Announcing Techstars Berlin

Today Techstars is announcing a new program in Berlin that will kick off in Summer 2015 and I’m excited to officially come on board as the Managing Director.

Applications open today, with a program start date in June and Demo Day in September. The program will run like other Techstars city programs in Austin, Boston, Boulder, Chicago, Cloud (San Antonio), London, New York City, and Seattle.

My full profile can be found here but I have been mentoring at Techstars (and its London precursor program Springboard) for many years. When I told Techstars I wouldn’t be able to mentor going forward as I was moving to Germany, I was asked whether I would be interested in opening up a Berlin program. I then spent the next six months working with Techstars in London and at the same time met 50-100 Berlin based entrepreneurs and investors. What I found really excited me:

  • Over the last ten years or so, many new tech startups have sprung up in Berlin. Rocket Internet, Zalando, and Delivery Hero, each valued at $1BN+ are headquartered in Berlin. According to an analysis by Ciaran O’Leary of Earlybird, there are now a similar number of $10m+ financing rounds of top VCs in Berlin as there are in London. And the year-on-year growth rate of such financings is higher in Berlin than London. There is a lot of activity here and I expect much more in the future.
  • Berlin is a city with almost no ‘old’ money. Almost all of the angel investors that are actively investing in Berlin are former Internet entrepreneurs. They have been there and done it. It makes a huge difference when compared to investors in other (German) cities. And there are a lot of them. I think there is more high quality seed capital in Berlin than there are investment opportunities of the same quality. Perfect for entrepreneurs.
  • Berlin is a fantastic place to live and work. The cost of living here is a fraction of what it is in London or New York. The quality of all public services is high. Crime is low. Berlin is a global city with an overwhelming offering of cultural activities. And best of all, everybody speaks English. You can easily live here without ever having to use a word of German.

All of the above makes it easy to attract high quality talent into Berlin and keep it here. All of this at a fraction of the cost of US/UK startup centres. And as Matt Cohler of Benchmark rightly pointed out, startups take centre stage in Berlin.

When I asked the local entrepreneurs and investors whether running a Techstars program in Berlin made sense, two things were pointed out over and over again. First, Techstars has a very strong reputation so we should be able to attract highly quality mentors and companies that will make for a successful program. Second, Techstars has a very strong network of over 3000 people in the US and UK. This is a unique asset that could add significant value to the startups going through the program.

We’ve already built a community of investors and mentors to support the Berlin program and we’re growing the network every day. Here are some sample investor mentors, with many more to be announced in the coming weeks (VC and angel investors, local entrepreneurs, and other key players in the Berlin tech community):

Brad Feld – Managing Director, Foundry Group
Pawel Chudzinski – Managing Partner, Point Nine Capital
Christian Buchenau, Partner, Paua Ventures
Suranga Chandratillake & Rob Moffat – Balderton Capital
Jason Whitmire & Simon Schminke – Earlybird Ventures
David Cohen – Founder & Managing Partner, Techstars
Fabian Heilemann & Lydia Benkö – Partners, Heilemann Ventures
Philipp Hartmann & Tobias Johann – Managing Partners, Rheingau Founders
Benjamin Rohe & Ludwig Preller – Partners, MAS Angel Fund
Christoph Gerlinger – Founder & CEO, German Startups Group

If you are a startup founder and want to apply for the program, please fill in the application form here.

If you want to reach out to me to discuss Techstars Berlin, please email me at

PS: We are looking for a Program Manager to help me run Techstars Berlin. Details of the job can be found here.



About Start-up Passion

TechCrunch Europe had an interesting article by an anonymous VC the other day. The essence was:

“I am in London-based startups’ offices all the time and I am gobsmacked when they are nearly empty by 6:30 PM…European startups need to work as hard as Valley ones – or forget it

I have been thinking about this for a little while since that post. To me, this is about passion.

Start-up Passion

When you care so much about the company, that you would rather work on it than do anything else. I think you could also call it an obsession.

Some personal observations:

1) When a start-up with high ambitions goes out to change the world, this kind of passion develops. It is not sufficient for success, but most companies that really want to win develop that kind of working environment.

2) I think most UK, US and German start-ups that I know have this kind of environment. Of course, I only have my personal reference frame for this observation. I don’t have any detailed data.

3) This passion tends to wane over time as the company matures. Many later stage employees are just paid a wage with few or no share options. They are not in it to kick ass, but to earn a living. This is a normal process. I have seen many mature and very successful UK, US, and German companies, where staff work more or less normal working hours.

4) UK VCs invest typically later stage than US VCs. This means that they may miss this early stage of passion. Or they may have invested in the wrong kind of company.

My personal opinion:

1) This kind of passion and team spirit is, for me personally, the No.1 reason to do a start-up. It is a fantastic feeling and many long lasting friendships are formed during this period.

2) I personally think that passion and success in a start-up go hand in hand. You need this passion. If you are not passionate and obsessed, how do you expect to kick ass and make a difference?

3) The passion is not a question of being a workaholic. It is simply that the founders and early employees go out there to change the world, kick ass, and make money. It simply absorbs you. It draws you in.

4) If you are passionate, you prioritize what you are passionate about above other things. It is not that I have to work twelve-hour days, I WANT to do it. I love doing what I do. Why would I want to do other, less interesting things?

5) Passion doesn’t necessarily mean twelve-hour days every day of your life. You can’t go 100% all the time. Something will break. Pacing yourself is important. But the principle attitude to working with a passion is just there.

6) If you don’t want to be passionate about your company and would rather work a solid 9-5 job, then this is perfectly fine. However, it makes little sense to work for a start-up, if that is your preference. I suggest you work for a large company. This is a much better paid, better perk option.

7) It is unrealistic to expect of all people at a maturing start-up to continue this kind of passion-based work attitude for many years. I am aware that some company such as management consulting firms and banks institute a similar kind of behavior amongst junior staff. But most companies just cannot sustain this kind of behavior beyond a certain point, as they cannot afford the salaries or equity share to fuel it.

8 ) If you are a VC, you should probably steer clear of young companies that don’t exhibit this kind of passion. When you are dealing with older companies (say 3-4 years+), you should not expect it. It is simply unrealistic. If you can find a company that has managed to instutionalize it: all the better.

9) I doubt that young start-ups without this kind of passion are actually VC investible. VCs want companies that grow very fast. Unless you push hard, how is this likely going to work?

10) Finally, passion can only get you so far. You can’t build a great company without it, but you cannot rely on it either. At some point, your company will become mature. Unless you have turned your company into a cash generating machine by then, it will likely fail, as early employees turn their backs.

Final thought:

I think everybody is living their passions. It is up to all of us to decide and discover what they are. For some, it is starting companies. For others it is other things. All of that is fine. Doing things we like and enjoy will make us happy. Even if we don’t get that much sleep. Just like the (stupidly) smiling people in the photo below. 🙂

List of VC Funds

list-of-vc-fundsFor several years, I have been building a personal, private list of venture capital funds that invest in the UK technology space. Please note that this is a list of active VC funds, sorted by vintage date, not of VC firms. My private list dates back to 2000 and has over 300 funds on it.

Recently, I started recording all this information in an easy to use online database. The database lists all VC funds relevant to the UK market that have been launched since March 2007 (that I can find/know of). It can be found here. I haven’t had the time to backfill all funds launched since 2000, but it is a start:

I think this could be very useful to all entrepreneurs raising capital. If you help me build the list, then I think this could become a great tool for the community. Enjoy.

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