The Berlin Startup City Guide

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Thinking about founding in Berlin? Or just want to explore the local startup community? Go ahead and find out about the most exciting local events, possibilities to get investment and further advice for your business.

See the infographic on how to found your startup in Berlin!

Berlin is constantly evolving and changing, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but always with strong opinions for or against. In the 1990’s the city became known for its techno scene, which reinvented the city’s reputation as Europe’s party capital. Today, it is still known as an excellent place to party hard all week long, but a new group of people seem to be stealing the global headlines: the Berlin start-up community. Over and over again Berlin is described as a top European destination for young, hopeful entrepreneurs looking to turn their dreams into reality. While still lagging behind London or Silicon Valley when it comes to venture capital, the Berlin start-up scene is thriving on the credo of the city’s ex-mayor Klaus Wowereit: “Berlin ist arm, aber sexy” (“Berlin is poor, but sexy”).

East & West United: Berlin

Furthermore, Berlin’s location is quite interesting: compared to Paris or London it’s closer to the eastern-European buzzing talent-pools, such as Poland, Ukraine, the Baltics or Czech Republic. Berlin is in many ways located in the center of Europe. McKinsey predicts Berlin to provide more than 100.000 new jobs thanks to startups in 2020 and “to become Europe’s leading startup hub”.

The German capital is one of the most hyped startup ecosystems in the world and has been called „EU’s Silicon Valley” repeatedly. Opinions on that differ largely, nevertheless there is some clear-cut advantages and disadvantages that most Berlin-based entrepreneurs would agree on:

Berlin’s Upsides:

  •  Access to international talent – Berlin constantly attracts talent from all around the world. Especially in the business and creative areas it is usually very easy to find people to join you in your quest for world domination, but beware, tech talent is – as everywhere – rather hard to find.
  • Cheap cost of living and working – It is not unusual to hear foreigners say “I came to Berlin on a EU trip and I just never get around to move on from here”. Berlin has a magical force to ground people, once they arrive in the city, no wonder when dining outside is just as cheap as getting food from the supermarket and renting a desk in a decent and inspiring co-working space costs as much as you would pay for a transportation ticket in other capitals around the world. Berlin definitely offers huge “value-for-money” as a city and ecosystem.
  • Supportive, “pay-it-forward” community – You will find most of the people you turn to more than helpful. Especially in entrepreneurial circles it is rather easy to find advice, feedback, useful insights and information, as well as a resources when you need them, even if you can’t offer cash. Most of the members of the ecosystem go by “it’s good for the carma” or “I help you now, you’ll help me later” and offer their circles, offices and hearts to fellow entrepreneurs.

But beware of:

  • Funding gap – Despite of funding rounds and exits being announced more and more in the Berlin ecosystem and the overall capital raised by Berlin-based startups in 2014 being close to 1 bn EUR and having grown by 130% in comparison to 2013 (Source: datapine), big bucks are still rare and hard to get. The VC and business angel market yet needs to grow into the shoes of London and Silicon Valley. As an ambitious entrepreneur you’ll need to look outside of Germany as soon as you want to scale internationally.
  • Bureaucracy – German bureaucracy can be very challenging and is often perceived as an obstacle in the process of founding. A company is registered and all founders exempt from personal liabilities after on average 15 days and several visits at the notary, the taxes administration and tax accountant. Whereas this is rather tolerable, the fact that one needs to revisit the notary with the entire group of shareholders in order to make any changes to the cap table is often perceived as burdensome. Furthermore, there is the predominant risk-avoiding mentality – although that maybe not specifically a German thing but European, compared to the US for example.
  • Language barriers – Moving in startup circles you won’t feel it most of the time, but it’s still Germany. Germans are very particular about their language and culture and unfortunately, German is almost unspeakable for non-Germans. You’ll be fine talking to investors and prospect team members, but don’t expect the waiter at the local pub or the sales person at the bakery to always understand English. Furthermore, paperwork is always in German and you’ll need to get support working through it, if you are not German-speaking.

Berlin is many things, but it foremost has become a place where you can have a go at your ideas and visions more than ever, where you can lose or find yourself. It is the perfect city to try new things and experiment. For talents from all over the world, the city offers a platform to meet like-minded people in an almost surreal bohemian culture!

Berlin’s Startup Community

Berlin startup community

You can pick from a huge variety of startup-related events in Berlin every day. Selecting the most relevant ones is not easy, so it’s a good idea to keep focused on your needs. Nevertheless, taking the opportunity to discover new areas is always and highly recommended.

To list all startup events in Berlin would go beyond the scope of this guide, therefore we provide you with trusted sources that keep you posted on upcoming Berlin events, gatherings and meetups:

  • Berlin StartupDigest provides you with a calendar that has links to regular meet-ups and events.
  • Gründermetropole-Berlin offers a list of events.
  • Berlin Startups is probably the biggest Facebook group with around 20.000 members (as of March 2015). It unites startup enthusiasts and you can find updates about upcoming events as well as about other things happening in the community.
  • Berlin Startup Events is a Facebook group where you find updates related to events, conferences, festivals and other meet-ups.
  • Berlin Startup Grind organises regular events in Berlin. Top entrepreneurs are invited to the event to share their experience and inspire.
  • Startup-Berlin is an event and workshop database that aggregates Berlin based events from different sources.
  • Betahaus, The Rainmaking Loft and GTEC host regular events, meet-ups and open lectures on startup related topics that are worth checking out.
  • Various gatherings can be found on meetup.com:
  • Most of the time, the “Berlin-Startup” section of eventbrite is worth a peak
  • Also check Berlin’s slack community for Startups – Startupberlin.co

Often smaller groups meet monthly, there are probably more than 100 of these events and this number is growing. Every week new ones are born and others die. Usually the topic is very specific and focused, so don’t be surprised if you find 40 really knowledgeable people talking about bitcoins or meteor. In the following there are links to some of the more general and popular yearly events and conferences.

Usually these are really big and international, so people come from all over the world. These events last one or two days and usually involve talks, workshops and networking opportunities. Also many of them are not limited to a specific field, they’re focused on startups and general entrepreneurship topics. These are perfect for finding out who is who and what’s happening in the city.

  • Heureka (May) is the conference brought to you by the local startup news outlet Gründerszene which focuses more on showcasing local but mature startups and their founders and attracts numerous German and European investors.
  • NOAH Conference Berlin – this conference will come to Berlin for the first time this year, but given how big it usually is in London, it will probably also be one the major events for Berlin. One of the few conferences in which Oliver Samwer participated regularly in the past.
  • Startup Camp (March) position themselves as Berlin’s biggest event for early stage startups. They also organize quite a number of conferences and pitch competitions where entrepreneurs and investors meet. One such event is Pitch Marathon (March) – only for selected pitches and investors.
  • Pirate Summit is actually not in Berlin, but in Cologne and it’s more than worth the trip to the west of Germany. It’s a one of a kind event “celebrating entrepreneurship like pirates”, focusing on early-stage startups and technology, attracting Europe’s hottest entrepreneurs and investors.
  • Best of both (September) brings old and new economy together by showcasing innovative startups and business models to industry players.
  • Things (May) is a yearly conference on hardware and startups.
  • Charité Entrepreneurship Summit (May) focuses on healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship in and around digital health.
  • Berlin Web Week (May) puts lots of events in a week full of all sizes, prices and importance.
    • re:publica is a conference about digital culture focusing on the present and future of German entrepreneurs.
    • Media convention (May) – international and all about media.
    • Droidcon (June) – global developers conference.
  • Capital on stage (December) is a venue where founders get a possibility to connect with a big number of venture capital investors – all you need to get funded.
  • Tech Openair TOA (July) is a two-day interdisciplinary technology festival, think SXSW Berlin-style.
  • Social Media Week (February) is a set of events aiming to explore how new media and technology are impacting everyday lives – all about social media and startups.

Where To Work From In Berlin

Berlin_guide_coworking

Around some places exciting things happen. In Berlin, those places are usually coworking places with daily activity or accelerators with regular events. Also some big companies use their own venues to keep in touch with the local startup scene.

These are a few sources where you can find listings of the coworking spaces in Berlin:

  • StartUs ecosystem presents a database of coworking spaces in Berlin and is constantly growing.
  • Überlin has created an interactive map with links to different coworking spaces.
  • ProjektZukunft also presents a map of about 50 coworking spaces in Berlin.
  • Spacebase also offers a great overview of meeting rooms in Berlin. If you’re only looking for coworking spaces just select to only view them.

Here are a couple of the “hottest” coworking places that have managed to create a community around them and are worth following and visiting frequently to discover new and exciting stuff :

  • Betahaus – Kreuzberg, “where it all began” the veteran amongst Berlin coworking spaces, attracts creatives, makers and freelancers.
  • St. Oberholz – Mitte/Prenzlauerberg, THE Berlin hipster hangout, good for casual business meetings.
  • Mobilesuite Berlin – Prenzlauerberg, if suit-business is your thing and you are not afraid of seriously looking, but very nice folks, check out Mobilesuite: it lets you get down to business and is not ashamed to welcome your suit-wearing clients and investors.
  • co.up – Kreuzberg, a rather techy feel and home to many hackers.
  • creative|media|lab – Mitte (by Alexanderplatz), creative media lab offers a clean space to focus on what matters, it’s a home to designers, web developers and alike.
  • Cafe Nest – Kreuzkölln, is the St. Oberholz of Kreuzberg, offers delicious snacks in its cafe and beyond the usual desk-rental also team rooms for rent, good value for money.
  • Rainmaking Loft Berlin – Kreuzberg, a former art gallery where you can find a strong community of high tech startups, startup-related events and the 1920’s style bar & cafe Le Labo.
  • Raumstation – Moabit, beautiful loft, chilled out but focused atmosphere, arrive, open your laptop and space out.
  • Supermarkt – Mitte, this event venue/coworking/community space is located in a former supermarket and has a very special look-and-feel to it.
  • Transistor Berlin is a co-working space located in Kreuzberg. The building, which was once an old power station is now home to freelancers and startups.

Fund Your Startup In Berlin

Berlin_guide_financing.

A quickly expanding startup community usually, or at least preferably, grows alongside with a rapidly growing investment ecosystem. This is also the case in Berlin – startups from all over Europe and beyond are moving here to find investment and accelerating opportunities which are often missing in other developing hubs. These “migrating tendencies” often cause increase of competition for domestic startups. But doesn’t competition boost the growth of the ecosystem? In any case, Berlin as an ecosystem, despite of still being very young and yet in the beginning of its lurging potential, proves to be one of the European hotspots for investment.

Incubators and Accelerators:

There are few sources where you can find listings of major accelerators and incubators in Berlin:

Now let’s go over a few of the most popular programs in Berlin:

  • Startup Bootcamp Berlin is one of the well-known accelerators in Europe that just recently expanded to the US. Its focus lays on startups involved in the sector of Smart Transportation & Energy. Next application for the 3 months program closes on 7th of June 2015.
  • Berlin Startup Academy is located at the GTEC campus and is targeting early-stage startups providing them with an active and useful mentors network, as well as knowledge and insights around founding and getting funded in Germany.
  • Techstars Berlin – local branch of the world-known Techstars Program headquartered in Colorado, closes applications in March, runs the program throughout the summer.
  • Techstars METRO Accelerator – launches in Berlin end of April 2015 and provides support for startups that pursue innovation in the food and hospitality business.
  • hub:raum is an incubator initiated by Deutsche Telekom. Early stage startups can get a coworking space, mentoring and help in search of  business partners within the community of Deutsche Telekom, continuously open for applications.
  • Microsoft Ventures Accelerator supports early-stage startups with resources, mentorship and feedback, they offer multiple programs.
  • Google Launchpad is an online accelerator that opens its doors for week-long sessions every quarter to 6 months and provides you technology, online resources, expertise in form of mentors, and community to launch and scale your app.
  • Axel Springer Plug and Play Accelerator provides selected startups with a 3-month program three times a year. Startups get financial support as well as access to a broad network of mentors and partners within Europe and Silicon Valley.
  • Hardware Accelerator – a super-short 14-days acceleration program in cooperation with the Betahaus Co-working providing mentoring, workshops and networking opportunities for wearables & co.

Incubators/Company Builders:

  • Project A Ventures supports early stage startups in the fields of e-commerce, marketplace, infrastructure and data & software as a service. The program is run and supported by the teams from Berlin and Sao Paulo.
  • Rocket Internet is one of the best known company builders. It owns over 100 internet companies worldwide and supports them with teams, concept, technology and capital.
  • Rheingau Founders position themselves as professional co-founders by investing their time and network to get pre-seed ventures to further rounds of investment.
  • Hitfox Group is a young company builder focusing on adtech, fintech and consumer internet. It’s building up to 4 companies per year.

Of course there is more: take a look at the sources mentioned before and find the programs that fit your startup best.

VC Funding:

  • High Tech Gründerfonds is Europe’s biggest early stage investor with a very broad focus and over 400 investments to date.
  • HP Ventures – Hasso Plattner Ventures invests in fast-growing technology-driven companies in seed stage (with no prior institutional financing) or growth stage (with a minimum annual turnover of 10 Mio. EUR). The funding is financed by Hasso Plattner, co-founder and chairman of software giant SAP.
  • EarlyBird is a venture capital investment company that invests in fast growing technology startups across multiple stages. The investment volume may reach up to 15 Mio. EUR.
  • Paua Ventures – do not focus on particular industries but rather on well-balanced teams and revolutionary ideas. Previously invested in Amorelie and Kiwi.ki.
  • e.ventures – a global fund with various investments in consumer internet, media and e-commerce, previous investments: Groupon, Sonos, Angies List.
  • Partech International – recently raised its second fund and will be investing between 300k and 1m EUR in 70 startups over the next coming months and years, no specific focus, but looking for extremely high-growth concepts.
  • Point Nine Capital position themselves as an Angel VC. Connecting advantages of venture capital firms and angel investing is their goal. They look for disruptive startups from SaaS, Marketplaces & Lead Generation, e-Commerce and Mobile sectors and invest in startups with no or little previous seed investment.
  • WestTech Ventures originally an investor focusing on pre-seed and seed tech startups with tickets ranging from 25.000 to 250.000 EUR, currently runs a deep tech accelerator Project Flying Elephant.
  • Cherry Ventures: backed by the team behind Zalando this Berlin-based fund focuses on consumer internet and e-commerce concepts.
  • Digital Health Ventures (DHV) is a venture fund focused on seed and early stage investments in startups working on digital solutions improving human health.
  • XLHEALTH is a German based investor in clever, product-centric ideas that address consumers in order to improve human health. It provides support to boost startup launch: capital, mentors, office space and partners.

And some more wait to be discovered here.

Angel Investors:

You can first check the profiles of investors from Berlin on

  • StartUs as well as
  • Angelist, and
  • startup.net berlinbrandenburg – an iniative that connects startups and investors. They host events, trade fairs, as well as established formats such as the program media.net:catapult or the Investor’s Dinner.

We also want to name a few making sure you don’t miss the main players in the field:

Michael Brehm and Stefan Glänzer invest primarily in consumer internet startups with Rebatenetworks, Christophe Maire, Alex Ljung and Eric Wahlforss of SoundCloud, David Khalil, Johannes Kreibohm, Christian Saller, Lukasz Gadowski, Kolja Hebenstreit, Klaas Kersting and  Frank Thelen are active angel investors in the Berlin ecosystem.

Public Funding:

There are also funding opportunities such as government grants, entrepreneur’s scholarships  and subsidized loans. If you are anything like most Berliners you will hate anything that has to do with bureaucracy. But public funding is a great way to get money for your project! Their goal is to strengthen the economy, so grab their attention, try to be innovative and show that your enterprise will create jobs. It may be difficult for non-German speaking innovators, but programs are available on all levels of the corporate lifecycle and suitable for all kinds of projects.

Berlin Partner for Business and Technology is a public-private partnership that provides information about funding possibilities as well consulting & other services to startups and freshly cooked entrepreneurs.

Berlin’s Advice For You

Berlin

In the following paragraphs you will find few tips on where you can seek further advice in order not to get lost in the sheer volume of the dynamic Berlin startup community.

Berlin Startup Consulting is the go-to source for tech startups in search of competent consulting and support for company building, public fundraising, international expansion, and entering the German or US market. Overall the experienced founder team established 8 companies and combine 25 years of consulting.

DGC – Entrepreneurs Consultancy offers strategic advice in the area of organizational development, such as growth pain, team building, leadership in startups, culture, motivation and morale. Having worked with heavy-weights from the new and old economy (from Rocket Internet to Fraunhofer Venture) DGC relies on a strong network of experienced founders that serve as consultants utilizing their skills, networks and resources.

German Technology Entrepreneurship Center (GTEC) is a first open campus in Germany aiming to unite tech organisations, expertise and entrepreneurs in one place. The Campus will be opened in June 2015, but you can already check out their bi-weekly Open Lecture Events and apply for entrepreneurship programs.

Berlin Geekettes is a community of women in tech that provides support and resources to its members and organizes regular events, trainings and workshops offering educational and networking opportunities to the Berlin community.

Up.Co Berlin Community unites Startup Weekend Berlin, Startup Digest Berlin and Startup Next Initiatives under one roof and offers great entry points into the Berlin Startup Community.

Still not convinced? Check out this pitch by Christoph Sollic:

 

 

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Last updated: January 25th, 2017

Special thanks to: Christoph Räthke for editing and contributing to this guide.
Tip from the editors: To get even more stories and tips about Berlin startup community check out Berlin Startup Guide book. The author of the article, Sissel Hansen, is a cofounder & project manager of Berlin Startup Guide.

The guides are like startup communities – they contstantly change and grow. Make sure to check for updates and if you have something to add to one of them or want to publish one for your city, get in touch right away! And don’t forget to enrich the startup ecosystem by creating your company profile at StartUs!

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