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Skydeck Accelerator

The fast-track programme for good ideas

05/2017 – Many ideas for improvements and new business models are suggested by employees of the DB Group. The new Skydeck Accelerator programme helps to validate these ideas at an early stage and develop them close to the customer. The first round of the programme was a great success and made us keen to continue.

Employees often come up with ideas about how to improve everyday working life or develop new business models. The Skydeck Accelerator programme helps them to turn these ideas into business models that are as scalable as possible – in just ten weeks. The DB Systel Skydeck offers the resources needed to do this – from functional support to material resources. On the one hand, the Intrapreneur Starter Box provides a toolbox for innovation, while on the other hand, workshops or hackathons promote the exchange of ideas or development of creative solutions in a team. If an idea materialises, the underlying team can present it at a pitch event to qualify for the Accelerator programme. Last December, 14 teams took advantage of this opportunity and five projects were selected for the acceleration programme.

The first round of the programme was launched in January with a three-day boot camp in the “Krämerloft” co-working space in Erfurt. From day one, teams collaborate with potential customers or users to determine whether their ideas are of interest and how they could work. Selected mentors help participants to develop their ideas in detail: customer groups, needs and problems to be solved, as well as existing potential solutions are examined, and prototypes are developed. The continuous feedback from customers helps participants to develop and refine their ideas further.

An enriching experience for participant

During the ten weeks of the programme, the idea teams work intensively on their own projects on a specified day. They receive internal and external support and gain insight into the experiences of entrepreneurs outside Deutsche Bahn. The opportunity to collaborate closely with potential customers while developing their ideas further in a structured manner is a particularly enriching experience for all participants.

Some ideas that have been accelerated during the first round of the Skydeck Accelerator programme:

With Assistify, live human chat is supported by an artificial intelligence system that can follow the conversation and help chat participants to find answers to their questions more quickly, thereby helping them to solve their problems more efficiently.

“DB Aerial: Mapper”
A modular, expandable portal solution for processing, providing, visualising and archiving data collected by drones or multicopters to enable various application cases to be examined.

“DB Jobber”
Development of an internal DB portal for “microjobs” that can be performed either by internal or external crowd workers (“microjobbers”).

“EVE – Engaging Virtual Education”
Development of a virtual reality application solution for training, further professional development, communication and marketing.

“Smart Booking”
Smart Booking determines the utilisation of buildings, rooms and workstations using affordable and easy-to-use sensors, and evaluates this data.

Some teams already receive financial support from interested customers during the Skydeck Accelerator programme: the Smart Booking project has recruited DB Vertrieb and DB Real Estate as partners. Smart Booking was originally conceived at a hackathon, where it was used to book meeting rooms more efficiently using sensors. In the future, however, Smart Booking will do more than simply identify vacant rooms. At DB Vertrieb, it will be used to check the utilisation of travel centres in real time. Christian Scheller of DB Vertrieb jumped at the idea straight away and became an enthusiastic participant in the Accelerator programme: “We fashioned a prototype using a jigsaw, plywood and sensors.” Visitor numbers are currently being recorded under real-world conditions as part of a test run at a travel centre in Erfurt. The objective is to optimise capacities using Smart Booking, thereby improving customer service. If this test run is successful, Smart Booking could then be implemented in other travel centres as well.

The motto of the Accelerator programme encourages participants to “just do it”, even if it turns out that an idea is not good enough to generate a business model. “This would also represent a successful outcome for the programme,” says Kathleen Jeske, a mentor in the programme. “It means that we find out much faster whether an idea is worth pursuing.” This was the case for two ideas presented during the first round: Assistify and EVE will be developed further as internal start-ups within DB Systel. Smart Booking is supported by the DB Systel line organisation.

Wide range of opportunities

Each team focuses on a different customer problem. The very diversity of projects in the Accelerator programme indicates the wide range of opportunities that exist to support the Group with digital innovations. Customers are involved in the development of new services at an early stage. However, the Accelerator programme does more than simply help develop these ideas: it also helps the participants to improve their methodological skills. The programme offers both “intrapreneurs” and customers the opportunity to promote the development of their own business ideas and to develop and test functional prototypes. The Skydeck provides the freedom and budgets (e.g. for prototype material or experts) needed to do this.

DB Systel’s Accelerator programme will also help the Group to use employees’ ideas in the future, not only to participate in digitalisation, but to promote it. And this offer is being accepted by increasing numbers of participants: two customer teams also qualified for the second round of the programme, which started at the end of April. The participants in the second round of the programme will present their projects at the Demo Day in Frankfurt on 28 June. Here it is demonstrated how artificial intelligence can process information from social media channels in a user-friendly manner, how robots support customer dialogue and how a smart solution makes it easier to organise business trips.