Howdy! Saxony promotes itself at SXSW in Texas (Part II)
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.
Andreas Lenz | Founder and managing director | t3n.de | Home and work location: Hanover
t3n is the largest digital magazine in the German-speaking world. We’re always looking for insights and emerging topics that will interest our readers. This is a great place to find them. For decades, SXSW has been one of the most innovative and enjoyable events in the industry. Culture and business come together here. I like art and music, but also the business aspect of startups. At SXSW, everything comes together very impressively. Here you get to spot a large number of trends very early on.
What can the German startup scene learn from SXSW?
A relaxed attitude, optimism and how to think big. They don’t just discuss rules and regulations here, they get on with things and create the necessary momentum. That can serve as an inspiration for giving your imagination free rein. Our legal framework is part of the picture here and is somewhat more conservative. Germany’s startup scene is still too defensive. The German market is big enough to support German-language startups, which means too few of them aim for global success from the outset. Which is a shame. In this regard, the Scandinavians are more advanced than we are. In terms of technology, Germany has excellent startups. What’s lacking is boldness, supportive sentiment, and politicians who are willing to shine a positive light on startups.
“Lower Saxony could learn a thing or two from the startup scene in Saxony.”
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the startup culture in Saxony?
Lower Saxony, in western Germany, because that’s where I’m from [laughs]. The first thing I think of is that Saxony is a step ahead of Lower Saxony when it comes to getting a grip on digitisation. We could learn a thing or two from Saxony in that regard. We could take a leaf out of Saxony’s book or develop ideas together.
Katharina Gleß and Sandra Hofmann | Co-founders and managing directors | Effektrausch | Home and work location: Leipzig
Effektrausch is a creative content studio. We support companies around their branding needs and create image campaigns. Our strengths are personal stories and strong images. This is our second time at SXSW in Austin, and once again it’s overwhelming. All the knowledge that is shared here, the open exchange of information and the warm sunshine make SXSW an intoxicating festival for all the senses.
What’s the difference between SXSW and events in Saxony?
SXSW is huge, of course. Creative types from all over the world come here to share knowledge and experience. You can’t expect the same kind of event in Leipzig. What’s particularly noticeable is the large number of female attendees. We’re not used to experiencing that at tech startup/creative events. We find it very enriching to see all these women representing their own companies and sharing their knowledge in panel discussions and presentations. We’d love our local events to become more diverse. In the end, we believe everyone would benefit from that. It’s great to see how completely natural it is at SXSW for women to make up half the participants.
Sanja Stankovic | Co-founder of Hamburg Startups & Digital Media Women | Head of corporate communications at DS Produkte | Home and work location: Hamburg
We started Hamburg Startups five years ago and since then we’ve made the startup scene more visible and created connections between local startups and SMEs. We have over 650 startups in our StartupSpot Hamburg database, all of which are based in the greater Hamburg region. We have a huge amount of data at our fingertips and closely monitor the growth and progress of individual sectors. We have now taken the StartupSpot concept further and are adding additional regions. For Saxony, StartupSpot Central Germany is about to be launched.
When people talk about startups in Germany, they often just mean Berlin. Berlin is a brilliant location and an astonishing amount happens there, but we want to show that other locations are also thriving. As a region, Saxony is experiencing a huge amount of change and innovation. People from across Germany look to move to Saxony, not least because of SpinLab.
How does the Hamburg startup scene differ from the scene in Saxony?
Things are on a smaller scale in Saxony, of course, and more spread out. Hamburg is a city state and thus has a very different ecosystem. In a larger region, it’s more difficult to track startup activity. Even the cities within a region sometimes vary considerably. In the regions, people are used to travelling an hour to get to a networking event. That’s also what’s exciting about Saxony – there are multiple ecosystems which feed into each other and create a bigger picture.
“People from across Germany look to move to Saxony, not least because of SpinLab.”
Christian and Maria Piechnick | CEO and Design&Interaction | Wandelbots | Home and work location: Dresden
We make it possible for everybody to program industrial robots using smart clothing.
Why did you locate your startup in Dresden?
We went to university in Dresden, which is now the largest microelectronics location in Europe. In addition, major players such as Volkswagen and T-Systems have a presence here. It’s a great environment for us. Dresden’s Smart Systems hub is one of the industry hubs identified and supported by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics.
You won the Smart City and Mobility pitch at German Haus. How does that feel?
Christian: For us, the main thing about being there was to enjoy the atmosphere and not to win the pitch. But of course it’s great for a startup like ours to receive recognition in this way. The other people pitching also had some great ideas. To have this endorsement and appreciation is really good when you’re trying to build a successful business. Wandelbots means a great deal to us – we have two children together, and after all this time Wandelbots has become something of a third child [laughs].
SXSW is like an organised Burning Man festival – extremely cool and vibrant. It’s more laid-back than in Germany. I’ve been travelling for the past three weeks, including trips to Shanghai and San Francisco, and now I’m in Austin. After this, I’m looking forward to going home to Saxony, and to be honest I’m looking forward to getting back to proper work again. Events like this are necessary and exciting, but I want to keep driving Wandelbots forward. I work on the plane and in hotels, but it’s just not the same. We’ll soak up the spirit of this place and take it back with us to the company.
Maria: It reminds me of Bunte Republik Neustadt (a local festival in Dresden), except it’s bigger and more organised [laughs].
“Wandelbots means a great deal to us – we have two children together, and after all this time Wandelbots has become something of a third child.”
Carl-Luis Rieger | Venture capital analyst | Kompass Digital | Home location: Leipzig, work location: Berlin
As a venture capital analyst, I have three tasks. Firstly, there’s deal flow management. That’s all about which startup we should invest in. The second task is market monitoring, and the third task is building a network for the brand. Compared to the rest of Europe, the German startup scene is unique because it consists of several different startup ecosystems, reflecting Germany’s decentralised structure. Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg are mentioned a lot, but I think in future Leipzig will be on everyone’s lips as well. We have good, highly capable people – that’s what counts. We also now have a number of initiatives to support the many startups in the city. Given Leipzig’s size, some really key steps have been taken with regard to the local startup scene.
When you speak to the people at Capital Factory, which is similar to SpinLab, Austin feels a bit like Leipzig. The people here have their fingers in a lot of pies and want to achieve a great deal. That’s the feeling I get in Leipzig a lot too.
“In Leipzig, we have very small, decentralised ecosystems and everyone goes about things in their own way.”
What can we learn from SXSW?
On a concrete level, you could say that in Germany we should have more conferences and make them more political. Something that’s less easy to put your finger on is the culture around startups. What recognition do company founders receive in society and how are startups supported? Unfortunately, compared to other startup locations, there is not enough networking in Leipzig. People need to get together for a coffee more often – just to see what comes out of the conversation. In Leipzig, we have very small, decentralised ecosystems and everyone goes about things in their own way. We need to share knowledge more freely here. Two years ago, I went to Berlin and was almost sorry – you can drink so much Club Mate (a caffeinated carbonated mate-extract beverage) that theoretically you never need to sleep. There isn’t enough of that in Leipzig – too few events, and too few people willing to meet when you can’t be 100% sure whether something will come of it. That has to change.