Berlin’s Students: Star Tech the Next Generation

By David Knight |

If you happen to pass anywhere close to the city’s three biggest universities, you can’t miss it – Berlin is full of students. And the Freie Universität, the Humboldt Universität and the Technische Universität are just three of well over 70 higher education and research institutions in the German capital, if Wikipedia is to be believed.

And if you’re involved in Berlin’s tech scene, that’s great news.

As well as providing a useful source of keen, willing and (relatively) cheap employees, students also help to grow the creativity and energy which are key to the whole thing. Many of those studying in Berlin have noticed the rise of the tech scene, and have thought to themselves: ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t mind being a part of that.’

So it was interesting to hear the comments of Skype co-founder and Atomico CEO Niklas Zennström, who was speaking in front of a large audience – including many students – at the Technische Universität on Wednesday. Here’s what Niklas, who earlier had said that “universities and the [tech] community need to be very close together,” had to say:

During your studies, you’ve got to do something on the side. I would encourage everyone to be involved in some kind of business, no matter how basic. This is especially true for engineering. But by working, you get a bit of insight, you learn a whole lot and can try something after that. And if you happen to come up with something fantastic, then great, go for it.

It certainly speaks in favour of closer links between startups in Berlin and the universities. And it seems as if such a situation would be mutually beneficial – students would get a better taste of the real world, including the experience needed to figure out if they are actually cut out to be an entrepreneur in the first place, while startups would gain access to the next generation of tech workers.

As an aside, here are some other excerpts from the speech. Niklas on why he gave up a career to become an entrepreneur:

I was working for someone else, why not do it for myself? I wanted to prove to myself to see if I could do it. … It’s a very big risk if you do fail. It did hold me back. But it was great fun. Working together, not having to report to anyone. You didn’t have anyone else to blame if you failed.

And on failure:

I fail a lot. It is important to fail as quickly as possible. … It is important not to be too proud. Put your hand up and say hey, I made a mistake there. Look at it and move on. I do that all the time.

Kazaa was a good example. We had huge success with downloads, but completely failed in understanding how the entertainment industry were thinking about these things. We thought we could talk to them, just knock on their doors and convince them. But we failed in understanding that it was too early for them. There was massive litigation. We were sued personally for billions of dollars. We were two guys.

And on the importance of having a co-founder:

It can be very cool to be an entrepreneur, it can be great fun. But there can also be long periods of it being very hard. There are highs and lows. When it is really hard, at least you have your co-founder to share your troubles with. And if you have a lot of success, you have someone to party with.