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Scaling Internationally: German Founders Take the Leap

By Julia Neuman | Startup Life

The Bridge is a series of articles exploring connections between the European tech capitals of Berlin and London supported through our partnership with London & Partners.

A look at why, despite Brexit, London is a top destination for German companies looking to grow and scale their business

Over the last decade, as Berlin began to own its reputation as a leader in tech, some German entrepreneurs made the jump to London in order to scale up the companies they had founded in Berlin.

These founders recognized London was a place for further growth; the ideas they sprouted in Berlin would be nurtured by London’s unique characteristics that earned it the title of Europe’s top startup ecosystem.

In addition to London’s melting pot of international talent and diversity, the city affords some of Europe’s most extensive resources and support systems for founders. For many German entrepreneurs, the process of extending operations, services and sales into London and the UK is a logical step in growth. It can also be an efficient way to test the waters for products and services in the English language before making a larger jump to the US market.

Unique strengths

With Berlin offering such fruitful ground for startups, what makes London attractive for German entrepreneurs when it comes to expansion and scaling up today?

For one, the money is flowing. Tech Nation and Dealroom’s June 2020 update on UK tech says that investment into UK companies reached $4bn between January and May of this year.

London’s access to diverse talent is high, and its administrative barriers for startups are relatively low considering the region’s perks. 

On top of all this, the UK has now created more unicorns than any other country aside from the US and China. Companies such as Monzo and Babylon Health are taking their respective sectors by storm, and according to the European Commission, London is the top city in Europe for scaleups.

From Germany to London: Founder experiences

Some of the German companies who expanded into London and the UK have been making headlines as of late. Lilium received a huge funding round during the Covid-19 crisis to continue building its all-electric aircraft, and InFarm also raised a round earlier this year to expand its vertical farms inside of supermarkets.

Another company of note is payments giant SumUp, which has steered towards the UK’s ever-thriving financial technology ecosystem and less cash-reliant society to scale rapidly.

There are also many younger German companies doing amazing things in the UK. We had the chance to speak with two of them to hear their stories about expansion and purpose in their new markets.

Mia & Ben

Daniel Auner, co-founder of Mia & Ben Organic, chose the UK to roll out his company’s refrigerator-fresh, organic baby food. Along with his co-founder, Karina Gentgen, Auner manages the Mia & Ben team at its Berlin-based headquarters while scaling up a high-tech product across supermarkets in the UK. In fact, Mia & Ben has just been chosen as one of the top 100 startups in the UK, and they’ve also just raised £2,5 million for expansion.

Bringing the energy and talent of both cities together is perfect for developing our brand and building our business into a global player.

Daniel Auner, co-founder of Mia & Ben Organic

“Innovation is at the core of what we do at Mia & Ben. This is why we decided to set up Mia & Ben in both London and Berlin, as we see them as the most dynamic cities in Europe,” Auner said. “Bringing the energy and talent of both cities together is perfect for developing our brand and building our business into a global player.”

Mia & Ben’s own research team, coupled with the R&D might of the Technical University of Berlin, drives the company’s vision as a food innovator. So far, it has developed baby food with the convenience of a ready-to-go product and the taste and nutritional quality of a fresh food. The team has achieved this through special high-pressure processing technology that extends shelf-life without compromising vitamin content or flavor.

The perfect example of a company utilizing the strengths of both London and Berlin, Mia & Ben is one to watch in the London food sector. 

GetSafe

As one of the pioneers in the European InsurTech ecosystem, Getsafe set its sights on London as it began to expand out of Germany. CEO and co-founder Christian Wiens mentioned the nation’s large Fintech and insurance markets, coupled with the mobile payment and neo-bank uptake, as making up the solid foundation for his millennial-targeted digital insurance startup to grow. 

He also saw that there was a huge gap to fill.

“The UK is by far Europe’s largest fintech and insurance market…[and] our first major step in our European expansion. Mobile payments are standard here and neo-banks are already firmly established. However, there is no comparable insurance solution for the smartphone generation yet.”

Wiens mentions that although Covid slowed short-term growth, the overall growth increase afforded from the expansion to the UK has been significant. 

“The Corona situation is a setback for us, because it slows down our marketing efforts in the UK,” he said. “However, we are beginning to see traction and are already growing faster than we were growing in the first months after launching in Germany back in 2018.”

Like many Fintech and Insurtech companies expanding in the UK, Getsafe has experienced a positive growth trajectory. The company’s story demonstrates that, even despite the challenges coming from Brexit and the pandemic, the UK still benefits those who take the leap. 

Londoners in Berlin: The bridge goes both ways

Although this month’s article for The Bridge focuses on the stories of successful Berlin companies in London, we also wanted to touch on a few companies in the opposite direction. Just as London serves a purpose for German companies in their growth trajectory, so too does Germany for British companies looking to expand.

Germany’s relatively low overhead costs, famed industrial ecosystem and engaged consumer base are just a few examples of reasons why UK-based companies are attracted to the country for scaling up. 

One of the UK’s biggest names in Fintech, Revolut, is a prime example of this. The neo-bank’s unique offering has expanded into the German market to contend with Berlin-based N26.

Other examples of companies finding success in Germany include quantum and photonics company M Squared, Senseye predictive maintenance software, Zava digital healthcare and Pivigo, the data science community.

With both London and Berlin exhibiting such unique strengths, founders across industries often experience a symbiotic effect when they establish presence in the two cities. We anticipate this effect getting stronger as COVID-19 accelerates our digital inter-connectivity, and as both regions continue to celebrate their synergistic ties.

Next week’s edition of The Bridge will focus on AI technology in both London and Berlin. Sign up for our newsletter for content you’ll actually want to read!