Start up Knowledge | Feb 8, 2021

Starting a business in the midst of a pandemic

Starting a company despite pandemic uncertainty is a risky business. We've still managed to make the most of some unexpected opportunities. ROKIN developed a digital engineer during the Media Startup Fellowship.

Is it still possible to meet up, hold meetings or even participate in a workshop for several days? These questions were the starting point for our introduction to Media Startup Fellowship batch 7 and our Welcome Camp shortly before the first lockdown in March 2020. A truly inopportune point in time for a program which strongly relies on networking, exchanges and personal interactions. Luckily, the initial meet-ups with all teams and the getting to know each other took place in person. Despite the majority of communication taking place online, this initial phase made a major contribution to building a community (especially the duels at the ping-pong table). It truly emphasized the importance of personal contact in times where the digital world is often the first resort.

Just as we got the wheels in motion at Media Lab Bayern, the first lockdown hit. Large swathes of the economy went into shutdown mode and companies in our industry heavily relied on furlough. In spite of all this, we stepped up to the mark with ROKIN to develop the ‘Digital Engineer’. We started ROKIN GmbH in April 2020.

The digital engineer can be compared to a take on Siri or Google Assistant designed for engineers. We use artificial intelligence to help engineers source suitable specialist information, allowing them to quickly find a solution to their technical issues. These issues primarily concern new future topics such as augmented reality in production, 3D printing for component manufacturing or automated logistic systems. Needless to say, in the midst of a lockdown with a looming recession, it proved challenging to get companies on board with future topics. In this sense, the environment wasn’t ideal for our entry into the Media Startup Fellowship. With this backdrop, the Media Lab provided us with invaluable initial help, as ROKIN may not have made it to the end of 2020 without the opportunity to get involved in sponsoring programs, coaching and exchanges within the startup network among like-minded people.

Luckily for us, in every risk, there is an opportunity. The lockdown had some surprisingly positive turns in store for us: Due to the fact that the majority of companies put a halt to recruitment and universities were closed, a large number of students were looking for internships or places to write their theses. All of a sudden, our two-man startup had transformed into a team of over 20 employees. Due to the current lack of interest and inquiries from the industry, we were able to use the initial stage of the Media Startup Fellowship to focus on developing one of our core strengths: our AI algorithms.

This led to the inevitable question: How do we handle a team of this size, how do we organize it, how do we work together efficiently? Companies that have been around a while are already versed in these processes, have all the required software and established team structures. Our interns may have been highly motivated and smart, but they weren't yet experts on one topic that we were yet to define in specific terms. Thanks to many coaching sessions, an open dialog with Media Lab and the community, we were able to develop a growing number of structures and create a functioning team from nothing (with a healthy dose of trial and error along the way) that supports us in our daily work.


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