Helping German Startups Make It in Silicon Valley

By Toni Ellis |

Silicon Valley is the undisputed king of tech hubs – and there is a growing realisation amongst Berlin’s growing band of innovative young startups that making it big involves making it in San Francisco. And amid the debate over the involvement, or lack thereof, of German authorities in the startup scene, it’s worth noting the work of the German Silicon Valley Accelerator (GSVA).

The organisation, which is hosting its official Berlin launch on Wednesday evening, is looking to create a foothold for young German startups in California.

Head of operations Oliver Hanisch spoke to Silicon Allee about inspiring young companies, building an intercontinental tech relationship, and introducing Berlin’s rapidly-multiplying startups to their older brothers in the US.

Networking Opportunities

GSVA’s three-month program supports young German companies looking to explore the US market by offering free office space and covering legal fees, as well as providing invaluable advice, feedback and, most importantly, business-changing introductions and networking opportunities that would otherwise be near-impossible to make.

Hanisch said that these relationships, combined with their exclusive one-on-one mentoring, are at the core of the program: “We’re working with a network of mentors that will help the companies to succeed in achieving their objectives and goals while they’re in America. It’s not a one-size-fits-all program, it’s not an incubator-type of program, its’s really a mentoring program customized to the individual startup’s needs.”

The GSVA being supported by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, and Hanisch defended the efforts of local and state governments in this country to support startups. He said: “I’m used to the US, and look at what the government does there – nothing. So I think if you compare them, the government here does a lot – they assist with funding for many programs and organisations. Could they do more? Certainly, but do they have to? I don’t think so. I think in the end, if you want to create an environment that is startup-friendly, I don’t believe it’s the governments place.”

Building Strong Relationships

He did point out, however, that Germany’s scene does lag behind its American counterpart when it comes to building strong relationships with larger industry companies. While digital giants like Google and Apple continue to be actively involved with Silicon Valley’s startups, he said he was disappointed that well-established tech companies in Germany such as Nokia or Siemens have no communication or connections with Berlin’s comparatively smaller scene.

While the two examples do differ greatly, Hanisch pointed out that the spirt of the startup community in Germany is incredibly similar to that of the US, explaining that both have a feeling of openness: “If you are a startup or entrepreneur, you share your knowledge with each other, you help make the whole ecosystem better. I want to open up that community to Germany.”

One of the aims of the GSVA program is for companies to return to Germany following their time in San Francisco with a different attitude, focusing more on quick execution and learning from practical mistakes: “I hope that the cultural difference will inspire and help the company to grow and create a new mindset.”

Eventually, Hanisch hopes the program will create a mutually beneficial infrastructure, and will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young startups: “We’re about creating an ecosystem, and we want it to be more than just American or German-based. We want to encourage Berlin’s potential, and make them more than just the German startup capital. But ultimately, my hope for GSVA is that we can jointly build something sustainable for the future.”

The GSVA’s official launch will be held tonight at Q110. There will be a keynote address from Christian Mangstl of the Scout24 Group, as well as details of the companies involved in the mentoring program and an announcement of which startups have made the cut to the next round. Tickets are free but limited, and are available here.