Cooking Something up in the Lab

Matt Charlton chats to the Chris Iwasjuta of MotionLab, a thriving ecosystem of big ideas in the home of creativity, Berlin

It couldn’t really have been anywhere else but Berlin, could it? It is, after all, a city full of good ideas, where great cultural movements and inventions can spring up from the most unlikely of places and the most hostile of circumstances, from Bauhaus, via the moving picture, the condom (no - really), and up to OstPunk. It’s a city that doesn’t show off, and is rarely impressed, but if you have the stuff, then Berlin makes the best Petri dish for creativity that you could hope for… just don’t expect a pat on the back. The legendary Berliner Scnauze wouldn’t allow for such flattery.  

Where else then could MotionLab have taken hold? In an era where co-working spaces - notably WeWork - appear to be in a precarious position, MotionLab.Berlin’s different approach seems to have captured the imagination of a new generation of creatives and entrepreneurs in Germany’s capital.  

Instead of an outsider such as I trying to explain the concept, I’ll leave it to Chris Iwasjuta, MotionLab.Berlin’s co-founder, to give us a quick elevator pitch. “Imagine a place where you're empowered to build any physical product - be it a Desktop Greenhouse, a flying taxi or textiles that change shape and look in reaction to touch or the environment,” he tells me. “MotionLab enables you to build what's on your mind by providing an ecosystem of machinery, smart minds, strong partners and access to the resources your projects need to be successful.”  

A hive mind under one roof then, with all the right tools - and, if you forgive the obvious analogy, a Warhol’s Factory of entrepreneurship; a Berghain for busy minds… only without the door policy and sex dungeon… as far as I know. Berlin is the ideal setting for such an endeavour - a place not of ‘The Money’ but of ‘The Idea’ - and Chris thinks they make the ideal paring too. “Berlin's vibrant start-up-scene, but also the broad mix of creatives, engineers and out-of-the-box thinkers provides the ideal foundation of what makes the MotionLab community so special”, he enthuses. “They don't take ‘no’ for an answer: A task is ‘difficult and cannot be done’? You'll be surprised what ‘unsolvable’ problems get untangled in our kitchen while cooking dinner or drinking an after-work-beer.” 

And of course, being Berlin, the musical element is integral. You can’t initiate an ecosystem in a city which thrives on the 808 and not throw in a few decks and a decent sound system. “One of the secret ingredients of our community is a common interest that brings people together, and with the perhaps highest density of clubs and music venues in Germany, what would be more obvious than luring people together on the dancefloor with good music and perfect sound?”, Chris continues, with a twinkle in his eye. “Jokes aside, the term ‘work hard, play hard’ is there for a reason. You’re able to listen to music or dance after a long day working on your dream - and suddenly it doesn't feel like work anymore.” 

And maybe this is why MotionLab seems to be becoming such a creative force - a boundary free, inspiring space where ideas can grow and be celebrated with a dance and a beer at the end of the day. Why does Chris think there are so many ideas emerging from here? “The short answer is: people. The long answer is: with the right support, your imagination is the limit. Our vision is to provide the ideal environment where you can think ahead freely. Your idea is a little bit crazy or a little bit too ambitious? With like-minded individuals supporting you, you'll be surprised what can be achieved!”  

It also fits in with the culture of Berlin, in that its sole purpose is not to grow and grow with little regard for quality. This is a city, remember, who told Google to shove off once upon a time. MotionLab’s modus operandi appears to be to provide the tools for start-ups and then watch all of them grow around each other - like a forest of trees all sharing the sunlight (blimey - that was poetic… some of this inspiration stuff must be rubbing off on me).  The fact that it is almost left to grow organically makes it resilient to challenges like economic crises, difficulties in the supply chain, or access to talents… if you’ve built the machine yourself, then you usually know where to find the parts to fix it. “Never forget about the people that run and support the business. From my point of view, a successful business is a community of like-minded individuals that support each other's growth in order to reach a common goal,” Chris adds.  

A berghain for busy minds.

So then - what of the future? We have already ruled out getting too big too quickly, and clarified that we’re choosing quality over quantity, but what are Chris’s immediate plans for the coming year? “Our vision is to support hardware ideas worldwide. So - 2024 is all about growth to provide more space, better infrastructure and more focus technologies like IoT [Internet of Things] and AI.” 

So back to MotionLab and Berlin having that innate, holistic, interconnectedness. Both feed and nurture vital creative talent, providing a healthy ecosystem in which they can thrive; and the talent in turn gives back - helping the up and comers, and guiding another generation of innovators.  

I’m just waiting for those flying taxis Chris mentioned.  

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