If you believe the nerds, there’s never been as much of a future as there is now. The Internet of Things (IoT), they predict, will change the way we live. With the help of related blockchain technology, the world will even be turned upside down in just a few years. Alexandra Mikityuk doesn’t want to be called an eccentric or a savior of the world and protects herself against it with a dose of self-mockery. “In my experience, new developments are initially very quiet,” she says. “And low-key suits me better.”
It may be that the delicate little woman has already contributed a lot to the hype around blockchain and the Internet of Things with her work in just a few years of work. And as disruptive as these technologies seem, the 33-year-old’s personal story is just as varied.
The grandfather was an aeronautical engineer and inspired his granddaughter with technology and science
When British tech pioneer Kevin Ashton first coined the term Internet of Things in 1999, the then ten-year-old girl was probably tinkering with her grandfather on a dough mixer or mixer for drinks. “I had a lot of fun assembling something useful for the family with Grandpa in his garage,” she says, and talks about her childhood in St. Petersburg.
The grandfather, an aeronautical engineer, introduced his granddaughter to technology and the natural sciences from an early age. And this caused not only curiosity and interest in the girl, but also a lot of ambition. In mathematics and physics, Alexandra Mikityuk was quickly the top performer in her school and also always at the forefront of competitions.
His academic achievements not only earned him an excellent high school diploma, but also a scholarship to the Berlin University of Applied Sciences (HTW). “I arrived in Berlin in 2007 and immediately started studying without knowing much German,” she says. Just three years later, she was already a graduate engineer and soon after was working on her doctoral thesis on computer system security at the Technical University of Berlin – successfully, of course.
From 2013 then the leap into the world of work. At that time, the blockchain (series of blocks or chain of blocks) was already in the world. Blocks represent individual data records that are saved one after another, creating a chain of data records that grows constantly as more data blocks are linked – up to a register of overall transactions. The best-known application example of a blockchain is the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, which was developed by a person or perhaps a group of people under the Japanese pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto and brought to market as a result of the banking crisis of 2008. Initially despised and dismissed as “nerds” by established banks, the Bitcoin blockchain is now a huge hit and therefore a growing threat to traditional financial institutions.
It was the immense possibilities of this new technology to simplify, automate and increase the reliability of transactions that go far beyond the trading of a cryptocurrency that brought Alexandra Mikityuk to the subject of blockchain. She noticed this quickly, and luckily the young scientist soon found a home for her new budding passion at Telekom.
First at T-Systems, Telekom’s subsidiary for information and communication technologies, but especially at T-Labs, Telekom’s research and development unit, she vigorously promoted the topic of blockchain. . “I started there almost on my own and then I gradually built a team around me,” she says. “It was a great moment: soon there were 80 young people from 15 countries in my team at the top – for me an extremely diverse creative group, just brilliant.”
She not only appreciated the teamwork, but also the freedom to work on developments. “We researched and worked on entirely new innovations,” she says. “Ultimately it was about figuring out how to make blockchain usable for businesses and of course also for Telekom.”
Berlin was the right place for that. “In 2017, there were already 40 start-ups around us that were more or less concerned with the subject of blockchain”, she says. “And everyone wanted to know what opportunities new technology offers for day-to-day business.”
Mikityuk is primarily concerned with the secure networking of machines, devices and services
Mikityuk now sees tremendous opportunities for simplification, automation and increased reliability almost everywhere. And not just in accounting, documentation, invoicing or auditing. For them, the transparent monitoring of food or entire supply chains, the direct processing of ticket sales between providers and customers without the intermediary of a financial service provider, or even the recognition and control of traffic flows are examples of the beneficial effects of blockchains.
She herself mainly dealt with the secure networking of machines, devices and services. “Their communication with each other offers the possibility of relieving people of tedious and time-consuming routine work,” says Mikityuk. “I have been working on the necessary software for this since my time at Telekom.”
When she developed the first communication software for it and brought it to market maturity, her desire to start her own business grew. She found understanding among Telekom decision makers and the right business partner in management expert Philip Toepffer, with whom she had previously worked at T-Lab. In 2019, the two founded Staex GmbH – with money from their own pockets, a start-up grant and seed capital from Telekom.
Aachen is already on its way to becoming a smart city
What started off quite small back then has grown into a serious player in the Internet of Things and blockchain space over the years. The third version of their Staex software is now available, and their company, which now employs 15 permanent and independent employees, has also acquired its first client for it. Together with the municipal IT service provider Regio IT, Mikityuk and Co. has developed a new mobility concept for the city of Aachen.
“With the help of our program, parking spaces, electric vehicle charging stations, public transport and other traffic-related equipment are networked with each other,” explains the boss of Staex. “The complex information thus obtained on traffic volume, mobility sharing, public transport or construction sites helps the inhabitants of Aachen to move around the city more quickly.”
Information on traffic, breakdowns or traffic jams grouped together on a dashboard also provides the municipalities themselves with detailed data which in the first place enables sustainable urban planning. “And that’s just a first step,” says Mikityuk. But even this shows that Aachen is on the way to becoming a Smart City, an intelligent and connected city.
With its software platform, Staex notably offers municipal customers the development of future-proof infrastructure for smart cities and smart utility companies. This did not only convince the municipal authorities of Aachen. Last year, Mikityuk and Toepffer won the Deep Tech Award from the Berlin Senate in the Internet of Things / Industry 4.0 category. And in April this year, they finally successfully completed their first tangible funding round, which brought in 1.65 million euros in the coffers of Staex.
Investor expectations are high. Markus Barnickel, chief investment officer at financier Brandenburg Kapital, firmly believes that Mikityuk and Toepffer have what it takes to make Staex the international market leader. And Dominic Briggs of venture capitalist Blockwall Capital is convinced that Staex can still “revolutionize” the Internet of Things. So much praise, so much expectation and also so much noise about it. As an entrepreneur, Alexandra Mikityuk has learned to use “strong attention” for business. “But actually,” she admits, “I still quietly love him.”