PowerFolder – the way from the start-up to the professional class
Many great inventions have been born out of necessity. While studying business information technology, PowerFolder inventor Christian Sprajc wanted to easily exchange study documents with his fellow students, but without having to awkwardly send them backwards and forwards by email. As the right program for the task did not exist at the time, today’s PowerFolder CEO decided to write it himself. After a 40-hour coding marathon, the first prototype was ready. And, having already thought about it all in a practical and pragmatic way, he also made the software project his dissertation topic – killing two birds with one stone.
With a degree and a completed, functioning product in the bag, to boot, Christian Sprajc took the road to self-employment with PowerFolder. It all started with humble beginnings – a small apartment in Dusseldorf, although the motto was “Think Big”. The first customers in 2009 included the French Fortune 500 company Bolloré and the “Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers” – better known by the abbreviation ICANN. Even in those early days, Bernhard Rutkowsky, now responsible for marketing, support and web development, was already on board.
One year later, the formal founding of the company, “dal33t UG”, took place. The “Leetspeak” spelling of the name serving a reminder of the founder’s computer gaming past. During this year, PowerFolder began to focus on German SMEs – and on customers from the IT and mechanical engineering industries, in particular.
In 2011, PowerFolder was able to win more and more customers from the education sector. In addition to Luxembourg Schools, which continued to rely on PowerFolder, the GWDG, the “Gesellschaft für wissenschaftliche Datenverarbeitung mbH Göttingen” (a joint-institution founded by the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen and the Max Planck Society) also created their own in-house cloud using the PowerFolder software. The company grew fast and it was the move to new, larger premises in the neighbouring district of Lörick – right in the heart of Düsseldorf “Japan Town”. With 360 companies represented there, Düsseldorf has the third largest Japanese community after London and Paris and is an important centre of Japanese economic activity. In particular, PowerFolder was delighted to gain ALPS Electric Europe, a subsidiary of the Japanese Nikkei 225 electronics group Alps Denki, as a new customer in 2011.
The successful developments continued in 2012. Among the many major international customers joining PowerFolder’s client list in that year was stock market listed sensor specialist Measurement Specialties, NASA’s and ESA’s supplier, which also produces for the vehicle, defence and medical device industries. 2012 also saw PowerFolder focus more on partnering with distributors and other cloud service providers who offer and use PowerFolder, creating an even greater synergetic marketing network. To round the accomplishments of the year off, PowerFolder welcomed MEWA Textilservice, the world market leader in textile management, as a user and client.
2013 saw crucial steps being taken. After a month-long selection process, PowerFolder prevailed against well-known competitors to be awarded the contract for the largest German university cloud by the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The online storage service “bw Sync & Share”, which was launched one year later, providing a highly efficient and secure cloud for the synchronising and sharing documents for around 350,000 students and 100,000 employees of all of the higher education institutions in the south-western German federal state of Baden-Württemberg. But there was also plenty of time left for more: the German Cancer Research Center, the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research and the German Institute for International Educational Research, all research institutions of international considerable renown, were welcomed as customers in that year.
The roll-out of the “bw Sync & Share” in Baden-Württemberg, new cooperation with companies such as the biotechnology company KWS Saat, Europe’s largest independent music company Edel and the TÜV Nord belonging DMT GmbH (raw material exploration) were among other things on the agenda for PowerFolder in 2014. In addition, the distribution network had also gained important pillars overseas: a partnership was agreed with the US cloud specialist O4IT (Miami), creating a close and direct connection for North American user companies.
In 2015, the network of universities working with PowerFolder was extended to Bavaria. As of winter semester 2015, the introduction of a PowerFolder cloud solution there enabled the approximately 130,000 students and around 40,000 staff of the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (LMU) and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) to use the Sync & Share solution from Düsseldorf. The organisations responsible for overseeing the development were the Leibniz Computer Center of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences (LRZ, for Munich) and the Erlangen Regional Computer Center (RRZR, for Nuremberg), in cooperation with PowerFolder. But that was only the beginning: the aim was to get the other universities in Bavaria on board with PowerFolder. The Bavarian Minister of Economic Affairs, Ludwig Spaenle, announced plans to support the development of a cross-university sync and share service within the following five years, with a total budget of up to one million euros. As part of the “Bayern Cloud”, every one of the more than 400,000 employees of the Bavarian universities would benefit from this service.
There was also cooperation with the University of Düsseldorf. Together with the Working Group for Social Network Technology , PowerFolder explored ways to directly and securely exchange documents between mobile devices. The project “D2D Connect” also gained funding from the Federal Ministry of Economics. In an early access preview (EAP) for the PowerFolder app for iOS, the resulting D2D Connect service has been tested since early 2018, with the final integration with PowerFolder planned for version 14, which will also be available in 2018.
PowerFolder has always been on the lookout for new kinds of technical solutions: in 2015, for example, the malware protection solution from security specialist Avira was integrated into the cloud system, with the “Cloud Malware Protect” delivering even more security for the customers. In 2015, PowerFolder was awarded the quality seal “IT Security Made in Germany”, demonstrating that it meets Germany’s highest quality and safety standards.
The year 2016 was eventful, as well. For example, the universities of Birmingham and Rostock joined the circle of universities using PowerFolder, the company entered into a strategic alliance with Wortmann AG, extended its cooperation with KIT and integrated the online document processing “OnlyOffice” into its Sync & Share solution. This addition enables users to edit their documents, spreadsheets and presentations stored in the PowerFolder cloud without leaving the PowerFolder interface. At the end of the year, the long-overdue move from what had become somewhat cramped premises in the tranquil Meerbusch district to the Düsseldorf area of Seestern, in the pulsating heart of the IT city, took place.
At the beginning of 2017, PowerFolder celebrated its 10th anniversary. But that was no reason to take the foot off the gas: the “deutsche.hochschul.cloud” was the starting signal for one of the largest digital initiatives ever seen by the German education system, which was joined by over 100 German universities, with over one million users. Another important decision was made in 2017: Starting in 2018, the 250,000 students, scientists and employees of the 13 state universities in Hessen will use the file Sync & Share solution “PowerFolder” as part of the Hessenbox initiative. An EU-wide tender and a two-year evaluation phase resulted in PowerFolder being crowned the clear winner. Further highlights of PowerFolder’s 2017 were the integration of the encryption software “Cryptomator”, its new membership in the “Bundesverband Internetmedizin” (Federal Association of Internet Medicine) and the ISO / IEC 27001 certification of the PowerFolder server at the webhosting service provider and data centre operator Hetzner.
This is how PowerFolder has shown constant, steady growth. A one-man student project, conducted in a small apartment and born simply out of necessity, became a globally successful Sync & Share solution that plays in the highest professional league. PowerFolder now employs 15 permanent employees and a whole host of freelancers. Despite some – with considerable financial incentives – offers to settle in other locations, with PowerFolder, dal33t wants to remain true in the future to its original location of Dusseldorf . And not only out of loyalty to its home area: on the one hand, 25 percent of DAX companies are based around Dusseldorf and, on the other, Dusseldorf is a “Digital City”: countless global players from the IT industry can be found here, such as E-Plus, Vodafone , Hewlett Packard, Nokia Siemens, Huawei, NEC, Cisco and many others. Here, in the middle of the IT heart of Germany, PowerFolder is ideally placed, with the aim of one day being mentioned in the same breath as global players.