Berlin tech – the city where everything’s allowed
What makes the tech ecosystem unique in Berlin?
Maria Gross: Berlin is the city where (almost) everything is allowed. I often call it the most “un-German” city. It is because of its history that Berlin had this “moment zero” in 1990 when Germany and the city of Berlin were reunited. This led to a huge amount of artists, students, and young people moving to Berlin – because this was a city that could be created from scratch. And this is a spirit that still leads us here today. Of course today it is one of Europe’s major metropolises. But it is still a place where there is space and appreciation for creation.
Marcia Schranner: Berlin has a very special vibe, even non-Berliners confirm that. Everyone can find their place here, which is of course a great enabling factor for a vibrant startup ecosystem. There’s a lot of Berlin that other cities had to develop first.
What local initiatives or programs exist support the growth and development of startups in Berlin?
Marcia Schranner: Berlin does support the ecosystem in many ways. Whether it is networking, financing, legal, or economic support – Berlin provides numerous services for startups from private and public institutions.
The Starter Center supports budding entrepreneurs in their startup business with important tips and suggestions for planning a company. It’s a joint project from the Handwerkskammer Berlin and the Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with support from the Senate Department for Economics, Technology and Research. Additionally, the Business Plan Competition Berlin-Brandenburg is an important support offer for founders and is more than a competition with more than EUR 50,000 in prize money. Here, founders are supported in the creation of business concepts (business plan or business model canvas) with free seminars, workshops, networking events, consultations, and feedback. Berlin’s business development agency Berlin Partner for Business and Technology supports startups in the search for the right employees, advises on the available funding, and provides support during the application process. Together with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Berlin Partner offers the Business Immigration Service which helps with applying for entry and work permits for foreign staff. The Investitionsbank Berlin (IBB) supports entrepreneurs with many different funding and financing tools as well as the Berliner Bürgschaftsbank. As a joint, coordinated, and continuous approach by all stakeholders for the successful promotion of startups and the development of a startup ecosystem, the state of Berlin founded the Berlin Startup Unit in 2015 together with business development organizations. One focus of public funding is on the early stages of innovative startups and the pre-startup period. An important instrument here is the “Berlin Startup Scholarship”, which supports selected founders with a technology-based startup concept over six to twelve months to realize their market entry.
And finally with the new Startup Agenda 2022-2026, the expansion of Berlin as a startup location is to be further advanced, a document jointly developed by public administration and startups.
What are the metrics you care most about when measuring your tech and investment ecosystem and why?
Marcia Schranner: Berlin puts a lot of effort into evaluating, mapping, and analyzing the Berlin startup ecosystem to reflect which elements are important for the ecosystem and how they develop. We are using very different parameters to get a wide overview.
In addition to the typical numbers like investment rounds and the amount of money that flows into the startups in Berlin, facts and figures from the Berlin Startup Map and the ibb digital reports, diversity in startups, number of applications for public subsidies and their approvals in the innovation sector, spin-offs from universities, the acceptance of startup support and which industries are effected by startups, are important to measurements for Berlin, to mention just a few of them.
What are the stand-out Berlin startups to know about?
Maria Gross: There are some huge unicorns that started off in Berlin. GetYourGuide is probably the most internationally known one. They bring together all your vacation experiences in one app – I am a huge fan and use it on a regular basis when I am traveling. Besides the huge unicorns, there are also a ton of B2B startups that you probably have not heard about yet. One that I love in particular because of the sustainable aspect is Querfeld. They source ugly fruits and veggies and sell them to canteens and restaurants. In the last years, they saved 1,4 million kilograms of food that would have otherwise been tossed.
Marcia Schranner: To be honest, it is a nightmare naming individual ones. That’s one of the most exciting things about my work: I’m constantly in touch with innovative startups in Berlin. I have to admit that I am very impressed by Circular Economy, Smart City, Hardware, and Biotech and when the founders have impressive personalities, I am hooked. I am definitely a big fan of Kleiderly, which makes frames for glasses out of old clothes and Concular, which is about circular building, but also Canostix, who are developing a multi-cancer screening blood test that combines photonics and machine learning impresses me a lot and at least 50 others like Zalando, Trade republic and N26.
What have been some of Berlin tech’s biggest challenges?
Maria Gross: The Berlin region is traditionally not the “richest” region in Germany. We have other cities where we have much more industry and corporations. This means that Berlin is not the first choice if you are looking for CVC and angels. The ecosystem is building bridges between Berlin and other regions. We are working more and more on a German or even European Ecosystem. So if you are a startup looking for investments, be prepared to not only search this in Berlin.
Marcia Schranner: I also see it that way. Another complicating factor is that a lot of the typical German SMEs are located primarily in the south of Germany. When it comes to working concretely together on innovation, this fact is making it difficult for many B2B startups. On the other hand, fortunately, a lot of German Corporates have innovation hubs based in Berlin, making it easier to get in touch and attract potential industrial partners. To foster this cooperation needs we strongly put forward Berlin as #CityofCooperation.