Anne is a French intern at Catagonia. Here’s a snapshot of her Berliner experience.
The one thing I learned about Berlin, after having lived there for the past year, is that it’s a city full of contrasts and contradictions: Berlin is a mecca for bohemian lifestyle seekers and penniless artists craving for inspiration, but it is also the capital of one of the world’s strongest economies. Berlin has one of the highest unemployment rates in Germany (14,2%), but at the same time attracts numerous people who want to set up their own business.
A lot of my friends found jobs in trendy Berlin start-ups. Zalando, Brands4friends, Mister Spex, Aupeo, eDarling, Wooga, etc. – some of the most exciting new German companies are founded here. Others, like the Swedish start-up Soundcloud, on purpose moved from Stockholm to Berlin. Yet, in this context of entrepreneurial effervescence, some major criticism has been made to Berlin over and over. Berlin, which is the cradle of creativity, oddly seemed to show more interest in establishing German copycats of successful US firms (StudiVZ for Facebook, My City Deal for Groupon, 9flats for Airbnb) than creating something brand new.
I personally wanted to work in Venture Capital and stay in Berlin. Surprisingly not such a good combination. Indeed, I rapidly discovered that if Berlin truly is Europe’s new hottest tech hub for start-ups, the main VCs are based in Munich, Frankfurt or Hamburg. You would think: where you find start-ups, you’ll find VCs. As in the Silicon Valley, where the coexistence between founders and investors creates a stimulating synergy. But it’s not the case in Berlin.
A city full of promising start-ups, but only a few VCs. A city driven by creativity, but only backing copycats. Just further contradictions. What has been described to me as the new Silicon Valley suddenly seemed to present huge drawbacks.
But after observing the local entrepreneurial scene and working at Catagonia for the last 3 months, I have to admit I’m no longer concerned about Berlin’s future as Europe’s new tech hub. There might be copycats. However, what strikes me the most, are all the exciting projects flourishing over the city. The fun one, like EyeEm, a new smart camera App. The mysterious one, like Amen, a stealth-mode start-up who already caught the eyes of a few big investors in the US. As for Berlin-based VCs, it’s a fact: more and more funds are considering settling in Berlin. The Munich team of EarlyBird recently set the example by opening a new office in the German capital.
In addition the city offers strong incentives. No need to dwell on the attractive cost of living. Even if they’re steadily getting higher, everyone knows you still find some of the cheapest rents in Europe. It’s an undeniable perk to attract young companies and freshly out of college job seekers. After a year of study in Berlin, an overwhelming majority of my classmates wanted to stay in the city for their internship, badly. Even if the salaries were lower than the ones in Frankfurt or Munich, people were willing to work for less due to the vibrancy of the city’s cultural offer. Even if Berlin doesn’t offer a lot of opportunity for business school post-graduates like us, people were willing to widen their job-hunting perimeter due to the fascination for the city’s nightlife.
No, I’m not worried about Berlin. With its army of talented founders and its geographical proximity to all the emerging markets, the city definitely is a fertile ground for high-tech start-ups. And if you look at the next 15 years, I would bet Berlin to be the world’s leading start-up hub.