Addressing Eastern Promise at Seedcamp in Berlin

By David Knight |

It’s quite an address, on the city’s most famous street – Unter den Linden 1. But then it seemed appropriate for Seedcamp’s 2012 event in Berlin given its status as one of the world’s best micro-investment programs.

And there was plenty of international variety on display among the teams of startups who showed up at the BDMI office on Tuesday eager to make the most of such an excellent networking opportunity with some genuinely brilliant mentors. In particular, Eastern Europe was well-represented with teams from Russia, Hungary, Estonia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Latvia. And that, for me, is a sign of the future.

There were plenty of startups from the UK as well as Foundd and Mighty Deer to hold up Berlin’s end. Yet the rising tide from the East shows a clear tendency for innovative ideas and an entrepreneurial determination in the former Eastern Bloc countries.

This, in itself, is great news for Berlin – the German capital is an obvious destination for such startups looking for investment and expertise. That rings especially true for startups from Poland, perhaps the largest (if not yet very concentrated) startup scene in Eastern Europe west of Russia and certainly the closest to Berlin. Polish companies, though, were notable by their absence at Seedcamp.

Tuesday morning featured a quick pitch from each startup and a panel looking at DailyDeal from the inside (including co-founder Fabian Heilemann), before groups of mentors went round visiting the teams in the afternoon, meaning each competitor received feedback from more experts in one day than they might do in months elsewhere.

Seedcamp partner Carlos Espinal told Silicon Allee that he found the emerging scene in Eastern Europe to be fascinating: “I think it’s the water; I don’t know what they feed those guys! It’s not out of some sort of design, it really is people coming up with really amazing companies, ideas and technologies. Month after month we see them coming up with some really killer startups.”

Part of the value that Seedcamp brings Eastern European companies, Carols said, is providing them with a network and the structure necessary to succeed in the global marketplace.

He added: “They come to us because we’ve shown credibility in that space and we’re very happy to have that relationship with a lot of these countries… Up and comping startup economies like Slovenia have a lot of people that are itching to start their own company after they have seen two or three people who have done it, and who act as mentors or heroes for them. It’s an area that’s increasingly continuing to grow, and an increasing source for talent.”

The crowd of experts watches the pitches intently at Seedcamp

So what of the day itself? The structure of the event is designed to bring value to startups even if Seedcamp does not eventually provide funding, according to Carlos: “I hope that a lot of these companies, whether we choose to invest in them or not, will actually go ahead and be successful. We’ve seen some of the companies that we have not been able to invest in just because there’s a capacity limit for us, go on to raise financing afterwards. That is one thing that I look forward to as a success factor, that we are positively influencing the ecosystem, bringing together investors, bring together key companies, quality companies, and that they can get funding and as a whole we all benefit from aggregating here.”

For Philipp Moehring, associate at Seedcamp who oversees the application and selection process, reinforced that point. He said: “The event… is really focused on getting the mentors to interact with the companies, give them advice, and really drive home their knowledge from their markets. We don’t want to make it too much about pitching, we want to make it about asking the right questions and getting the right answers.”

And to achieve such an aim, Philipp added, Berlin is the perfect place: “The local scene here is very strong. We’ve got a couple of really cool teams from Berlin, a couple of German founders based in other countries. Here you also see great mentors, so people are really interested in coming to Berlin form abroad and seeing what’s going on. In terms of representation of the German investor base and Berlin investor base, we’ve got some excellent faces here, big names. We couldn’t skip Berlin, there’s just no chance, and in my personal view I think Berlin is number two behind London in Europe. We have to be here.”

Long may it continue – especially if all the great new talent emerging from Eastern Europe make Berlin their home.

Tomorrow, Thursday May 17, is a public holiday here in Germany so we’ll be back on Friday.