‘Forget the Valley, Berlin Needs to Find its Own DNA’

By Silicon Allee |

Following the furore over Berlin’s dismal showing in the tech scene rankings released as part of the Startup Genome project, Silicon Allee spoke to field researcher Danny Holtschke. He believes Berlin needs to find its own ecosystem DNA and stop trying to emulate Silicon Valley.

You can read our interview with Startup Genome founder Bjoern Herrmann here.

SILICON ALLEE: What can Berlin do to move up the list – not just for the prestige but to improve as a scene? How do we grow and build a stronger ecosystem?

DANNY HOLTSCHKE: As in nature, the evolution of a truly sustaining and self-enforcing startup ecosystem takes time – at least 20 years of engaged leaders, organizations and ‘fresh meat’ looking at role models and previous successes. This can be 50 years or more. This is rather a proxy of how long it has taken the Bay Area to develop an unique startup ecosystem. We can’t set up, develop, maintain and nurture such an unique ecosystem within a few years. An entrepreneurial culture is the key. But I think that Berlin is doing quite well.

Of course, there might be an unrealistic hype for a city that is desperately looking for its ‘USP.’ “Poor, but sexy” is just one of many facets. I guess that people want to put the German capital in a position where a capital normally should be (compared to Paris or London). But one thing is for sure: The Berlin entrepreneurial culture is evolving. Best of all, it’s not even forced by governmental action. That’s why I think it’s truly a game changer due to attracting many diverse people (e.g. SoundCloud from Scandinavia).

SA: So what’s the bottom line?

DH: We need to be hard-working, patient and, foremost, trust in our entrepreneurship and innovation abilities to build great, engaging products. Anyone who is not ‘IN’ for the long run should fidget about in other playgrounds. We should stop trying to emulate the Valley. And this counts for other ecosystems as well. We need to find our Berlin startup DNA by making the best of our ecosystem’s resources and capabilities, including cheaper living costs, plenty of talent, open doors to Eastern markets, rich culture and history. Simply keep on doing great work.

SA: How are you doing your ground research in Berlin?

DH: Berlin’s place in our ranking results from the amount of Berlin-based entrepreneurs that have been using our Startup Compass, a dataset of more than 13,000 startups, with 3,200 who contributed to the initial Startup Genome research. The dataset is primarily composed of software startups, most of them internet focused. The list of the top 25 we put out wasn’t intended to be a robust ranking system. The rankings were simply based on “throughput” or activity in the Startup Genome/Startup Compass dataset. Aside from language barriers, our emphasis on software companies, and some selection bias based on press, this seemed to be a pretty good proxy for entrepreneurial activity worldwide.

SA: What’s your specific role in this process?

DH: I personally help the Startup Genome team to better understand startup ecosystems and their different developmental stages, different dimensions, and the interdependencies between them. Our goal is to provide each target group – entrepreneurs, investors, policy makers, academics – with descriptions and recommendations according to their special interest. For example, for an entrepreneur it might be: where is an appropriate place to start; after product/market fit and entering the scale stage; do they need to go abroad or set up an office in the Valley; best mentors/talent/critical resources etc.

SA: What can we in Berlin do to help improve this understanding?

DH: I’m highly interested in doing more qualitative interviews – so please help by reaching out. This could be the message, along with using our compass more intensively.