In truth, the Chancellor looked a little miffed as a constant stream of people thrust themselves in her way hoping to pose with her for a photo. After all, she was trying to leave having hung around for an hour to chat to the locals following her speech. But the annoyed look soon vanished into the familiar smile when each camera was produced, and eventually she was whisked away by her ever-present security guards.
Angela Merkel‘s latest venture into the startup world, then, was more than just paying lip service – she had toured Wooga and ResearchGate before addressing around 170 people at the Palais der Kulturbrauerei on Thursday evening.
Appearing with her Vice Chancellor, the Economics and Technology Minister Philipp Rösler, she was making a statement that innovative startups are finally being taken seriously by the highest levels of power in Germany.
In fact, the Internet & Startups in Deutschland event had actually come about after a request from the Chancellor, who had first met with the organisers, a group of senior German entrepreneurs and investors, last year.
Beforehand, though, some felt that the evening was just a campaign stop for Merkel; a chance for her to be seen with the cool kids ahead of the federal election later this year. Others believed that she would use her speech to reveal a genuine change of policy to dealing with startups.
In truth, the reality was somewhere in between. While there is no surprise that politicians of all kinds have started cosying up to the tech scene just as it has become big news, Merkel surely understands the potential benefits of long term investment in the digital space – HackFwd’s Lars Hinrichs, formerly of Xing and one of the event’s organisers, revealed that the companies represented in the room had a net worth of around €21 billion.
So what did Merkel say? She called for the hard face of German bureaucracy to be softened, in order to create a “welcoming culture” for foreign talent. She also recognised that while there is potential, it has not yet been realised: “Germany must be better, Europe must be better.” Calling for an entrepreneurial boom like that of a decade and more ago, she proclaimed: “Everything that can be digital, will also be digital.”
There was also a request for individual German states to make dividends from startup shares tax-free to encourage more venture capital.
Then of course there was the soundbite, with Merkel telling the audience: “We are aware that you are the yeast that makes the whole industry grow.” How appropriate for the former-brewery setting.
There was no major policy announcement, no promises to make building startups easier. But there was an implied message that the Chancellor understands now who we are, what we are trying to do and how that can benefit everyone.
And so she stood by a table, surrounded by a crush of people, for quite some time after her speech, as attendees gave her their two cents’ worth. Luis-Daniel Alegria even managed to put his phone into her hands to pitch Vamos. Unfortunately, she may not be an ideal user – her schedule is probably decided some time in advance.
Eventually she began to make her way out of the room, her professional mask slipping into a glare of annoyance as she was continually stopped for photos. Yet she will surely view that as a positive – startup folk may be hoping she is now on their side, but she will be delighted to see they are seemingly on hers.
Luis-Daniel Alegria (out of sight) pitches Vamos to Chancellor Angela Merkel