Why does the Zeppelin Group operate a laboratory for new business ideas? Has this something to do with classic research and development? What does it mean to operate an open room for innovation?
Both for colleagues as well as for partner companies from the construction industry and even for market competitors that have realized that the challenges of digitization can only be faced jointly, Z Lab in Berlin has evolved into an important point of reference.
A highly devoted team works on giving the right answers to the questions just raised.
We talked to Wulf Bickenbach, Director New Digital Ventures, in order to learn more.
How has Z Lab come into life?
Z Lab GmbH; Z Lab in its short version, was founded in 2016 as the result of a Group strategy process. In the frame of new innovative, digital product solutions for the construction industry, Z Lab’s essential goal is to develop new business models and to launch them as independent companies on the market. The aim is to open up new business areas and to tap market potential for the Zeppelin Group. This extension of Zeppelin’s existing “traditional” business goes back to a joint initiative by CEO Peter Gerstmann and CDO Wolfgang Hahnenberg and is based on a decision taken by Zeppelin’s Supervisory Board.
What kind of new business models has Z Lab developed so far?
klickrent was the first new business model that was born even before Z Lab came into life. It was based on the results of a so-called “nightmare-competitor-approach“, a study that was conducted by all strategic business units in the frame of a Group-wide strategy initiative.
The idea, originally developed by the Rental strategic business unit, was to build a sharing platform for construction machinery and equipment – which was meant to compete with our own existing rental business. However, it quickly turned out not to be sustainable.
As a consequence, the business idea was not given up, but the model was modified. Around 4,000 construction equipment renters in Germany and a large number of potential customers were connected on the platform to do business.
Today, in 2020, five years after it was launched, klickrent is on an ambitious growth path thanks to a continuous evolution and already generates sales in the millions. Apart from klickrent, there are four more new ventures in Z Lab’s portfolio in different stages of development (as at the beginning of 2020).
With klickcheck, we talk about another product that focuses on the rental industry. It is all about a smartphone app with which the condition of construction equipment can be documented. Already in its first six months in business, klickcheck was able to secure some key account clients, including a number of Zeppelin Rental’s competitors – a fact that undoubtedly underlines Z Lab’s success in tapping new market potential.
zamics, the third venture, offers a product that enables construction companies to manage their complete equipment in their pool online. Furthermore, they can check in real time at which construction site their machinery or tools are currently located. In addition, they can digitally add relevant data such as availability or inspection dates of their equipment.
Z Lab developed the first electronic locking systems for the special use on construction sites under the brand name akii in 2019. akii is used with construction cabins and doors at construction sites. Making the smartphone an electronic key, akii makes the time-consuming and cost-intensive management of physical keys redundant.
Z Lab’s latest project has the working title “ZmartDocu”. As one might guess from the name, it is all about digital and intelligent documentation of construction processes. For the prototype that is about to be tested at the first construction site, the documentation of processing of wet concrete was digitized. It was the first time that Z Lab closely cooperated with an association which ensures proximity with the end-user during the complete development process, as the association ensures direct access and contact to its members.
What are Z Lab’s plans for the future?
All new ventures under the roof of Z Lab profit from the experience of existing projects, but also from the experience of those that failed. Thus, Z Lab itself has its own continuous learning curve – just like any start-up. Currently, we are preparing the spin-off and the growth financing of the first two ventures. In parallel, we are enlarging Z Lab‘s function as a bridge between Zeppelin Group and the IT tech and start-up scene, in order to reach our goal to actively create the digital future of the construction industry – step by step.