‘We are Counting on You’: Rösler Hits the Right Notes at SCB

By David Knight |

Another Friday, another article covering a startup-related speech from one of Germany’s most powerful politicians. This time it was the turn of Vice Chancellor Philipp Rösler, the Economics and Technology Minister, to boost the federal government’s entrepreneurial credentials, and he did his boss proud with a relaxed and confident speech – in English, to boot – to kick off Startup Camp Berlin 2013.

Angela Merkel had addressed a hand-picked crowd of the country’s leading tech figures just over a week before, and this was another part of the same charm offensive from a different angle of attack. But just as the Chancellor defines the slightly dour and bland older generation of German politicians, so her deputy belongs to the group of younger, leaner and more urbane upstarts. His speech wasn’t just empty air, either.

Indeed, it contained plenty of detail just as Merkel’s had been intentionally vague. Entrepreneurship should be encouraged in young children, he argued, and German bureaucracy needs to simplified to attract skilled foreigners by making them feel welcome.

He also refrained from the everything-is-rosy viewpoint, sounding a warning about the lack of desire in Germany for starting companies: “We are located at the hotspot of Europe’s Internet scene. Despite these impressive developments, there are fewer people in Germany aspiring to set up a new company compared to other countries. We have much scope for improvement in this area in particular. Germany needs a stronger startup culture. Growth and prosperity are generated in places where entrepreneurs are active, take risks and don’t let these risks deter them.”

To tackle that, Rösler said, there are initiatives like Gründerland Deutschland. But education is also vital.

He added: “Generating new entrepreneurs starts at school. If children learn about setting up a business, they will find it easier to become entrepreneurs later on. This process is then continued at institutes of higher education, many of which offer active startup centres such as the Berlin School of Economics and Law [the venue for Startup Camp].”

More students and scientists are now considering the option of founding their own company, Rösler added, and he claimed the success was partly down to his ministry‘s Exist program, which provides 12 months of funding for some 200 startups a year, as well as its support for the education institutes and its advisory services and financial assistance for startups.

The Economics and Technology Minister giving his speech

Rösler visited Silicon Valley last month and is set to return there in May accompanied by a selection of Berlin startups, and he said: “We must use [the Valley] as a benchmark and seek to learn and profit from it. This is particularly important when it comes to improving conditions for private venture capitalists, for example.”

Venture capital is certainly more available in Berlin than it has been in the past – a fact which “has led to the emergence of a unique culture of welcome.” The adoption of English as a working language by the tech scene has opened the city up even further to highly-skilled specialists from around the world and “we need to do even more to attract the best and brightest to Germany.” Among the efforts to help achieve that is the Make it in Germany portal – a much needed asset.

There was mention of other projects – the German Silicon Valley Accelerator and the catchily-titled Young Digital Economy Advisory Board, for example – and talk of simplifying the legal landscape in Germany. All well and good. But it was the realisation that government can only do so much that stood out in Rösler’s speech.

“Successful startups serve as a role model; they give others the confidence to start own business,” he said. “As we all know, the route to success is not always straightforward. All too often in Germany, however, business failure still carries a stigma, unlike in the US where business failure is seen as a valuable learning experience.”

This is a culture which has long been bemoaned in German startup circles. It can take a long time for entrepreneurs to regain the confidence of investors and even society in the wake of a failed business. To that end, Rösler argued, “we need to establish a culture of second chances in Germany.”

The big laugh that accompanied his quiet postscript joke to that statement – “for politicians as well” – neatly summed up the mood in what was another success for the ruling coalition’s efforts to woo the tech community ahead of the federal elections later this year. And this time around, not only was there more substance, but a gratifying understanding that politicians essentially need to stand aside and let tech entrepreneurs do their thing.

As Rösler told the audience, a Berlin tech scene crowd, as he ended his speech: “We are counting on you to boost future growth, increase prosperity and create jobs.”

There was plenty of media interest in Philipp Rösler’s appearance at SCB13