Born and raised in Potsdam, Fridtjof Gustavs is an entrepreneur at heart. When he was just 17 years old, he made his first go at starting a retail company and soon after enrolled in the Technical University Berlin (TU Berlin) to study economics.
Shortly before graduating, Fridtjof became involved in the university’s Formula Student TU Berlin project (FaSTTUBe) and quickly took over the project management. The opportunity shaped Fridtjof in many ways, especially because it allowed him to meet his fellow co-founders of MotionLab.Berlin.
Learn more about the evolution of MotionLab.Berlin and its appeal to hardtech startups in Berlin in our latest interview.
How did you first discover coworking?
To be completely honest, I had never thought of coworking. It didn’t matter to me until MotionLab.Berlin was founded. But in the last few years, I got to understand the advantages that come with it and realized that I loved working in smaller coworking spaces in different cities, because you get to discover the unique details that are offered by the teams. And usually, these are offered with a lot of love!
Tell us about your involvement at MotionLab.Berlin and how it was founded.
I am one of three founders at MotionLab.Berlin. Think of MotionLab.Berlin as a huge coworking space for hardtech startups.
Hardtech startups are companies that find new ways to connect hardware and tech. They develop physical products with an innovative technological character so as to disrupt society and improve our way of living.
At MotionLab.Berlin, we offer everything to help members turn their 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.
Additionally, with the MotionLab.Academy, we support our community in terms of knowledge and services, with the aim of developing physical products with an innovative technological character. MotionLab.Berlin is now 3 years old.
How would you describe the community at your coworking space?
This is a very good question. I would describe them as particularly exciting. We have a cross-section of society as a whole in our community. From trainees, students, founders, CEOs, and CTOs, we also have many freelancers, retirees, and employees of large companies who use MotionLab.Berlin to get access to the infrastructure or to exchange ideas and share knowledge.
Sometimes it feels like a large shared apartment where everyone has their own room to work on their dreams. But not a day goes by when you don’t meet in the kitchen to spend time together.
What other unique elements make MotionLab.Berlin stand out?
I think there are three main things that make MotionLab.Berlin special:
Of course, we have a focus on hardtech startups because we believe that in order to improve certain areas of life such as life in our cities, we need technological progress like what we have seen in the computer and communications industry in the last 50 years. And for this to happen, young founders, adventurers, and inventors need easy access to machines, tools, and knowledge so as to invent really great new hardtech products.
Second, the mix of the community. A good example is the mix of hardtech startups, with revolutionary technological ones, plus the many artists who realize absolutely crazy projects that touch our eyes, feelings, and hearts. Both may have very different priorities, but everyone can learn from each other. In addition, the different age groups from very young students to retirees who have worked in manufacturing for decades makes the space what it is.
The third element that sets us apart is the feeling of living in a large shared apartment.
What would you say are the key characteristics of the coworking scene in Berlin?
I think it’s the large number of different providers. The big ones like WeWork are, of course, represented but we also have many with a long tradition like the Betahaus or St. Oberholz. And then there are an infinite number of small ones who do great work like Spacehack or KAOS Berlin.
Each team in these places has its own character with a lot of love. From my perspective, it is definitely worth experiencing all these places and to see which character suits you best. This possibility certainly makes Berlin unique.
Do you host any special member events to bring your community together?
In the era of COVID-19, the topic of member events is, without a doubt, a major challenge for all coworking spaces. There are certainly great formats that can take place digitally; however, in my experience, it is not the same feeling you would get from sitting in the kitchen with a coffee, tea, beer or a glass of wine.
We usually offer different formats such as the classic breakfast with an expert on selected topics, or pretzels and beer, which is simply about getting the community together.
The great thing about hardtech, however, is that thanks to the physical products and the machines, you can see what your coworkers are doing and immediately start a conversation with them.
What are three key ingredients for operating a successful coworking space?
I don’t think that there are three key factors that apply to all coworking spaces, but that they differ depending on the coworking space, team, and community. The three topics that certainly play a major role for us are:
- A strong, personal bond with our members. The feeling that we are successful when they are successful connects us. And we are excited about their entire development from the first idea until we see them successfully in our cities because they have started production and sales.
- Constantly questioning yourself to see if the services match the needs of the community and whether the ideas and wishes flow into the development of the place. For us, these can be simple topics such as lighting, but also what kind of machines or services are really needed to build innovative hardtech startups.
- The right people in the team must have a common goal and continuously drive it forward. Team members who could just as easily be part of your community are guaranteed irreplaceable and shape the character of your coworking space.
How did the consequences of COVID-19 impact your operations?
That was and still is a great challenge. Hardtech startups simply cannot transfer their development of autonomous cars, urban farming products, or IOT solutions to a home office. So from the beginning we thought about how we could develop a strong hygiene concept in order to be able to continue production.
This also included limiting the number of visitors who can be on site at the same time. A big thank you goes to the community, who responded very responsibly and came up to us and said “I would like to work here, but I’m only here for a short time so I don’t take someone else’s place.”
What changes have you made to make things safer and more efficient for members post-COVID-19?
We didn’t make one big change, but rather a huge variety of details that made all the difference at the end of the day. To do this, we took a close look at the requirements of the federal government and developed a hygiene concept that is tailored to the premises at MotionLab.Berlin.
Of course, one has other options in a 1,500 square meter hall than in small offices, so we found the right solutions for different areas that protect both our employees and members and give them the opportunity to behave safely. I think this is the only way that works. Usually, the conditions cannot be implemented 1:1 but each coworking space operator has the responsibility to pay attention to the conditions on site and to do everything possible to protect people.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to open a coworking space in the current market?
The biggest and definitely best experience we have had is listening to your community and understanding what their needs and wants are.
Even after three years of operation, we are still learning new things everyday. As a result, MotionLab.Berlin lives from changes and our community can always discover new things. Sometimes it’s a new 3D printer and other times, the complete redesign of entire areas or new furniture in the offices or maker garages.
However, this is a tip that I would like to give all startups and it is guaranteed not to be a secret: Listen to your customers and find out what they really need. Sometimes the truth is between the lines and your job is to find out what the truth is.