Blog Post

Berlin finally starts championing its tech hub

At last. After months — if not years — of complaining about a lack of official support from the Berlin administration, the city’s senate has decided to start pushing it as a tech hub.

The value of that support is yet to be determined, but there are some definites. In concrete terms, it’s a €500,000 ($623,000) marketing campaign over the next year: not a huge amount of money, but significant when you consider Berlin’s been broke for the best part of a decade.

Beyond the numbers, though, the biggest impact is the psychological boost. As I mentioned, there’s been a fair bit of grumbling from the startup community — possibly jealous of London’s more coordinated efforts to promote itself as a tech center — that they weren’t being properly championed. That was never strictly true, as Berlin has been handing out grants to some early-stage startups for many years, but a bit of overt lionization never hurt.

The launch of the campaign took place on Wednesday morning at Telefonica’s grand Campus Party Europe tech festival, held at the decommissioned Tempelhof airport.

“It has long been no secret that Berlin is a breeding ground and major location for the creative minds of the digital industry,” Berlin tech and research secretary Nicolas Zimmer said. “We want to highlight this trend and ensure that a real digital economy is created through these creative individuals and startup ventures, bringing jobs, income and prosperity for Berlin.”

Productivity outfit 6wunderkinder has arguably been the chief grumbler in the pack. On Wednesday, CMO Benedikt Lehnert claimed the city’s developing startup infrastructure was “reminiscent of the spirit and energy of Silicon Valley.”

That analogy shouldn’t be taken too far, however. As we’ve discussed before, there is only one Valley, and Berlin — which is behind that curve by a matter of decades — needs to forge its own identity. According to Lehnert, that identity will be at “the intersection of technology, art and design”.

The campaign launch came, naturally, with a slideshow that was supposed to show off Berlin’s particular strengths. Again, some elements of that were a bit hopeful: Berlin does not have, as it claimed, “ideal conditions for venture and entrepreneur financing”, for example, unless by that they mean its proximity to London.

But other points on that list ring true. Berlin is heaving with incubators and co-working spaces, it is perfectly located for skilled workers from all around Europe, it has very strong networks within the scene, there’s a ton of interplay between the tech and creative sectors, and it’s still a relatively cheap place to set up shop.

Will the campaign help matters? Perhaps a little. The focus of the marketing will be on Germany’s national press and trade events, and it’s hard to imagine that Germans in the tech industry are unaware of Berlin’s growing significance.

That said, Berlin’s startup scene really could use some championing on the national stage right now, particularly with worries over a change to freelance taxation that many say could scupper younger companies.

If the campaign and newfound chumminess between the startup scene and city authorities does prove its worth over time, it will be interesting to compare it with London’s Tech City push, which has drawn criticism from those who reckon the state should not interfere with private sector business development.

In Berlin’s case, it doesn’t look like the city is setting up any new structures that might mirror what could be established privately. The scene is already developing on its own, without much assistance.

This new push appears to be little more than cheerleading — and sometimes that’s no bad thing.