Welcome to the Party! Microsoft Unveils Berlin Startup Center Plans

By David Knight |

Facebook, Twitter, Google and even Nokia have all been in amongst the headlines in Berlin in the past few years, yet we’ve barely heard a peep out of Microsoft. But the venerable old tech staple seems to have finally clocked onto the city’s potential with the launch of a startup-focused Microsoft Center to promote dialogue and development among founders in Berlin.

Based at Unter den Linden 17, it will house a mixture of IT innovation and dialogue when it opens later this year – Mircosoft Germany boss Christian P. Illek and Cornelia Yzer, Berlin’s economics senator, announced on Tuesday the beginning of renovation work on the historic building, which sits on the corner with Charlottenstrasse.

The facility will eventually consist of 3,000 square metres across four floors including spcae for networking and meeting with customers, business partners, journalists, entrepreneurs, politicians and more.

Illek said: “Technology has to adapt to the people and not vice versa. To implement this change, we need an intensive dialogue with users.” But the centre will not only be targeted at techies. “We want to be a host, contact point and meeting place in Berlin,” he added. “IT is becoming personal – and Microsoft is as well.”

So why Berlin? In a release, Microsoft said the city was chosen because it is not only a hotspot for creatives and trendsetters, but also a focal point for entrepreneurship as well as being a major attraction to people from around the world. The new project will see Berlin become Microsoft’s most important European hub, the statement added.

Senator Yser said: “The capital city offers an ideal environment for companies in the digital economy. With its new location, Microsoft has become an important partner for the IT industry in the capital and is a show of support for innovation and open dialogue.”

At the centre of the new facility will be a cafe on the ground floor open to the public, where people can check out Microsoft products like Xbox, Surface, Kinect and Windows Phone, or work with their own equipment. It will also function as an event space for 200 people.

In addition, the building will include presentation space and offices, while the top floor will be dedicated to working with entrepreneurs and their startups. Henrik Tesch, director of policy and community engagement and the Berlin branch manager, said: “With the Microsoft Center, we are combining dialogue and IT innovation under one roof. This is unique in this form.”

The company is looking to reach out to Berliners while the renovations are going on – check out their Facebook page.

It all sounds well and good, but given its late entry onto the Berlin startup scene, are Microsoft’s detractors – and there are many – right when they say the company is too out of touch? The other Internet giants were quicker to grasp the importance of a presence here, from Google’s politically-driven presence on Unter den Linden and its sponsorship deal with the Factory to Facebook’s community outreach and Twitter’s choice of German HQ. Even Nokia was keen to retain its presence in Berlin when seeking to make major cuts.

Just how unique the Microsoft Center will be remains to be seen despite the company’s prostestations, but it does appear that the facility will be aimed at ‘ordinary’ people as well as techies and startup folk, and that has to be a good thing. They will just have to be careful that it functions as a genuine place of innovation and doesn’t become just another glitzy showroom on Berlin’s most famous street alongside the likes of Bugatti, Ferrari and Mercedes.