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Berlin’s Startup Scene – Great For The Traveling Entrepreneur

by Tony · 15 comments

Berlin has a great startup scene for the traveling entrepreneur

Berlin has all of the ingredients of a dynamic entrepreneurial city and is fast using those ingredients to generate some really interesting startups. Given our love of startup culture and passion for travel, Berlin was the perfect mix of locals and expats all working on creating something new.

Berlin is already being discussed as the new startup capital of Europe (previous title holder: London) and is quickly making a name for itself worldwide.

Berlin’s rise is due to a mix of factors, including: the cheap cost of living compared to the rest of europe, the young and dynamic population working hard on new ventures, the proximity to great pools of talent in Eastern Europe, and a tradition of subversive culture similar to San Francisco in the 60’s.

Given our previously stated mission to start our own business while traveling, we just had to investigate everything Berlin had to offer these two sexy traveling entrepreneurs:

Landingstanding looking goooood

Here is what we found…

Co-working Spaces

Cafe at the Betahaus coworking space

Berlin has coworking spaces figured out. With one seemingly on every corner and more popping up every year, Berliner startups can have their ideal work environment of choice.

Just so that we’re all on the same page: a coworking space is where people working on different ventures can all gather to work and socialize. The socialize aspect is key and is what differentiates it from the executive suite – its stodgy father of remote working.

Our favorite coworking space while in Berlin was Betahaus, as they offered a 5 Euro breakfast (all are invited) every Thursday that revolved around 2 members presenting what they were working on. Anyone who pays for the breakfast ticket is also allowed to work all day in their space for free…

Don’t think we didn’t take advantage of that deal!

Many of the coworking spaces also have coffee shops at ground level that anyone can work in for the cost of a cup of coffee. If you want just a taste of Berlin’s entrepreneurial spirit, work here for a few hours and feed off of the great vibe of everyone around you.

For more proof that Berlin has truly caught fire as the future of entrepreneurship in Europe, you can look to Mozilla. The web browser maker has agreed to anchor a new coworking space called “Factory” in the Mitte neighborhood of Berlin.

While we were in Berlin, Mozilla threw a party near our apartment celebrating some creative fan-made videos. We decided to stop by to check it out and people were definitely excited to have Mozilla taking a larger role within the Berlin community.

Enjoying Mozilla in Berlin

(Mr. Firefox wanted the ladies to himself… classic box out move!)

Prices at most Berlin coworking spaces range from 10-15 Euros per day with better deals given to monthly renters. You can rent a permanent table for more money or just sit down in any open seat in the facility.

Some of our favorite coworking spaces that we discovered during our month in Berlin include:

Startup Pitch Events

Elevator pitch event with You Is Now

Another key ingredient that makes a city a haven for startups is how active the community is. A bit of a chicken or egg problem as communities need startups and vice versa… but Berlin is well passed this stage. Every other week there is an elevator pitch session at one of the coworking spaces or being held by one of the Berlin startup incubators.

What happens at these elevator pitch sessions?

Entrepreneurs come and present their business or even just their idea. The audience is filled with interested spectators, many of whom are programmers that might want to join an interesting startup or even angel investors looking for that next big idea.

We went to a session held by the local startup incubator, You Is Now. This pitch session was focused on the idea of MVP or minimum viable product. This is an entrepreneurial philosophy of creating a product with the least amount of features that can still be sold. The idea being that this lets the entrepreneur test their assumptions faster and operate with a leaner business model.

Most questions the audience had were geared towards how the entrepreneurs had tested their MVP, with results varying from prayer and hope (not the best)  to actual feedback and resulting iteration on an idea (excellent).

Some great elevator pitch sessions to check out include the ones held by:

Berlin’s Somewhat Bad Startup Reputation

The Berlin army of clones

Berlin has a bit of a bad reputation in the startup community related to its annoying habit of blatantly ripping off US business models and rebranding the same concept in Europe. This practice has been best exhibited by the Samwer brothers who have a gift for finding the next great US business model and quickly creating a clone (my fellow nerds should now get the reference above).

While extremely annoying to the US startups, it has been extremely lucrative for the brothers who often end up selling their clones to the US companies on which they were based.

Despite this reputation, other Berlin entrepreneurs are starting to chafe under the idea that they are just copycats. Some have even have go so far as to sign on to the “anti-copycat manifest.”

From we saw in our month in Berlin, the city’s startup scene is well beyond it’s copycat roots and is truly innovating in interesting ways. If you’re interested in Entrepreneurship and happen to be in Berlin, definitely explore what the startup community has to offer.

Some interesting and original Berlin startups:

  • 6WunderKinder – Focuses on personal productivity apps.
  • Crowdpark – Developer of social forecasting and social betting games in Europe.
  • Gidsy – An online marketplace where people can offer their personally organized tours (I really love this idea).
  • Readmill – Let’s you share what you’re reading and highlights from your kindle with friends.

Your Turn: What cities outside of the US do you think could compete with Berlin for most entrepreneurial city? Is there a city that you love working in more than any other?

**Update: This article was changed to reflect that “Factory” will be opening in the Mitte neighborhood, not Kreuzberg. Thanks to David for catching the error!

About Tony
Quit his job to try actually following his dreams for once... and is currently loving it. He is working hard to to make this life-style permanent by writing about his adventures and brainstorming money making opportunities with his partner-in-crime, Meg.

Adam August 8, 2012 at 4:16 am

Awesome post, you two!!! And thank you for including the good and the bad about the Berlin startup scene. I’ve worked on both sides of the line and it’s been a huge learning experience.

Tony August 8, 2012 at 5:16 am

Thanks for giving it a read, Adam! We cannot begin to tell you how much we enjoyed the whole atmosphere of the startup scene in Berlin.

The people that are living the day to day entrepreneurial experience are so engaged that they make their enthusiasm contagious. It definitely gave us even more reason to work hard to start something of our own.

I would love to hear some of your war stories…

Allie @6000 Miles to Home August 8, 2012 at 5:37 am

Wow, I had no idea! You guys are great at mixing business with pleasure.

Tony August 8, 2012 at 5:57 am

hahaha The farm life still counts as work, doesn’t it? No matter how many boxes of wine we consume!

Berlin was genuinely amazing though. Way cheaper than anywhere else in Europe with an awesome vibe. You should definitely check it out on your next 5 month trip to Europe!

Justin (Lotus Artichoke) August 8, 2012 at 6:00 am

A cool post indeed. I’ve also been here for a while and worked in and around the start-up and incubator scene here for a while. It’s such a mixed-bag. There are lots of great companies, and then it’s true– there are so many just out to make a quick buck with someone else’s idea. The elitism and us vs. them attitude and the battles (mostly online) are pretty funny though. No one seems to think their company or product isn’t original. And with the real “bad guys” the irony is that most of the workers and even the owners just have the attitude of “if it’s not us, it will be someone else”. But the copycat race to make a dozen clones sites and brands and find the successful sell-back or exit… yeah, I’d rather forge my own path. Lots of room for that in Berlin, too!

Tony August 8, 2012 at 6:37 am

Thanks for taking the time to write such a great comment, Justin!

There is definitely a ton of room in Berlin to forge your own path. That’s what we loved so much about it! Plus the energy of everyone working passionately towards their goals was infectious.

One thing that Berlin reminded me was how interested I am in the startup community. Wherever we settle after our trip, I will definitely try to stay more involved with startups.

Emily in Chile August 14, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Santiago has a big and vibrant start-up scene funded in part by the government which is trying to attract international entrepreneurs. I know there are a couple coworking spaces as well, which I may have to check out now that I’m primarily working from home. If there’s one that serves breakfast, I’m in!

Tony August 14, 2012 at 11:30 pm

What Chile is doing in trying to build up its entrepreneurial base is awesome. We really hope it works and turns into a model for other countries. We actually applied to StartUp Chile right before we started traveling. Made it to the second round but didn’t get chosen.

I definitely wish we had gone over to explore more of the startup scene when we were in Chile. I think we were just too caught up in the beginning of our trip though…. maybe on our next trip to Chile?

Coworking spaces are pretty cool. A little expensive unless you really need a formal space to work, but definitely worth a pop in once or twice a week. Would love to hear if you find that serves breakfast!

Fred Perrotta August 26, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Thanks for this post, Tony. I’m considering routing a RTW trip through a few international startup hubs, so reading your perspective on Berlin was awesome.

Tony August 26, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Definitely go to Berlin, then.

A ton of cool coworking spaces and a lot of startups and young entrepreneurs. I highly recommend staying in Kreuzberg if you do end up in Berlin. Great neighborhood with a few places to work nearby and lots of amazing cheap food.

Let me know if you end up going! Would love to hear your thoughts!

Fred Perrotta August 27, 2012 at 10:50 am

Thanks for the tips, Tony. Berlin was already on the list. Now it’s at the top. Have you been to any other cities you’d recommend for the entrepreneurshp/coworking scene? I know Tel Aviv has a ton of startups.

Tony August 27, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Chile is really supportive of entrepreneurs, but we didn’t check out much since it was the first city on our trip (too excited to be traveling).

Have you heard of StartupChile? They are giving away $40,000 of no strings attached grants to entrepreneurs that apply and get into their incubator program.

Fred Perrotta August 27, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Good point. Tons of investment in South America right now: Santiago, Rio, even Buenos Aires.

One of my clients went through StartupChile. It’s pretty tempting, especially since the time commitment is so short.

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