27.3. – 4.4 2023: Student mobility in Berlin (student report by A.-M G.)

From March 27th to April 4th, 2023, I participated in the „Case Studies for Corporate Management“ course, which was an elective course offered as part of the EU-funded StartIT project. Designed to develop both technical and soft skills necessary for success in the IT industry, this course focused on the practical application of theoretical concepts to promote critical thinking, effective communication, and problem-solving. It also highlighted the impact of digital transformation on business models and emphasized the significance of teamwork.

This year’s case study centered around the development of a welcome app for Treptow-Köpenick, a Berlin district experiencing increasing migration rates. Katharina Stökl, from the Integration Office, tasked the student teams with creating an app concept that provided newcomers with an overview of community events, meeting points, advice offices, local nature and cultural activities, reliable online information, and an inviting layout. The app is intended to foster integration and create a sense of community among both new and existing residents of the district.

Ten teams, each comprising six students, were formed for this year’s case study. Each team included one student from each StartIT partner university: HTW Berlin, Instituto Superior Politécnico Gaya, University of Lodz, AP Hogeschool Antwerpen, Dundalk Institute of Technology, and CENTRIA. Meeting in person at the Campus Treskowallee of HTW Berlin, the teams worked collaboratively for approximately 7 hours a day to develop a welcome app concept for the Berlin district of Treptow-Köpenick. This approach facilitated international collaboration and diversity, allowing for a range of perspectives and ideas to be shared and leading to innovative and well-rounded solutions.

The course began on March 27th with team-building activities led by Derek O’Reilly, from the Irish teaching staff. Through games and interactive exercises, students got to know each other better despite the less-than-perfect weather. Teams were then formed based on the morning’s interactions, and the entire group had dinner together, providing an opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in the international StartIT experience.

On the next day, each team hit the ground running and began developing their welcome app concept with a sense of urgency. In fact, the very same day, the teams presented the first draft of their concept. Following this presentation, the mentor selection process began. Each team was permitted to choose three potential mentors from the teaching staff. Based on how well the mentors aligned with the team’s vision and concept, the mentors made their decision as to which team they would like to guide. This process provided an opportunity for teams to receive constructive feedback from experienced professionals in the field.

Student entrepreneurs listen to Prof. Dr. Katrin Dziergwa’s talk.

Over the next two days, the ten teams continued to work diligently on their welcome app concepts. They worked on narrowing down the scope of the app, developing a business plan using the Lean Canvas Method, and conducting thorough market research. The team also had the privilege of attending a talk by HTW Berlin’s Prof. Dr. Katrin Dziergwa on entrepreneurship and business plans specifically tailored for IT professionals. The talk was very helpful in understanding the Lean Canvas Method, its utilization, and its relevance. In addition to attending the talk, the teams engaged in intensive discussions with their mentors, who provided valuable guidance to help them fine-tune their ideas.

After two days of intense work, the ten teams had again the chance to present their refined concepts during the second round of presentations on Thursday, March 30th. This was an opportunity for the teams to showcase their progress before moving on to the next stage of creating the Figma prototypes for their app concepts. The feedback from the mentors proved to be incredibly insightful and helped the teams identify areas that required further improvement.

In the days leading up to April 3rd, the ten teams focused on turning their app concepts into working prototypes using Figma as a mockup tool. On April 3rd, each team had the opportunity to present their prototypes and receive feedback from their peers. By the end of the day, all the teams had gained a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their app concepts, and were ready to move forward with further refinement in preparation for the final round of presentations.

On April 4th, the culmination of the course was reached with a company presentation by BASF and the final round of presentations. The ten teams showcased their prototypes and app concepts, which were now further enhanced thanks to the iterative development method implemented throughout the course. The final results were impressive and showed the tremendous progress each team had made over the course of just seven days.

Passionate international teams came together to develop innovative apps.

Following the presentations, an uplifting closing ceremony was held, where certificates were handed out to each student for their hard work and dedication. The day ended on a high note with a farewell dinner in the district of Treptow-Köpenick, the very district that had provided the topic for this year’s case study.

2. Me.IT Teamwork

Our team came together quickly during the team-building activities, and we discovered that the year’s case study, which focused on developing a welcome app for Treptow-Köpenick, was particularly relevant to us. Three of the six team members are immigrants in the cities they currently live in, so the topic really resonated with us on a personal level. We talked extensively about the challenges we faced during our own settling-in periods and what kind of support we wished we had. For example, we all craved social connections during that time, as we didn’t have any friends or family in the area, and we struggled with navigating the bureaucracy of a new country.

Drawing on our own experiences, we realized that settling into a new country can be incredibly challenging, particularly for female and LGBTQIA+ student immigrants who may face unique safety concerns and struggle to find a supportive community. To address this issue, we created BerlinQ, a buddy system app that provides a safe and inclusive space for these individuals. Our app connects users with student-union verified volunteers who serve as buddies, providing support, guidance, and resources to help them navigate their new environment. By facilitating social connections and assisting with practical needs such as paperwork, our goal is to empower female and LGBTQIA+ student immigrants to thrive in Berlin. Ultimately, BerlinQ aims to make the integration process smoother and more enjoyable for those who may otherwise struggle to find their place in the city.

With our passion for the topic and our team spirit, we came up with a fitting name for ourselves: Me.IT. Our team name is a play on words that represents the focus of our app on social interaction, such as meeting new people, as well as the fact that we are creating an IT product. As a team of tech enthusiasts, we felt that the name Me.IT perfectly captured our passion for combining innovative technology with human connection.

During the early stages of developing BerlinQ, our team heavily relied on a virtual whiteboard platform called Miro as the central hub for brainstorming sessions. This tool allowed us to visually organize and explore a variety of ideas and concepts, which was instrumental in shaping the app’s vision and functionality. Additionally, the Miro board helped identify each team member’s individual skills and strengths, enabling us to allocate tasks and responsibilities that maximized each person’s potential and expertise. The success of our team can also be attributed to the leadership provided by our two project managers, who brought excellent project management skills and shared responsibilities. Thanks to our well-defined organizational structure, we enjoyed a laid-back, conflict-free working environment, which contributed to the team’s ability to communicate effectively and address any issues or concerns in a timely and efficient manner.

To ensure efficient project management, our team utilized Notion, a powerful tool that allowed us to track progress and set new project goals. Each team member was responsible for selecting tasks that best aligned with their skills and interests, which included designing and conducting user surveys, creating a business plan, prototyping, developing a slide deck for our presentation, and logo design. By having everyone take ownership of their tasks, we were able to minimize frustration and work efficiently towards our shared goal of developing a successful product.

Our team placed a strong emphasis on understanding the needs of potential users of BerlinQ, which prompted us to design a comprehensive survey using Google Forms to gather valuable insights. The survey focused on specific details such as age, gender identity, and location, especially targeting LGBTQIA+ and female internationals under 30 who recently arrived in Berlin. We also asked about their initial settling-in experiences and if having a verified buddy would have helped. In addition, we reached out to locals to inquire about their interest in joining the buddy program and their motivations for doing so. To maximize the survey’s reach, we disseminated it through various social media platforms, such as Reddit and Lex, and conducted market research on the street in Berlin’s vibrant Nollendorfplatz district for an entire afternoon.

In total, we received roughly 40 responses, and the feedback for our concept was overwhelmingly positive. The survey also revealed that 93% of respondents would have benefited from having a buddy to help them settle in and feel more at home, with paperwork assistance and basic orientation being the most common tasks requested. On the other hand, locals, particularly extroverted ones, expressed a strong desire to use the app to improve their community.

Our market research showed that our app concept, BerlinQ, meets a demand that competitors like Lex and LSVD cannot fulfill, so we were even more motivated to proceed with the next step: creating a prototype using Figma. As a team, we discussed key details such as color schemes, the depth of user profiles, how to best match buddies to mentees, as well as additional safety features to ensure the platform is secure and user-friendly. Not only did the prototype successfully showcase the app’s features, but it also demonstrated the colorful spirit of the Me.IT team.

Alongside developing the prototype for BerlinQ, our team also crafted a thorough business plan that was instrumental in driving our vision forward. Specifically, we researched potential funding opportunities for the project, thus recognizing the need for financial support to bring our app concept to fruition. To this end, we focused on our Lean Canvas Plan, carefully outlining our value proposition, target market, revenue streams, and other key elements of our business model. Through this process, we learnt how to better articulate the potential of BerlinQ to future partners and investors by developing a multifaceted revenue model, understanding the nature of the costs involved with our app, and identifying the type of advertising that would serve us best. This was an amazing learning experience that allowed us to not only gain new soft and business skills but also develop a deeper appreciation for the complexity of bringing a tech product to life.

When the final round of presentations came around, we delivered a powerful and compelling pitch that showcased all of our hard work and dedication. We were proud of what we had accomplished and felt like everything had come together seamlessly. The recognition we received from BASF and the teaching staff during the closing ceremony was the icing on the cake and it confirmed that our efforts had not gone unnoticed. Working together had been an absolute pleasure, and our mutual belief in our product had fueled us every step of the way.

The Me.IT team, together with their mentor Derek O’Reilly and the BASF representatives, proudly pose for a photo after being rewarded for their work on BerlinQ.

3. Personal Experience

As a committed member of the project team, I utilized my unique blend of humanities and IT expertise to contribute to the success of the project. Specifically, I played an integral role in designing the user survey and business plan, collaborating closely with my team members to shape our understanding of our target audience and refine our approach. Additionally, I conducted extensive market research by promoting the survey, interviewing potential users offline, analyzing the results, and researching our competitors. Through this process, I was able to refine our concept and improve our delivery. I also took on the responsibility of overseeing the quality assurance process, utilizing my keen attention to detail and structured approach to ensure the quality of our work. Alongside this, I contacted potential partners for our app such as AStA (Student Union), seeking to understand their perspectives and explore opportunities for collaboration. My efforts were always focused on contributing to the success of the team, and I am proud of the contributions I made to the project.

During the course of the project, I gained valuable academic insights, but perhaps the most significant learning experience for me was discovering the Lean Canvas tool. Prior to this project, I had no idea what lean canvas was, but I quickly came to appreciate its value. Lean canvas is a one-page business plan that helps startups define and validate their value proposition, target customers, key metrics, and competitive advantages. By using this tool, we were able to clearly articulate our concept and understand our target audience’s needs.

Using lean canvas made me more aware of the amount of work it takes to develop a successful product and it was an eye-opening experience for me. It helped me realize that the process is not just about coming up with an idea and building it, but it’s about understanding the market, defining the problem, and finding the best solution. I also learned that using lean canvas effectively requires a team’s commitment and respect for the process. It’s not just about filling in the boxes on the canvas, but it’s about actively engaging in discussions, providing feedback, and making decisions collaboratively. When the team members work together effectively and respect each other’s opinions, it can lead to better outcomes as our own experience has shown.

On a personal level, I have to say that participating in the project was a daunting experience for me from the very beginning. As an introvert, I felt anxious about meeting new people and working with them, especially given that we come from different cultures. Additionally, I was worried that I would struggle to communicate my opinions, as I tend to keep to myself in order to avoid conflict and disagreement.

Brainstorming on the more ‚traditional‘ whiteboard.

However, as the project progressed, I began to feel more comfortable in my team. I was fortunate to be part of a great team of smart, skilled communicators, and I quickly realized that my contributions were genuinely appreciated. This boost in confidence helped me to open up more, communicate more effectively, and express my opinions without feeling anxious or worried about being misunderstood. This experience was particularly illuminating for me, as it helped me to recognize that I am not inherently a bad communicator. Rather, I simply need to find the right group of people with whom I can feel at ease.

Overall, participating in the StartIT project has been a truly enriching experience for me, both personally and academically. Not only have I gained a deeper understanding of the business side of IT, but I have also grown in confidence, particularly when it comes to expressing my opinions in a professional setting and speaking in public. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such a great team of people from diverse backgrounds, and I feel fortunate to have made some new friends through this experience. I sincerely hope to stay in touch with them and that our paths will cross again in the future.

A glorious pizza lunch: an effective tool for international cooperation.