It’s March, the sun is shining and we’re in Austin, Texas. That can mean only one thing: we’re at the South By Southwest festival, the most important event of its kind for the tech, film and music industry. So of course Saxony is attending too.

South by Southwest, or SXSW for short, is where the future is decided. The brightest minds from across the globe are currently gathered here in Austin to discuss the digital sector. Over 1,000 visitors have flown to Texas from Germany alone to share ideas and inspiration. German attendees find a home from home at German Haus, which represents Germany and its individual federal states.

Anyone who has been to Austin before is sure to agree that the city is bursting with creativity, dynamism and new ideas. And the same goes for its startup scene. But how does the world view Saxony, and in particular Saxony’s startup scene? We went to German Haus to find out.

 

Dr Eric Weber | Founder and managing director | SpinLab – The HHL Accelerator | Home and work location: Leipzig

We offer a support programme for startups which attracts applications from around the world. We admit them to our SpinLab for six months, where we provide support primarily around market roll-out and financing. We’ve been doing this for three years and have supported, or are currently supporting, 40 startup teams. At over 90 per cent, these startups have a very high survival rate. Most of the teams don’t come from Leipzig, but we know that many put down roots in the city. This is partly due to the sense of community they get from us, but it also reflects the many other benefits the location offers, such as affordability, good availability of tech talent and staff, and Leipzig’s excellent travel links.

You founded SpinLab. Why did you choose to locate it in Leipzig?

I used to work for the university startup network at Leipzig Graduate School of Management. That’s how the company came about. However, I also believe that Leipzig is a good location because competition here is not as stiff as it is in places like Berlin. We’re one of the key players in the region and as such receive a lot of interest and support from both the business sector and politicians.

“As a location, Leipzig still has a lot to learn, particularly in terms of openness and international outlook.”

Dr Eric Weber, SpinLab

Why do startups from outside the region apply to you?

Compared with many other accelerator programmes, we have a track record, i.e. we can demonstrate how well the startups are doing and how much they benefit. Many of the startups from outside the region have some connection to the area.

What does Leipzig lack as a startup location?

Overall, there’s a massive lack of capital. It’s not too bad in some parts of Berlin, but generally everything is underfunded. We put a lot of money into education, science, and knowledge transfer from universities to business, which is as it should be. However, you need to think about what happens after this and make sure there’s enough capital to grow businesses, to keep them in Germany and to ensure they can thrive against international competition. We’re lacking a key component here. That aspect is handled much better in the States. They have talent and top universities as well, but critically also the capital to turn business ideas into reality. As a location, Leipzig still has a lot to learn, particularly in terms of openness and international outlook.

Why are you attending SXSW?

SXSW offers interesting insights. You can get a snapshot of the global scene here and see what’s happening at other locations. You meet a lot of people from Germany who you wouldn’t normally encounter. The atmosphere is very open and international. This kind of atmosphere is often lacking in our region. With its long history of hosting trade shows, Leipzig is a bit more open than other locations in Saxony, but our region still struggles to attract international attention. For many in the West, we’re still very much associated with the former East Germany.

 

Catherine Bischoff | Vice president of strategy | Factory Berlin | Home and work location: Berlin

Factory Berlin is a platform and community for digital entrepreneurs. I’m responsible for strategic partnerships at the Factory, but internationalisation is also part of my remit.

You’re a Canadian who is now active in the Berlin startup scene. From your international perspective, how strong is Germany as a startup location?

Germany is stronger than ever before as a location for startups. It has become less risk-averse, which is very good. And even the more traditional sectors are starting to realise that they need to collaborate with startups. Germany does need to work on its startup mindset, though. I moved to Germany with my nine-year-old daughter and I can see how strict the schools are in terms of discipline and how she learns things that are completely irrelevant in this day and age. We need to start teaching children in nursery to be entrepreneurial and creative. In Canada, my daughter learnt to code in second grade. In Germany, she’s learning joined-up handwriting. That makes no sense to me. We also need to imbue our children with a sense of optimism. With the right approach, it’s possible to change the character traits of an entire nation.

“The talent in Germany is unbelievable – now Germany needs to show what the new Made in Germany looks like.”

Catherine Bischoff, Factory Berlin

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Saxony?

The dialect, which I find difficult to understand [laughs]. No, when I think of Saxony, I think of a place that’s responsible for a huge amount of inventions. In Dresden in particular there’s a lot of research activity. It’s amazing how Saxony has positioned itself.

The rest of the world only ever considers Germany as a whole. We have various hubs in the different cities, but we need to position ourselves strongly to the rest of the world as a distinctive region. That’s how we can make ourselves more attractive as a location. The talent in Germany is unbelievable – now Germany needs to show what the new Made in Germany looks like. I find the political pressure from right-wing groups very problematic. To overcome that we need multicultural success stories. I see that in my own country: Canada is strong because it’s multicultural, tolerant and has a very strong record of integration.

Click here for Part II