From South Beach to Startups: The TK Experience

By David Knight |

For someone who has made hundreds of millions in his lifetime, has transformed a decrepit part of Miami into one of its most exclusive neighbourhoods and who was a notorious party animal before reforming, you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s never quiet when Thomas Kramer is in the room.

The teenage political activist-turned-rising stock market star-turned-real estate mogul delighted students, alumni and other assorted attendees with his closing speech at the EBSpreneurship forum on Saturday. He described the three stages of his life so far – and how he is embarking on the fourth, this time focused on startups.

The story of how the man known as TK came to be at the European Business School in the first place is in itself telling. Lukas von Ingelheim, a co-founder of Berlin-based startup Ada’s Avenue and 2010 EBS graduate, recognised Kramer in a restaurant a few years ago, when he was still in his party phase. Lukas asked if he could take a picture with him, at which point TK whipped out his own camera and they ended up swapping details.

Fast forward a couple of years and Lukas was helping the latest crop of students organise the annual forum. They were looking for someone a bit different to close the event, and he fired off an email to Thomas more in hope than expectation.

But here he was in person; larger than life as you would expect. And while he may be a reformed character these days, he was still the life and soul of the party afterwards, as evidenced by the throng of people gathered around him. Silicon Allee managed to grab five minutes with him to ask about his latest business interest, startups. He said: “I’m on the fourth leg in my life – I have a lot of startups myself that I organise, that I finance, and I hire the people to do them. Now I’m spreading my wings eastwards… It gives me a huge, huge adrenaline push in developing future startups and nourishing the ones that I have already incorporated.”

Thomas is certainly firm in his belief that the place to be for business in the next few years is not the US or Europe, but Asia. He added: “My base is in Miami, but I am starting a new company in Dubai… I’m doing the same with Singapore, because I think that my future at least with startups and any kind of investment is in the East. You just have this unbelievable sucking sound as well; everything is getting transferred to the East. It’s amazing to see, feel and smell the trends in these developing countries like India, China, Brazil, and I just don’t want to miss this great opportunity in my next leg [of my life].”

There probably aren’t many people who would bet against him being a successful startup guru; certainly no one who has seen his limitless enthusiasm up close. He didn’t have to be persuaded, for example, to take up Lukas’s offer to come to EBSpreneurship: “I just by accident came to this fantastic forum where I (have) met a lot of fantastic people that I can share sources and ideas and hopefully joint venture with.”

But while he may not be joining the German scene any time soon, he is still a fan – “I love Berlin, it opened my mind” – and he will be in town several times in the next few months. Perhaps we can persuade him to bring a bit of the magic Kramer touch while he’s here…