Berlin for the Heureka Conference 2013, and a chance to take a proper look at the city’s local start up scene – currently one of the European digital hot spots.

The day long event was clearly testament to this, a super-cool empty factory location populated by hundreds of start ups seeking to learn and make connections, a few rising stars who were reaching scale and a surprising number of highly visible financiers and angel investors. There was a predominance of e-commerce (niche B2C) models, although fewer of the copycat plays that have previously characterized Berlin tech.

Some of the themes and issues of recent conversations in London were echoed: lots of small scale finance but little serious VC level; no big exits; talent squeeze. My concern however is that these issues are not seen as strategic constraints to address or adapt to, but always simply as perceived failings when compared to Silicon Valley.

In his presentation Stephan Schambach from Demandware detailed why the US West Coast ecology was further developed than Europe across headings of Market, People, Exits, VC, Entrepreneurialism and Education. But Silicon Valley is the product of a much longer gestation period in a very different (bigger) local market – and in some ways, so what. To echo a point from my earlier SF/LA post, it is the exemplar which should demand that you find a competitive and defensibly different profile. And Berlin, and London, exemplify the city as melting pot of art, fashion, music, design – underpinned by digital technologies and giving rise to a distinctive culture.

In answering my direct question the principal heading €600M public funding disagreed that any strategic investment should be looking to catalyse businesses which build on the ecosystem that defines the Berlin scene, but was happy to act as just another (US style) investor looking for returns.

From Silicon Allee last week to Silicon Roundabout tomorrow – oh, there we go again….

(although in defense of the Tech City initiative in London, despite some clumsy branding it does at least understand that the cluster of businesses is a product of a specific culture)


NB: Recent NY Times article on Berlin, makes some similar points and worth a read.


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