Keynote speakers included U.S. Ambassador John B. Emerson and Dr. Martin Reck, General Manager of Deutsche Börse AG. Irena Goldenberg (Highland Capital Partners Europe) and Oliver Heimes (Lakestar) provided insight into investors’ perspectives, while successful entrepreneurs like Steffen Kiedel (6Wunderkinder), Thomas Klein (Cytolon) and Niklas Östberg (Delivery Hero) spoke from experience about catching the interest of investors from Germany and the U.S. After the speeches, pitching sessions took place in which growth stage startups could present their products to potential investors.
“I am often asked how to re-create Silicon Valley in Germany. But Valley envy is a poor guide to success,” said John B. Emerson, the Ambassador of the United States in Germany. He suggested appreciating local differences instead: “The most difficult yet crucial element in
building an entrepreneurial ecosystem is to tailor the suit to fit its own local dimensions, style and climate.” The suit, however, does not seem to fit its German owners – yet.
Local founders expressed their admiration for American equity culture and their frustration with German angst and debt culture. Ambassador Emerson pointed out some of these fundamental cultural differences between the German and the US startup scene: “The acceptance that today’s failure may be tomorrow’s huge success is one of the biggest differences between the U.S. and Germany.” The so called “debt-culture” would prevent experimentation that is “essential to a thriving entrepreneurial culture.”
Steffen Kiedel, CEO of 6Wunderkinder, described his experiences with German and American venture capitalists (VCs) and pointed out three main differences. First, when it comes to risk aversion, American investors are much more venturesome. Another difference is the speed and character of negotiations: American VCs negotiate quickly and meet young founders at eye level. In Germany, pitching founders sometimes wait days for a response and then feel like school children during negotiations.
The relationship between startup founders and investors should be fruitful for both sides. Irena Goldenberg, Partner at Highland Capital Partners, compared it to marriage: “Choosing a VC is like choosing a partner, it should be someone you like and someone you want to spend time with.”
At the Growth Company Forum, it seemed as if German founders preferred to look overseas to find the right spouse.