(Originally published on Nordic Startup Bits on October 5th, 2015).
The SXSW of Europe, the Reeperbahn Festival, has introduced a special focus on startups – with a twist on the traditional pitch format reflecting the neighborhood’s seedy roots.
The Reeperbahn and The Große Freiheit (or the Big Freedom) are part of the red light district of Hamburg, Germany. Back in the 1600’s, the North side of the Reeperbahn belonged to Denmark, while the South side was part of Hamburg. At the time, non-Lutherans were forbidden to practice their religions in Lutheran Hamburg and so The Große Freiheit, which is on the border of the North and South sides of Reeperbahn, became a religious free-zone, giving way to anyone who wanted to take advantage of the religious freedom the free-zone allowed. Today we still see the remains of this with several churches located on the street in between the sex shops and strip joints, all seemingly living in peace and harmony. This place of contrasts and respect for the community’s nuances is where the SXSW of Europe, The Reeperbahn Festival takes place every September since 2006.
An Underrated Startup Hotspot
With a start-up rate of 2.36%, Hamburg is Germany’s second highest state in terms of startup activity (after Berlin) with established companies like InnoGames and Xing, and internet giants such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Hootsuite, and Yelp have chosen Hamburg for their German headquarters. Hamburg is also an attractive venture capital location with 31 VC corporations and around 80 investment managers, not to mention numerous private business angels. One of those VC corporations is public fund IFB Innovations Starter, led by Dr. Heiko Milde, offering grants and investments to early stage companies in Hamburg. Read more about Hamburg as a startup hotspot at nextMedia.Hamburg.
Speed Dating, Reeperbahn-style
One of the initiatives that has arisen from Hamburg’s thriving startup scene is Hamburg Startups. Their goal is to enhance the visibility of the local startup scene while improving networking within the community. Hamburg Startup Monitor is one of their long term projects, which provides valuable content and benchmarking for the startup ecosystem. They also host the Startups@Reeperbahn pitch, taking place at, you guessed it, Reeperbahn Festival. This year, five selected startups took the stage to pitch their ideas to an international audience of investors and delegates and the audience got the chance to vote for their favorite. The Jury voted Antelope as the winner for this year’s pitch competition and they walked away with price of EUR 100,000 media budget at Spiegel Online. After the pitch meeting, the investors were given the chance to meet the companies that pitched along with a few more local startups for ‘speed-dating’ in Lovemobiles parked outside of the festival.
Surrounded by fluffy handcuffs, red plastic hearts, bottles of local cola (micro-cola is a big thing in Hamburg), and porn (welcome to Reeperbahn!), the investors and delegates listened to startups pitch ideas ranging from an app for children with long term illnesses to fintech, to a service guaranteeing the best hotel prices at any given time. A personal favorite was Skybus, an industrial internet as a service company focusing on lowering project time and risk by simplifying connectivity between hardware and software. Perhaps not the sexiest idea, but most definitely one that solves a big problem for industrial and manufacturing players.
This year’s collaboration with the NEXT digital conference provided a compelling twist that helped get the spotlight on the startup community. It will be interesting to see what the future of the NEXT-Reeperbahn Festival affair will bring and hopefully the Nordics, who had the spotlight on Finland and Denmark this year, will play an even bigger role in their love story next year.
Feature image credit: Nina Zimmermann