“I’ve always been interested in future-oriented topics and trends,” says Katarina Belec. “In my job I have the opportunity to deal with them at the professional level.” Belec, who is 35, is an ideation expert in the Lab1886 unit at Daimler. Lab1886 is the incubator of ideas for all of Daimler AG. “At Lab1886 we are able to implement the entire innovation process end to end — from identifying an idea through the incubation process and all the way to the idea’s commercialization. In other words, we generate ideas and quickly transform them into new, viable business models — and ideally into Daimler ventures. My job is to scout out new ideas and screen them,” says Belec about the work she does. After receiving her master’s degree in international business development, she entered Daimler’s international trainee program in 2010.
Today Belec and her team work to answer questions about issues that will determine Daimler’s future. How will people’s mobility needs change? How important will connectivity become? How rapidly will autonomous driving develop? In order to answer these questions, Belec and her team monitor the market, always on the lookout for new startups and technologies. They also assess trend studies, cooperate with universities, and develop concepts and ideas for the group. When these ideas have been sufficiently developed, they land in the in-house “Shark Tank.” As in the U.S. TV show of the same name, this is where internal and external experts judge the potential of the ideas presented to them. If a concept passes this test, it is continuously refined in the Lab1886 unit until it becomes a functional prototype. In the best case, it becomes a genuine product that is ultimately launched on the market. Daimler’s best-known products include car2go, mytaxi, and moovel, all of which started out in the Lab1886 unit.
Enabling thoughts to develop into an idea and a vision, a fully worked out business model, and then a market-ready product — in other words, supporting ideas throughout this entire process — is incredibly exciting and a lot of fun.
Networking within the company is the key to success. “In our team, cooperation is a very important element and a top priority,” Belec says. “We work across the board with all the specialist units and all the divisions. We aren’t subject to any restrictions.” She adds that because of the flat hierarchies, working at Lab1886 feels like being part of a startup. “We regularly try out new methods and work constructively on ideas and suggestions, no matter how crazy they sound in the beginning,” she says. “And if something doesn’t work or is not accepted, that’s not a bad thing. All of us learn from the experience and simply do better the next time around.”