Clusterhaus Hints at Bright Future for Cologne Startups

By Claire Adamson |

A classic 1980s throwback office building complete with wood paneling and bright blue carpet in the centre of Cologne will house the city’s first centralized tech hub, the Clusterhaus. A handful of startups are pioneering the vacant space as a DIY-style home base for Cologne’s budding startup scene.

The 6000-square metre building will not seek to provide a campus-like ‘ecosystem’ for its inhabitants in the same way as The Factory in Berlin. Rather, it will just be an unrenovated space with little provided in the way of infrastructure, but plenty in the way of networking and social interaction.

Startups will be able to move into existing individual offices, meaning that the Clusterhaus will have all the social advantages of a co-working space without the disadvantages of noise and distraction. The building will remain as it is until at least 2014, retaining the original 1980s décor. The focus will be on providing a cheap, flexible and nurturing space for developing businesses which cannot afford a whole office.

While there will be no plans to provide things like printing equipment or a gym, the team behind the Clusterhaus want to offer the opportunity for startups to participate in panel discussions and classes by industry leaders, in what they see as an organic extension of the knowledge-transfer atmosphere.

Borne entirely from necessity rather than as a business venture, the Clusterhaus began as an alternative office space for KochAbo, an Austrian startup offering deliveries of fresh produce with corresponding recipes. The office the company had planned to move into fell through at the last minute, and co-working spaces did not offer an ideal working atmosphere for the team. They found the Gerling building in the Klapperhof district of Cologne almost empty, housing only Contilla, a content marketing service, and Online Stammstisch, a knowledge-exchange networking platform.

A Centre for Knowledge Transfer and Exchange

The property’s owner had intended to rent the building floor by floor but had met with little success before being persuaded that the idea of renting it in smaller portions was a good one. A few weeks later, the Clusterhaus concept was announced and the organizers received around 150 different enquiries in 24 hours from startups all over Germany, including many from Berlin.

Ben Kasselmann of Online-Stammtisch told Silicon Allee: “The Clusterhaus combines the advantages of an independent office with those of a co-working space. At Klapperhof, we’re establishing a centre for knowledge transfer and exchange.”

A development like this in Cologne will help to consolidate the city’s relatively dispersed tech scene, and has already drawn interest from startups in Berlin who are either looking to relocate or to extend their operations with a second office. Cologne’s reputation as a tech hub is on the rise, with many interesting startups coming out of the city and the success of last year’s European Pirate Summit set to repeat this September.

The Clusterhaus team believe that the Berlin tech scene is at a point in its life cycle where the scene is hard to break into and talent wars are beginning, while Cologne is younger, fresher and full of innovation.

The Clusterhaus will hold an open day on July 3 offering tours and a chance to network with the initiators of the project.

The interior of the Clusterhaus