DigitalFuture Summit 2019 – Distinguishing itself from the mass of digitization events

We all know the conferences where you end up wondering why you really went. Indeed, we often take away insights from mostly monotonous lectures, but there is no real fun. Experts from different industries are on stage, and as a simple participant you won’t come closer than sitting in the first row. We are constantly preaching that we should build our networks and increase the number of our LinkedIn and Xing contacts. According to a 2017 study (IAB-Stellenerhebung), around 30 percent of all new hires are based on personal contacts. How is a simple student supposed to get to these contacts and expand their network to the maximum, apart from internships?

In fact, there are several career fairs at which different companies of all sizes present their company at a stand where you have the opportunity to talk to employees. However, these events do not offer more than a brief company presentation and a small selection of vacancies. An exciting experience is a different story.

The DigitalFuture Summit was founded a few years ago by students of ESMT Berlin to discuss the constantly growing topic of digitization, which affects all industries and small start-ups as well as large corporations. The objective was to create a two-sided platform with students on the one hand and partner businesses and experts on the other. International students with different backgrounds received the opportunity to get in contact with leading experts, enrich their own knowledge, and network to accelerate their career. A constant for the event is that top executives and experts give interesting lectures, participate in panel discussions, lead engaging master classes, and interact with students in workshops (more about the different types later). Nonetheless, annual trends are always changing in the field of digitization. Thus, this year’s DFS was focused on connectivity, sustainability, creativity, and mobility.

To understand the work and processes behind the two days of the summit, let’s take a look at the phases behind the scenes leading up to the event.

The first phase started off with the formation of 4 teams with over 30 highly motivated students under the leadership of Patrick Schiebel and Sarah Ziegler. Those teams were structured in the following groups:

Strategy and Communication: Dedicated to design, shaped the topic and schedule, and provided a unique learning experience and information exchange.

Event and Participants Management: Coordinated all venue related topics to ensure a smooth event.

Partner Management: Supported the realization of DFS19 by establishing and managing partner accounts, helped to connect one with people who are active in the field of digitalization.

Finance and Legal: Managed the budget and facilitated legal coordination and communication between the work streams and other stakeholders.

The teams continued the organizational preparations for the second phase of the event by defining this year’s strategy and concept at an early stage. Followed by setting up the budgets and invitations for the participants from previous years and selected companies. Never does preparation for a big event like that go perfectly smooth. The organizers faced occasional setbacks, which lead to the identification of adequate alternatives and new solutions to ensure its success. One of the bigger goals this year was to ensure 300 participants at the event. In order to achieve this goal, it was imperative to provide a well-structured and varied agenda. Throughout 20th and 21st of June 2019 after the welcome keynote speech, participants had the opportunity to participate in four different types of sessions:

Keynotes: Listening to the views and forecasts of leading executives about the future of digitalization.

Panel Discussions: Discussions of recent market trends and expected development in the field of digitalization.

Master Classes: Interactive sessions given by experts in the field of digitalization allowing students to interact with speakers and ask advanced questions.

Workshops: Direct engagement with attendees, helping them to learn more about digitalization through case studies, discussion of problems, or presentations.

One of the challenging tasks for the teams was to secure top-class partners.Some of the companies that the DFS had the honor of welcoming to the ESMT campus were: Accenture interactivity, Accenture strategy, Amazon, AUDI, Axel Springer, BNP Paribas, BVG, heycar, Pfizer, N26, SAP, Siemens, Volkswagen, Wayfair, Simon Kucher & Partners, Huawei, Microsoft.

Besides the highlighted companies, the top managers, who provided participants with their expert knowledge and forecasts for the future, contributed to the overall content of the summit, part of those were:

  • Daniel Behar, Managing Director at Accenture Strategy
  • Georg Hauer, General Manager DACH at N26
  • Dr. Nari Kahle, Head of social sustainability & xStarters at Volkswagen AG
  • Markus Kroeger, CEO at heycar
  • Dr. Karina Rigby, Vice President & Head of Siemensstadt 2.0 Project at Siemens
  • Georg Tacke, CEO at Simon-Kucher & Partners

Finally, after months of preparations, two interesting days with discussions on different topics such as “Might Artificial Intelligence be the last invention of humankind?“, “The future of mobility – evolution vs. revolution: does the future belong to completely new ways of mobility models or do current ways of transportation just have to evolve?” and “Mobile banks, robo-advisor, digital wealth manager… is disruption the new normal for the traditional banking industry?” were complemented by entertainment for the participants. An e-scooter test track from Circ was set up on the site and a photobooth was also designed to capture unforgettable moments. Friday evening ended and with it the two-day event with drinks on the house in the specially rented House of Weekend at Alexanderplatz.

The highlight for many on the DFS team was the breathtaking and overwhelming feedback that was received from partners and participants throughout the event. It showed that the efforts of the past months (and in some cases more than 30 kilometers of running around during the event) were worth it.

In conclusion, one can definitely say that not only the partners and participants had a lot of fun but also the entire team! We are already looking forward to next year’s DigitalFuture Summit 2020 on the 9th and 10th of July!

What I learned about bringing clean energy to rural Uganda

Over the last few weeks, I have been working with Disability Art Project Uganda (DAPU), a community-based organization (CBO) based in Bugadde, rural Uganda.  DAPU was recently put in the spotlight by ENVenture for financing clean energy products (lighting and cooking) and water filters to provide clean water to poor communities in rural Uganda.  Since I started working with DAPU, I have done initial market research to figure out the state of affairs of rural and suburban customers. What follows summarizes my findings to date:

Distribution and Logistics

Distribution and logistics networks are fragmented, thus organizations need to locate their distribution points centrally and ensure that customer demand is aggregated. The distribution locations should be conspicuous enough for customers to easily notice and visit to make their purchases. It’s also important that the locations should be easily accessible by public transport (buses and motorcycles) in-order-to reduce inventory transport costs. For DAPU, an effort is already being put into identifying suitable locations in Bugadde that meet the above criteria.

Frequency of Income

Income streams of rural and suburban customers are sporadic and unpredictable. This means that for organizations to sell their products to the customers in these areas, they need to carefully map earning patterns for each consumer segment. Although this is a challenge, it is possible to understand when each consumer receives income. For example, a sugar farmer in Bugadde will sell sugarcane around December and will be liquid during this period. On the other hand, a milk vendor in Jinja will have enough income to purchase products at the weekends throughout the year.

Income levels

In addition to sporadic incomes, average daily income is low (between USD 0.81 and USD 2.70) for the people I interviewed. This presents a challenge for organizations serving these low-income segments because their ability to pay is low; even with financing, the chances of default are still high. Organizations serving such customers should identify specific customer product fit through a credit assessment by in-person interviews, referees, and by designing a manageable payment plan for the customer. There is no guarantee of repayment because a small “shock” such as a health emergency could hinder future repayments by customers. However, creating customer trust and reminders would be a good way to reduce repayment defaults. Accurate and realistic pricing mechanisms should also be put in place to encourage repayments. At DAPU, we will implement these techniques in this first quarter of 2019 and will continue to refine the methods over time.

Availability of Information

Most rural customers still use dirty and expensive energy sources such as kerosene lamps for lighting and inefficient cooking stoves for cooking. During our interviews, most respondents claimed they were not aware of cheaper, cleaner energy alternatives. From this, it would be safe to recommend that organizations that provide clean energy services to rural consumers should adopt marketing strategies that provide high product visibility and clearly defines value to end consumers. For most rural consumers, the value is created through economic benefits (savings) and physiological benefits (healthier alternatives). DAPU hopes to provide value to its customers and attract them to use DAPU products and services.

On top of the four major findings highlighted above, I should note that the consumer population is dispersed over a wide geographical area. Reaching every consumer is a tremendous challenge. I highly recommend that organizations should work with last-mile entrepreneurs to boost their visibility and sales volumes in order to scale. The business that I believe can succeed in this type of rural market would be one with high volumes and low margins.

This article is a first of a series of articles I will share about my 5-months experience in Bugadde, supporting DAPU and another CBO to refine their business model and scale up their operations. I hope you enjoyed the read. If you have other resources about Uganda rural consumers, feel free to share with me.


Hackathon? Now a fact at ESMT

I have been always passionate about event management, but the Hacknight was absolutely a completely new challenge for me. Still, I can see a common trait compared to the other events I have contributed to: the enormous satisfaction you feel when it is over and you can celebrate its success.

When I joined the Entrepreneurship Club this year, our biggest dream was the organization of the first-ever ESMT hackathon. In the last three months, we really worked hard to make it real. It was a real project management exercise, where every team member had to work on specific tasks and build processes and tools from scratch, from website to sponsorships, from facility management to staffing. Without this amazing team this huge event could not have been possible. Have a look at our fantastic crew (Link)!

In particular, I was in charge of Marketing and Communication for the event and my very first concern was how to attract MBA students from all around Europe and local techies. Thanks to our connections with other business schools and a small budget for some digital marketing campaigns, in the end more than 100 people took part in the event: more than 70 participants (among them students from ESMT, INSEAD, HEC Paris, and MIP Politecnico di Milano), 13 mentors, 4 judges, and many other enthusiastic guests who attended the technical and inspirational sessions, as well as the final pitch session.

Creative thinking, teamwork, no sleeping, and many energy drinks were the main ingredients of our winning recipe. It was rewarding to see how participants from different schools, countries, and backgrounds all worked their best overnight, despite sometimes dealing with conflict situations, which were managed through the precious support of mentors. The challenge was to develop solutions for the future of education, a topic that should be of major relevance to business schools and to society as a whole, especially in a world where new technologies are more accessible and new job titles appear every day.

Mentors and judges were absolutely the protagonists of the event. There were experts from global corporations, startups, and digital ventures working at The Lean Startup Co., IBM, Daimler, Delivery Hero, TechStars, HelloFresh!, BCG Digital Ventures, Founder Institute, Outfittery, Charitè, and Helix.

The competition was stiff and judges had a tough time when choosing a winner on Sunday morning. Team Athena, with a project on personalized learning powered by machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, won the competition and each team member received an award of 1,000 EUR, sponsored by the Helix Foundation.

In addition to Helix as the main sponsor, many other brands contributed to making the first ESMT Hackathon memorable, fun, and tasty: IBM, BRLO, Red Bull, Delivery Hero, and METRO.

Combining the MBA studies with this event was not easy, but again the reward was huge in the end: we challenged ourselves with a real project, we had a lot of fun, and not only did we further strengthen our bonds within the team, but we also created new ones beyond the school borders. I hope that future students can really build on this experience and launch many other hackathons, food for thought for students, and professionals who aspire to become tomorrow’s leaders. The Entrepreneurship Club strongly believes that business people and techie professionals with different working experiences, backgrounds, and nationalities need to work more closely and keep sharing their ideas to find solutions for future business needs.

What was the last meaningful interaction you had?

Beautiful fireworks, Crimea

“That’s not funny,” she said. “People live like this every day, scared for their lives. They are used to the sounds, but the reality of the danger never goes away.”

It’s a Wednesday afternoon. Outside, the Berlin winter is doing its best to remind us of its presence. Inside, the walls that surrounded Walter Ulbricht now watch over us as we sit in the foyer. We are both MIM students, she from Ukraine, I from Nigeria, and we are waiting for the lecture to start while we discuss what we did for Christmas. “That’s not funny” was in response to my giggling about her New Year’s experience in Ukraine.

You see, Ukraine is still experiencing conflict with Russia, a conflict that started in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, a conflict that has resulted in a death toll of more than 9,600 Ukrainians and displaced 1.1 million, according to a September 2015 report by the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), and 400 deceased Russian soldiers by October 2015 according to The Washington Post. Due to the understandable tension, the New Year celebratory fireworks were toned down to avert alarm or panic should they be confused with gunfire.

In the background, the TV shows figures of the expected influx of migrants into Germany in 2018. We are all migrants, due to education in our case, for economic or welfare reasons in theirs. She and I discuss the migration and its effect on the economy: Where will they go? What services will they need? How can technology best serve them? In their homelands, what industries have been lost and which still exist? How does this impact the life of the people there?

Fast-forward twenty minutes; we are now in the “people management and leadership” lecture. Professor Gianluca delivers research released in 2017 on the role of emotional energy on leadership. Focusing on the traits of good leaders, he instructs, “Think about the last meaningful interaction you had.” I recline and remember, “That’s not funny.”

I write this puzzled, excited, and a bit taken aback, reminded as to why I chose ESMT. An international student body giving insight from around the globe, outstanding professors to delivering pioneering research, a culture fusing the theory and practice of management.

What was the last meaningful interaction you had? I seem to be having them quite often here at ESMT.

ESMT visits Harvard

Berlin to Boston

As soon as I landed in Boston, my network went off and I was doomed to the very existence as to how would I reach my hotel now. Thanks to my back up plan I had a few screenshots guiding me. I decided to take the snapshots to a passenger outside the train station. The nightmare struck me, how will I ask him the way? I was curious and hoped he could speak English so I went and asked the direction speaking English very slowly. To my astonishment, he replied quickly and fluently and then I realized I actually had landed in the USA and I can speak English freely =P. He topped it off by ending the conversation with “Sub theekh hah” (Urdu) which means “All is good”, making me realize that the people from my part of the world i.e. Pakistan and India are everywhere. I had landed in Boston where the weather was fairly similar and my journey ESMT visits Harvard begun.


Well coming back to the conference, the reason for my trip and the million-dollar question what was HPAIR? HPAIR is an internationally-recognized student-run organization at Harvard College. It offers a forum of exchange to facilitate discussion of the most important economic, political, and social issues relevant to the Asia-Pacific region. Past speakers at the conferences include Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, President of Singapore S.R. Nathan and former President of Goldman Sachs Philip Murphy. I was honored to be selected where I represented my country and university at this conference. I had to go through a series of 4 to 5 essay questions for the application and then had to undergo a Skype interview to land the title of becoming a delegate to this delegate.

There is a common misconception that this is the statue of Mr. John Harvard when in fact it was one of his students who posed for the sculpture

My Experience

The HPAIR conference was an amazing experience, meeting delegates from various parts of the world. The delegates represented top universities from around the world and the experience to network with them was unparalleled to anything. I took the lead in starting a conversation as for every country I had a friend already thanks to the diversity ESMT Berlin offers =). The language classes surely paid off as I started interacting in German with a few delegates who were proficient in German.

Our very first day comprised of keynote lectures by Mitchell Dong and Jon Liechty. Mitchell Dong is currently the Managing Director of Pythagoras Investment Management. Jon Liechty is currently the vice president, Regional Operations for Starbucks Asia Pacific. The following day we were able to network further with Mr. Michael Eckhart, Managing director at Citigroup and Caitlin Iles, Partner at Capital xx. It was an amazing experience sharing the same room with such great motivational people with whom I could interact and discuss further on Asian economy, future of Asia and especially the south Asian region current and expected growth.

My Track

The following day I could speak my vision regarding the future of South Asia in my respective track of governance and diplomacy track. The governance and diplomacy track further allowed me to discuss my vision and approach with esteemed delegates and experts in the field. Mr. Nima Baiati who is the Senior Director of Product Management and Corporate Development at Absolute Software. Dr. Gordon M. Goldstein currently the Managing Director at Silver Lake Partners and Dr. Nazli Choucri, Professor of Political Science at MIT. The topics took a turn and soon in our next panel of discussion we were in discussion regarding geopolitics, regionalism and nuclear tensions amongst the Asian regions. I could reflect my thoughts on the mentioned topic of discussion with various esteemed colleagues such as Mr. Frederic Graire. (served the French embassy in various roles in Pakistan and India).

Final words

To cap it all off we had amazing international and cultural nights. It was an honor to wear ESMT’s shirt and wave the flag of Pakistan. A symbolic gesture that made me happy and proud at the same time. The international night was the final night where we bid our farewell to various colleagues. Colleagues that had become friends over the course of 5 days sharing intellect and vision for the future. The experience to go through those 5 days was magical and surely I would recommend anyone who considers himself/herself a future leader of Asia or has a profound interest towards Asian economy, policies and international relations should opt to apply for this experience. Go and get an experience of meeting all kinds of amazing people will be my final sentence.