. As a successful entrepreneur, which lesson for founders would you like to share with our readers?

When I look at the successful startups at MotionLab.Berlin and in the Berlin startup ecosystem, I think of a mixture of the following three points:

  • Getting started
  • Persistence
  • Consistency

I think the foundation of a successful founder and building a successful business is always the mindset. In the beginning, it’s all about getting started. After the first steps have been taken, and the first small successes have been celebrated, a low period will come at some point. And that’s okay, that’s how life always goes, isn’t it? It doesn’t always go as planned, so you have to go through it with persistence when the low period comes. Because in the long run, working consistently on your dream will bring you further. I think it’s not always about whether you have the best idea, but how and with whom you start implementing it! You have to dare!

5. What’s the next big thing in the startup world?

That is a great question. I love thinking and discussing what the next big thing could be, but it always depends on who I’m discussing it with. I don’t think there will be one thing, but what I’m sure of is that the next big thing will not be another Facebook or Google, but rather something different. Let me explain: When we think of the 20th century, we think of the revolution in communication and free access to information for everyone. That means the most significant technological revolution was in the areas of computers and communication. But what about mobility? MedTech? Energy? Imagine creating a HardTech entrepreneurship culture where people can dream as big as they did during the computer industry revolution. Here are some potential dreams: 

  • Mobility solutions so fast that national borders, even planetary borders, will become obsolete
  • Energy sources that make access to energy as natural as access to the air that we breathe
  • Agriculture and nutrition solutions that enable us to grow crops on one-hundredth of today’s land
  • Medical (bio)technologies that will make us dream of eternal life by curing diseases like cancer and preventing pandemics

By imagining these huge changes, ask yourself, what will be the next big thing? It will not be just another app. It will be something even bigger. And I’m so excited about what we will see in the next 50 years!

Thank you for sharing your story and insights with us, Fridtjof. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours.

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