Where startup dreams get their wings

Right next to Munich Airport grows an innovation hub that aims to connect founders with corporates, across industries in a completely new way 

Several cranes towering next to each other in the sky. In the background planes are slowly starting to take off again into the world. Numerous caterpillars, trucks and construction workers are busily moving around in the area. The hustle and bustle is a good harbinger of what is supposed to grow here.

Directly between the two runways at Munich Airport, LabCampus is being created. A site that is meant to become a new innovation hotspot on areas of over 500,000 square meters over the next few years. The goal is to bring together knowledge carriers, global players, creatives, investors and startups and thus advance research and inventions. Connect, create, collaborate - that's the motto of the makers, the so-called LabCampus GmbH, a 100 percent subsidiary of Munich Airport. The first office spaces will be opening up in 2022. 

And we can't wait to fill them with creative minds and their innovative ideas”, says Sarah Wittlieb, Vice President Innovation and Sales at LabCampus. And the airport also hopes to benefit from the glow of the innovative spot: “No other airport has ever created a world of ideas of this kind”, praises former Munich Airport CEO Michael Kerkloh the project at the company’s annual press conference in April.

Our reporter Sophie Dechansreiter visited the construction site near Munich Airport where LabCampus is built right now
Our reporter Sophie Dechansreiter visited the construction site near Munich Airport where LabCampus is built right now
Our reporter Sophie Dechansreiter visited the construction site near Munich Airport where LabCampus is built right now
Our reporter Sophie Dechansreiter visited the construction site near Munich Airport where LabCampus is built right now

The idea to connect different groups of innovators at one place seems beneficial - for startups and corporates alike. Especially in Munich, since there’s a bunch of huge companies and a vivid ecosystem of young startups. 

According to a recent survey published by BitKom, Germany’s Digital Association, two thirds of the established companies do not have any contact with startups - although startups could help them, especially in the field of digitization, as the study points out. At the same time, more than half of the German startups do cooperate with corporate players, other startups and research institutions in order to increase their know-how and enter new sales opportunities. The Deutscher Startup Monitor showed that every fifth German startup demands that politics support the startup-corporate-exchange. 

As it turns out, this collaboration needs a lot of improvement, according to Paul Wolter of the German Startup Association. Although both worlds have learned to respond to each other's needs, as he points out: “Nevertheless, you have to walk a fair bit of the way until you have reached the point of full potential.” 

An airport daughter backed by politics  

LabCampus aims to improve the startup-corporate collaboration – and gets political support for the idea. Being a subsidiary of Munich Airport, which the Free State of Bavaria holds 51 percent and the city of Munich holds 23 percent of, LabCampus is closely connected to the Bavarian Government. Judith Gerlach, the Bavarian State Minister for Digital Affairs, calls LabCampus a “modern idea factory” in order to develop the business models and products of the future - “in the middle of Bavaria and at the same time at the gateway to the world”. 

That points to the fact that Munich Airport and LabCampus next to it are located way outside central Munich – about 35 kilometers north to be exact.

Judith Gerlach, the Bavarian State Minister for Digital Affairs, calls LabCampus a “modern idea factory”

You have to love that location, but not at first sight 

"Of course this is not a super hip area like the Glockenbachviertel in the city center", admits Marc Wagener, who’s the Managing Director of LabCampus. Why did LabCampus choose that location anyways? Apart from the fact that there was space available, there’s a few other good arguments for the location. 

The vision of LabCampus is to provide customizable offices and co-working spaces (depending on the equipment the price per square meter will be between 20 and 25 euros), 230 serviced apartments that can be rented for a few nights up to two months, restaurants and green areas for relaxing. That concept could be particularly interesting for young startups as part of a flexible office concept, emphasizes LabCampus Manager Wittlieb. With their project the organizers are particularly focussing on founders in Series B stage who are now ready for the next step, Wagener explains. 

A lot is still in the making, for example the program and benefits for startups beyond providing housing, office space and collaboration across industries by a community management which aims to connect the residents. But expectations are huge. According to the organizers LabCampus is supposed to “not only be an innovation location but also an innovation driver.”

Another offer for the residents is the possibility to test inventions and get and give feedback right at the spot. The Airport Academy is supposed to become the space for further education - also in cooperation with external partners. 

Compared to similar projects all over Europe, LabCampus focuses specifically on hands-on and practical cross-industry collaboration, for example connecting innovative startups in the mobility and big data verticals with the latest sustainability approaches and less on “research and existing industry clusters”, as Wagener points out.

From an international perspective, there’s for example the 22@ in Barcelona, the Seaport Innovation District in Boston or the Jurong Innovation District in Singapore. In contrast to LabCampus, these areas are about urban area development in addition to innovation. 

Bringing innovation close to the people 

One main idea of LabCampus is to test new technologies right where they get developed. A first attempt in this direction was the so-called Terminal Testlab in the airport’s Terminal 2, where various exhibitors were able to test their technologies in the security area under real conditions. The pop-up pilot project in February focused on digital security and, according to LabCamus, around 13,000 passengers visited the lab.

The feedback of attending founders was positive, as Markus Geier, Managing Director of the consultancy firm ComCode, says: "We were able to offer each visitor an individual insight into the topic of digital security - in a personal context and regarding the urgent relevance for the respective company."

With a location such as the airport right at hand entrepreneurs could test and expose their products to more than 100,000 passengers who travel from or to Munich Airport (on average days), including international business people, but also a cross-section of the general public. 

Nico Gropper, Head of Business Innovations at Audi Business Innovation GmbH, sees huge benefits for corporates like Audi and expects to get access to future talent: “A place like LabCampus brings movement in the ecosystem and can help us to increase our network”, he says.  

Wolter of the German Startup Association agrees on that. According to him, spaces and initiatives such as LabCampus are important to create a good environment for innovations. Specifically when it comes to networking between corporates, medium-sized companies and startups. “The different worlds can benefit from each other if there is an exchange”, he says.