Interview with Oliver Weimann: North Rhine-Westphalia - the hub for tech startups in Germany
GoTech team keeps sharing interviews with speakers of GoTech Arena. Up next we got a chance to speak with Oliver Weimann, an active angel investor, initiator of RuhrSummit one of the top 3 startup conferences in Germany and operating director of ruhr:HUB. He shared some insights on what makes a project attractive, what are the difficulties of building a startup community, benefits for startups in Germany and why is he coming to GoTech Arena this year.
As far as we know, currently you have twelve startups at different stages in your portfolio. Moreover, you are going to be in Deal Room at GoTech Arena meeting with startups on a one-to-one basis. What are the key factors that make a startup enticing and compelling to you? What entrepreneurs should bear in mind to get the most out of meeting with you?
The first major and unquestionable thing is a team. I need to have a gut feeling that I want to work with those people, spending time with them, following their ideas and enabling them to make something extra for us. Because we invest in a very early stage, it’s important to know that we have an experienced team and a complementary structure of knowledge on that side.
On the other side, we need to understand the idea clearly and emphasize the vision of the project. You should always keep in mind that the world is constantly changing but you need to have the ability to see opportunities and tweak your vision.
Finally, we need to feel that we can significantly impact the team and the development of startup. Besides money, we provide access to our network and even operational resources still knowing that the team is capable of sorting out other things on their way.
NRW is an outstanding example of the ecosystem in Germany, also known as the host of the largest regional event RuhrSummit. What are the biggest obstacles you have faced so far doing this?
It’s a quite complex question, and we need to discuss different aspects of it.
With regards to Germany, everybody speaks about the triangle: Hamburg, Berlin, Munich. Even though North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is the biggest region, but only now it has claimed number one in numbers of startups country-wise. This is something to be proud of but it doesn’t mean we can be laid back. We have PIRATE Summit (Cologne), RuhrSumimt (Bochum) and other events where startups from more than 50 countries participate in. We do our best to attract and make them stay in our region. The most successful startups in our region are IT-security, digital health, environmental tech, and industrial tech (VR/AR, big data, IoT, robotics for B2B) because we do provide infrastructure, resources and clients right next door.
The biggest obstacle that we have faced so far is involving big corporates and established companies in this movement. Sometimes they deal with startups just for marketing purposes, but some of them create special departments and learn a lot from working together.
Germany has a strong small (family) and medium business but these companies aren’t on the path of digital transformation, or they aren’t included in that as much as they should. SMEs don’t understand the need of this until something makes them realize it. A lot of business aspects such as team building, brand management or strategic thinking are left unattained, but the world is constantly changing.
I strongly believe that our future business isn’t single corporate one, it’ll be all about cooperation and collaboration that’s why corporates and SMEs should make first steps towards working with startups, yet it is really difficult to make it a priority for SMEs and corporates.
How are you building your ecosystem? And what are the opportunities you are providing startups with?
When you are building a startup community it is all about providing value to startups. You need to make entrepreneurs feel that being a part of the community is beneficial to them whether it is contacts, shared experience or access to investors. From my point of view, these aspects are disregarded quite often because everybody speaks about capital. Ultimately, a startup is nothing else than a fast-growing but still a regular company and it needs clients, partners and opportunities to make revenue.
You need to be as transparent as possible for startups. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver because time is precious, and entrepreneurs don’t want any useless meetings. If you do matchmaking for them, tell with whom exactly you can connect certain projects. Make it clear if it’s just pitching competition and no investors or potential clients will be there. Otherwise, they’ll never come to your event again. The same thing works for investors, funds and corporates – be specific about projects you can offer.
Moreover, you create additional workplaces taking care and responsibility for employees, it’s also a part of the community building.
The other thing is a methodology. You need to create formats like pitch sessions or corporate contests which help these guys to connect. In the best case, if a project matches with a current challenge, corporates and entrepreneurs start to collaborate and build pilots and MVPs together.
It should be more than just getting together for a beer. Obviously, everybody feels so innovative and uplifted during such events but there should be meaningful results at the end of the day. Startup is not a lifestyle, startup is building a company, creating value and trying to maintain your life throughout this thing.
Do you or your colleagues have experience of importing startups from abroad?
The Chamber of Commerce with other partners like NRW.Invest organize annual startup tour where they bring startups to pre-arranged meetings with corporates. This story is always successful if the methodology is right. I’ve heard from one Moscow entrepreneur that she came back with 60 business contacts and some of them remain very proactive.
In addition, big companies like Siemens, thyssenkrupp, Innogy Aldi and many more participate in organized corporate challenge contests such as Beyond Conventions. Startups don’t need to pitch; they need to be particular about the solution of the very problem and how they will do business with a company. If you can convince corporates, it will be pretty easy to convince SMEs to use your product.
It’s a huge bridge for German and international startups to get over to find clients, investments, expertise and future development of a project.
Why are you going to GoTech Arena: what exactly makes the event special for you? What are your expectations, if you have any?
If I go abroad to share my knowledge and experience, I also act like a startup and I want to connect internationally. Any community needs to be lively, so if you don’t come to others events, don’t expect people to come to yours.
Secondly, it’s a chance to stay up to date with trends and compare tech developments in different parts of the world. It’s also a chance to learn about competition because foreign markets might be an entry point for my startups.
Thirdly, despite that Germany and the US have stronger bonding, Russia is way closer, and it’s all about playing this as one continent. We are all in the same situation: huge economic power in Asia and in the USA, so we need to step up our game. Right now we mostly invest in German startups but it doesn’t mean that we’ll never invest globally. That’s why it’s really interesting to see cases that work in Russia.
The last reason is a startup community thing. I’m coming from Warsaw where we co-organizing one event, so I’m looking forward to exchanging experience. I’ve heard a lot about GoTech from my partners, and I want to meet with startups as an investor and as a person knowledgeable of German corporate needs. I’ve seen amazing projects that you have in VR/AR and e-medicine, therefore, bringing them to our events would be valuable for both sides.
We are looking forward to welcoming Oliver Weimann at GoTech Arena forum where you will have a chance to meet him in person and talk about different aspects of growing a startup in Germany, as well as meeting other investors, startups and corporate representatives who are willing to share their knowledge with others. Join us for this exciting event on November 20th at Digital October in Moscow!