Startup Scene Berlin Seeks to Woo Talent From U.S. Startups

In light of Donald Trump's immigration policies, Berlin is promoting itself as an alternative base at techie events from Austin to Los Angeles.
Quelle: dpa
South By Southwest is just one annual festival where Berlin agents are promoting the city's startup scene.
(Source: dpa)

After the Brexit referendum, Stefan Franzke got right into action. The head of business and tech promotions agency Berlin Partner started a massive ad campaign, in cooperation with the Berlin Senate, to charm British startups over to the German capital. After the tightening of immigration policy in the U.S. under President Donald Trump's administration – which looks as though it's about to get tighter – and subsequent protests by Silicon Valley, Mr. Franzke sees a huge opportunity.

"We are strengthening our activities there," he told Handelsblatt's sister publication, weekly business magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

Mr. Franzke and hundreds of other German business agents are making travel plans across the Atlantic to sing Berlin's praises at digital conferences and events this year. South by Southwest, a popular music and interactive media festival in Austin, Texas, in March, is fair game, as are pop-up creative labs in Los Angeles.

Berlin Partner's plan is to target unsettled tech talent or founders on the cusp of new startups who have fears about the so-called Trump effect. At London events it is a similar strategy – after Brexit, many techies set their sights on the U.S., but are now having second thoughts because of potential visa complications.

For the German capital, wooing U.S. techies could be a make-or-break. In 2015, Berlin topped a list of European cities that bring in the most startup investment according to a study by Ernst & Young. But in 2016, investment volume had been sliced in half with the city falling behind London, Paris and Stockholm.

If German startups can acquire new talent, the attention of big-name incubators and angel investors can also be attracted once again.

"Germany has the chance to partially reverse the brain drain," said Mr. Franzke.

The head of the German Startups Association, Florian Nöll, also said that Berlin is in a strong position. It has a low cost of living compared to other major European cities and is very international. Around 40 percent of the city's startup employees hail from outside Germany.

"That will grow because of legal uncertainties in the U.S.," he said.