A note on the Berlin startup scene

by James Glazebrook

If you have even a passing familiarity with the Berlin startup scene, you’ll have seen this blog post on The Guardian website, written by someone who recently returned to the UK after a brief immersion in the city’s tech “bubble”. Well, The Local asked for my reaction – as someone who has a lot of contact with expats in the startup world and part of the team about to open Berlin’s first tech campus - and I thought I’d share it here. Read their response “Ten points in defence of Berlin’s startup scene” here, and my comments below.

The Guardian article contains nothing we haven’t heard before. As one of Berlin’s biggest English language blogs, we attract a lot of questions and enquiries from the group to which the writer (who we know) belongs: young non-German speakers who are early in their careers, and attracted to the city’s competitive creative scene. Their observations are valid, but represent a very narrow experience of the Berlin tech ecosystem, one with fairly predictable outcomes.

If you land an internship at an English-speaking company, you are likely to remain in that bubble, speak (and hear) very little German – and you’re most at risk of losing your “job”. We know lots of people who have discovered that “the streets are not paved with gold”, and have had to move back home or onto somewhere where they can more easily lay the foundations for their career. But we also know plenty of people who’ve landed (very) real jobs at successful companies, who have stable work and are appropriately rewarded for their experience and qualifications.

We’re sick of the mainstream media cycle of hype and backlash when it comes to Berlin in general, and the startup scene in particular. No one in their right mind would believe that Berlin is the next Silicon Valley, or the only European startup hub that matters – but, equally, no one should dismiss it as just a hipster party town. We turn out innovative, productive businesses with global impact (SoundCloud, 6Wunderkinder, ResearchGate), and we’re only going to see more success like this. But we still have a long way to go…

To the Berlin startup community we say: ignore all of this. Keep your heads down and keep up the good work. To anyone thinking of moving to the city to follow their startup dreams, we say: don’t believe the hype! Follow the advice of this article and do your homework, find a company that you fit with and feel passionate about, and enter the Berlin startup scene with open eyes and realistic expectations. Good luck :)

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Illustration by Josh Bauman.

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