Start-up swarm intelligence

Implementing good ideas faster: Business Innovation becomes Lab1886. Daimler is raising the innovational potential of its staff to the next level.

The innovation carousel is turning faster and faster. Megatrends such as globalisation, digitalisation and urbanisation are influencing and changing the lives of people both in the rural and urban areas. Daimler is reacting to continuing change and is turning its innovations factory, Business Innovation, into the Lab1886. "In recent years we have changed the focus of our work at Business Innovation considerably. The new name is designed to make a clear statement to others," Susanne Hahn, head of Business Innovation and Lab1886 explains the idea behind the new label.

"And the name is really cool, too – there's a lot of meaning behind it." The obvious reference to 1886, the year the car was invented by Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz, was chosen intentionally and refers to the unrivalled legacy of inventive genius and innovation. Lab1886 is an integral part of the Daimler CASE initiative. CASE – these letters characterise the future of mobility. They stand for the following fields: connectivity (Connected), autonomous driving (Autonomous), flexible use (Shared & Services) and electric drives (Electric).

At home on three continents

The new Lab1886 is at home at four locations on three continents: in Germany in Berlin and Stuttgart, in China's Beijing and in Sunnyvale in the USA. Working conditions are comparable to those of start-ups; at Lab1886 Daimler is putting its faith specifically in swarm intelligence.

The objective of the new innovation laboratory Lab1886 is to bring the ideas of individual employees, teams or departments to market readiness even more quickly. Lab1886 has both the necessary infrastructure and competence to do that – as well as Business Innovation's ten years of experience in implementing new business models. Lab1886 provides employees with the freedom to work within flat hierarchies and in a creative atmosphere.

Another successful project of the lab facilitates the mobility of people with disabilities: driving aids when ordering ex works.

When ideas get big

From the idea to the product, service or business model: Business Innovation was set up in 2007 precisely for this. The result has been ground-breaking offers such as the connectivity service Mercedes me, or the mobility app moovel. The station-independent car-sharing of car2go also once originated from the idea laboratory. It started with fifty participants in a pilot test in Ulm; now 2.7 million people use the revolutionary mobility concept – at 25 locations in eight countries on three continents.

"car2go is of course one of the best known projects which has grown to maturity with us," says Susanne Hahn. "But there are a lot more projects, which are less in the public eye – but which are still a great success." One of these is for driving aids ex factory which facilitate the mobility of people with a disability individually. All of the control and steering aids as well as the technology for climbing in and out of the vehicle comfortably can be incorporated into the order process of a new Mercedes-Benz vehicle.

car2go is of course one of the best known projects which has grown to maturity with us.

Susanne Hahn, head of Business Innovation and Lab1886

Another example is Mercedes-Benz Remanufacturing, the reconditioning and sale of genuine parts – which is environmentally-friendly and economical. Second-use battery storage follows a similar approach; batteries from electric cars that are no longer required are given a new use. "Here all ideas have a chance – regardless of whether they involve intelligent software or a sound business model," is how Susanne Hahn describes the enormous spectrum of possible topics at Lab1886.

Here all ideas have a chance – regardless of whether they involve intelligent software or a sound business model.

Susanne Hahn

STARTUP AUTOBAHN is one of the more recent projects that evolved at Business Innovation. As Baden-Württemberg's answer to Californian Silicon Valley, the new start-up eco-system focuses not only on software-oriented ideas but above all on hardware-oriented ideas.

In three steps to the top

Everything starts with an idea. The subsequent procedure at Lab1886 falls into three categories known in English as: ideation, incubation and commercialisation. In the first phase Daimler staff, a team or a department submit an idea. Well-known instruments from the start-up world such as crowd-voting, funding and pitching in the so-called shark tank are used to make the selection for the following phase based on defined criteria. Does the submitted idea have the potential for a new product or business model? The final decision in this regard is made by the shark tank which comprises a member of the board of management, managers from various specialised departments, a representative from the Works Council and external venture capital experts.

In phase number two, the so-called incubation phase, previously selected projects are tested and further developed to the market-ready stage. During this phase the creative people are supported in a diverse range of ways: consultation opportunities, support from specialists, infrastructure, financial support and the development of prototypes. As an incubator, Lab1886 provides protection to a certain extent from the hard outside world – similar to a greenhouse in which small delicate plants grow and flourish. During this phase Daimler employees are relieved of their usual duties.

One more great idea of ​​Business Innovation: the app keeps you up to date with your vehicle.
Lab1886 combines the start-up mentality with the security and financial means of a large corporation.

Once the incubation phase has been successfully completed, the third phase follows for the new product or service: commercialisation. If the idea has the stability and potential for a future business model, the roll-out takes place. This process ends either with a transfer into the Daimler organisation or the founding of a new company. The person who had the idea originally can then become CEO of his or her own company and keep the established team.

"Justifiably, you could ask: Why not go out on your own from the very beginning with an ingenious idea?" Susanne Hahn points out. "The answer to that is often heard in the start-up world: many find the risks involved in having your own company quite daunting." Here, Lab1886 offers a decisive advantage: it combines the start-up mentality with the security and means of a large corporation.


When the time is ripe, unconventional ideas have the best chance of success. By participating in the start-up company Volocopter GmbH, Lab1886 is supporting the development of innovative mobility solutions in the air. In view of progressing urbanisation and the availability of the necessary technologies, on-demand air traffic in urban areas appears to no longer be a sci-fi fantasy. Huge progress in technology for connectivity, sensors and batteries has turned small flying drones into everyday leisure products in recent years. Volocopter would like to produce its manned and unmanned aircraft several sizes larger in future: Thanks to a fully-electric drive via 18 rotors, the Volocopter flies locally emission free and with low noise levels – and in the mid-term autonomously – through inner-city airspace. As an urban air taxi, the Volocopter would be an attractive complement to transportation options on the ground.

More Information


Autonomous Driving

Mobility Concepts

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