On Saturday, I went to a startup event that was held in an old swimming pool. The hy! event bills itself as one of the premier startup events in both Berlin and all of Europe. It is a so-called "demo day", in which some of the most promising start up ventures from across Europe present their ideas (in 3 minutes or less!) in front of investors, media, and other entrepreneurs.
The event itself is held in Stattbad Wedding (City Bath in Wedding), which is a former public swimming pool that's been refitted as a bar, club and event space. A unique and fantastic re-use of space, and yet another example of Berlin's layers...but we can save that discussion for another time.
I wasn't there for the history. I was there for the startups.
Why, you might ask? Well, I am now officially a member of a 3-person project researching digital technology companies in Berlin and London. We think that digital technology companies can be an engine of economic growth here and Berlin, and we want to know what the government can do to make it happen.
To figure this out, we're trying to meet and talk to as many people as we can: digital technology entrepreneurs, government officials, startup incubators, homeless guys on the street...basically anyone that will talk with us.
The reason we're focusing on startups is that a lot of them are digital technology companies. What we mean by that is companies that do most of their work online or whose product is some kind of software. This can mean things like e-commerce, e-banking, design, or anything. The definition itself is a little bit fuzzy, but like the famous Supreme Court definition of pornography, we'll know it when we see it.
The three of us spent most of Saturday meeting entrepreneurs, consultants, and finance guys (you could spot finance guys from a mile away because they were the only ones wearing suits). They were all really excited to be there, and all of them stressed the importance of growing Berlin's startup scene.
The key takeaway from the day was how important startup accelerators are. An accelerator is an institution that provides a little bit of money, a lot of expertise, and contacts within the industry. Speaker after speaker said how important it was for quality accelerators to work with quality entrepreneurs, who then can link up with the right kind of financing.
The end goal, they all said, was the "exit," i.e. when the company is either sold to a bigger company or has an IPO. Everyone in the Berlin startup scene is waiting for Berlin's first "billion euro exit," that moment when a homegrown Berlin company is valued at a billion euros.
It hasn't happened yet, though, and nobody's exactly sure why. Maybe Berlin needs more accelerators, or more venture capital, or more streamlined visa regulations. What Berlin needs depends who you talk to.
This, hopefully, is where our group will step in. I'm sure we won't be able to provide the definitive answer to Berlin's startup questions, but we aim to try.