InCube is the MANN+HUMMEL innovation program launched in September of 2017. It’s open to all employees of MANN+HUMMEL worldwide with over two years’ service and is aimed at exploring new business opportunities for the company. However, the unique aspect of the program is that participants develop their concept in an independent start-up, outside MANN+HUMMEL’s corporate structure, within a limited timeframe of just six months. Does that sound like a challenge you would relish? It certainly did for me when I applied last year. Now I’m lucky to be part of the first team, based in Silicon Valley in California.
Being part of the team
Nearly 70 people applied to be members of the first InCube project team. We all went through a challenging selection process. The final five were chosen at the end of last year and we all bring different skills to the group.
Out of all of us, Ellie has the most experience in dealing with innovations. She worked for MANN+HUMMEL’s Innovation Centre in Raleigh, NC and has a deep understanding of product and audience development.
Carlo is our engineer. He gained his first start-up experience in 2012 and acquired a wealth of knowledge in product development from start to finish.
- Isabel (me!)
My background is sales and marketing – I make the complicated engineering and technology issues understandable to a wider audience.
Bringing together product, engineering, sales and marketing, Marcel’s product management skills mean he can define the path forward and get us on the right track.
Minsik’s purchasing background is vital for us to test out product features and marketing concepts to ensure our ideas will find the right audience and tone.
We are a mixed bunch; not only thanks to our experience but also our backgrounds – three Germans, one South Korean and an American of Iranian heritage. All in all, we have around 27 years’ experience in filtration technology. But is that enough for us to succeed?
Getting started – the pressure is on!
The group first met during a three-day boot camp in Ludwigsburg where we learnt more about start-ups, collaboration tools and lean management. We didn’t know each other beforehand so not only did we have to start developing ideas, we needed to gel as a team.
And then it was off to California! MANN+HUMMEL have rented two apartments for us in Silicon Valley and some office space in Sunnyvale, but the rest is up to us. The company also suggested some areas we could work on around clean air, air quality and air management. However, it soon became apparent that we needed to take some of the best parts of each suggestion and combine them into a new, innovative concept.
The start-up mentality
The fact that we operate outside rigid and fixed corporate structures (and mentality) brings many advantages to it. I am proud, and a little surprised, at how much we have achieved already. Our location, the Plug and Play Tech Center, has helped tremendously. It is part incubator, part co-working space and part networking opportunity, bringing together corporates, start-ups and support. Things just get done so quickly here. Thanks to the center’s well-connected staff, we can talk to high-level, open-minded contacts who will give us honest, constructive feedback. And if one of our ideas isn’t suitable, it’s not seen as failure – just part of the learning process.
As a start-up, we don’t have the support structures that normally go along with more established organizations. So that means doing things we’ve never done before – like, for example, designing and building a webpage to showcase our idea.
So, what is the concept we are working on? Everyone is concerned with outdoor air quality but, as we spend about 90% of our time indoors, air quality in buildings is sometimes overlooked but is equally important. In fact, indoor air quality can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air. There are a lot of sensors and monitors on the market which detect air quality indoors and there are many filtration solutions available to improve air quality. However, both these systems are very passive and reactive. What if there was a solution available that combines real-time monitoring and predictive adjustments to air quality? This proactive intelligent Clean Air Management platform is what we are hoping to achieve with QlAir. If you are interested in learning more, check out our homepage: www.i-qlair.com.
Over the next few months, we’ll be developing the concept further, talking to possible partners for both the product and technology sides, as well as identifying and analyzing target audiences. The goal is to have a business plan for investment available by the middle of the year.
Seize the opportunity
If you are thinking of applying for the next round of InCube, my advice would be – go for it! It’s a lot of work and effort but more than worth it. I have no regrets and am learning so much – on both a professional and personal level. Good luck with your application!