Helping Startups Break Out of the Glass Box with the LNdS

By David Knight |

The shoulder bag, the facial hair, the hat, and of course the Club Mate – this was most definitely a hipster. Not that uncommon a sight in Friedrichshain in the shadow of the Oberbaumbrücke, of course, but this was a hipster with a difference; a hipster in a glass box.

His presence adjacent to the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall was intended to act as a metaphor for the opening up startups to the rest of the city. The Lange Nacht der Startups is aimed at doing exactly that – and a senior figure at Deutsche Telekom, which is organising Saturday’s event together with Amazon WebServices and other partners, believes it can also provide a serious boost the city’s young tech companies.

Dr. Heinrich Arnold is head of corporate research and innovation at DT, and as such is in charge of T-Labs. Foregoing more traditional corporate locations – Deutsche Telekom itself is based in Bonn, for example – T-Labs has found a home in Israel, in Silicon Valley and in Berlin.

The 42-year-old Arnold, a native of the Bavarian town of Ingolstadt, has worked in numerous startups and on both sides of the Atlantic, and he is in no doubt as to what the LNdS can offer Berlin’s startups. The big struggle they face at the moment, he told Silicon Allee, is gaining recognition; making potential users aware that they exist.

“If all goes well,” he said, “the participants [at LNdS] will have a higher level of being recognised by the general public after this event, and that should save them a lot of advertising and marketing budget.”

The Make or Break Question

The first hand interaction at the event, which takes place on September 7 at DT’s Representative Office in Mitte, is the key. Dr. Arnold added: “The biggest and most important impact [on startups] is how you decrease this spend of €10-80 million needed to really make an initiative known, European-wide. That’s the make or break question. [You ask] is such a venture able to generate €10-80m and hardly any of them are. But they can find a smart way around it, to reach this popularity without having to spend so much on TV commercials so everyone knows, aha, this is how I buy shoes nowadays or whatever.”

It’s an interesting take on how startups should approach growth at a time when, certainly in Berlin, the balance has shifted towards global expansion from day one. Rather, Dr. Arnold said, young companies should look to reach out to those their doorstep who aren’t on the cutting edge already.

“The most important part of the Lange Nacht will be the direct environment where the German public as a first step can learn about these startups and start to use these services.” Indeed, one of the criteria for selecting the participating startups was whether their products were easy enough for non-tech people to understand.

Hip, But Not Too Hip

But above all it’s about introducing ‘ordinary’ people to the world of technology business who might otherwise be slightly overawed by the whole thing. Thus the event needs to be hip, but not too hip: “Of course you need to give people things that they expect, so it’s a typical Lange Nacht concept. You cannot do the Lange Nacht der Museen without the museums, so you need to have something which people will expect – it needs to be hip. But at the same time, it shouldn’t be that hip that this crossover doesn’t function. It should not make people afraid of going there because they feel they don’t belong to this community. Then, we would be too hip. We want people to come who are not startup people themselves.”

Just like other Lange Nacht events, Dr. Arnold, argued, the startup equivalent will create a census; an overview of everything that’s relevant in a space. That in turn can assist in the growth of the ecosystem here. He added: “We need to help Berlin to further progress on this line, to help Berlin to become sustainable as a startup hotspot. Because as we see, other cities have difficulties, Hamburg, Cologne; Berlin not yet … but it still needs to grow.”

As for the glass box complete with hipster-at-work, the message of transparency is, much like the glass, clear. A guy sitting there on his laptop while people pass by – bringing two sides of Berlin together; the Neukölln hipster versus the Ku’damm suit. Hopefully understanding each other a little better.

But as the rain started to fall on a gloomy early-autumn evening, a different metaphor became apparent; that of the uncertain, unfinished nature of startups. After all, it became pretty clear what new function should be included in Glass Box 2.0: “It needs a roof!”