Berlin is arguably the European start-up hub and the German centre for venture capital investment. The city has a growing start-up infrastructure and an international culture combined with a focus on digitisation, innovation and technology. A diverse and strong community of young entrepreneurs together with top international talent has transformed Berlin into one of the world’s start-up capitals.
The city also offers access to good training opportunities, the largest number of coworking spaces, coupled with access to research facilities as well as technology and innovation hubs. In this article we explore the start-up scene in Berlin starting with business angels, popular start-up events and successful start-ups from the capital.
What are business angels for start-ups?
Business angels or angel investors are individuals who provide capital, coaching support and contacts to start-ups in the early formation phase, or “seed phase”, of their business. These individuals are usually former entrepreneurs themselves or successful managers. In return for the efforts and financial support of angel investors, they receive a company share which they can sell at a later stage as the start-up will grow. In contrast to business angels, venture capitalists usually invest in start-ups at a later stage once the proof of concept of the business is established through return on investment numbers for example. For more information about private equity as a form of start-up investment read this article.
Business Angels typically invest between €25.000 and €100.000 whereas for larger start-up projects often a few angels invest together. Supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, the German Business Angels networking association (BAND) offers access to potential angel investors and organises events to exchange experiences among young entrepreneurs across Germany. In Berlin, there are local business angel associations such as the Business Angels Club Berlin-Brandenburg e.V.
Business angels for start-ups from Berlin
- One of the most successful business angels from Berlin is the Swiss investor Christophe Maire who was named twice the best “European Seed Investor” by the US start-up magazine Techcrunch. He is a founding partner and CEO of Atlantic Labs in Berlin supporting technology start-ups. The entrepreneur is known for founding gate5 which he sold to Nokia in 2006. Since then he has served as an angel investor to companies such as Brands4Friends, sold to Ebay in 2010 or Readmill which was acquired by dropbox. The current investment portfolio of Atlantic Labs covers start-ups from the mobility, AI, Automation, Health and Finance sectors.
- Florian Huber, founded companies like united-domains which was sold to the 1&1 Group in 2015 and neubau kompass, a German real estate marketplace. The Berlin-based entrepreneur has been named “Business Angel of the Year” by the German Business Angels Association. His investment portfolio consists of start-ups from the food, FinTech, InsureTech, Blockchain as well as SAAS field. Examples of his most successful investments include foodora, the health start-up viomedo and the blockchain company Xwiss.
- The serial entrepreneur and active angel investor Christian Vollmann, received the Business Angel of the year 2017 award by the German Business Angels Network. As a business angel, he has invested in Moneybookers, MySportBrands, AdScale and Shopaman. Since 2013, Christian Vollmann has been a member of the “Young Digital Economy” advisory board of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology and is currently the Vice president of the German Start-up association.
Start-up events and communities in Berlin
- The Factory Berlin was partly funded by Google and offers an innovation network for more than 3500 tech community members from all over the world. The factory further owns three locations hosting large co-working offices, where start-ups and company incubators and accelerators. The factory Berlin also hosts around 400 events each year including networking opportunities and masterclasses.
- The American technology and start-up magazine TechCrunch, that has a great audience across Europe. They host their annual Disrupt Berlin conference, a must-attend event for founders, investors, engineers, developers and marketers. Thousands of visitors travel from all over the world to Berlin to attend the two-day event. The CrunchMatch platform facilitates networking between attendees and promising start-ups can present their business pitches at the Start-up Battlefield.
- The Berlin-based Tech Open Air (TOA) is an annual tech festival, combining innovative technology, investment and start-ups with science, media, music and arts. The event takes place in June or July and supports knowledge exchange and collaboration across different industries through more than 150 speakers and thousands of attendees.
Booming Berlin-based start-ups
- The digital coaching platform CoachHub from Berlin was founded in 2018 and offers virtual access to more than 2500 coaches for companies and their employees. Next to coaching sessions the platform further offers additional learning material and chat options with the coaches. The aim is to deliver measurable results like increased employee engagement, retention and a stronger company culture through AI-based matching with suitable coaches. The start-up has recently raised funding of US$50 million.
- The start-up Forto, originally founded in 2016 as FreightHub, is revolutionising the international logistics industry. The company started to digitalise the air, sea and rail freight business through an online booking system. After years of growth, the start-up has expanded its services by offering a complete supply chain technology including an innovative software-as-a-service (SaaS) order management system that increases the efficiency of the logistics sector. The company has grown to more than 400 employees at 10 locations in Germany and Asia with a customer base of more than 2500 companies. So far, the Berlin-based company has raised a total funding volume of US$103 million. Read this article to learn more about the German logistics sector.
- Another innovative start-up from Berlin is Lilium, an on-demand electronic five-seater air taxi service. The first prototype flew in 2019 and is able to take off and land vertically. As the Scottish VC firm Baillie Gifford which is also one of the largest investors of Tesla and SpaceX, invested US$35 million of funding into Lilium in 2020, the valuation of the German start-up is now estimated at around US$1 billion. The start-up aims to decrease traffic jams in large cities and is endorsed by Tencent and the European Space Agency.
- The Berlin-based start-up Zeitgold digitalises and automates tax advisory services by creating booking suggestions through the usage of AI. This enables users to spend less time on repetitive tasks. According to TechCrunch, the company has so far raised an investment of over US $54 million and continues to improve their software as currently around 80% of all tax-related booking is automated through Zeitgold.
- The FinTech Neufund, was founded in 2016 by Zoe Adamovicz, named in the Forbes Top 50 Women in Tech list. The start-up is a blockchain fundraising and investment platform connecting companies with progressive investors. In December 2020, the company announced a new round of funding led by Atlantic Labs, the Berlin-based investor firm of the business angel Christophe Maire (see above). Neufund has raised more than €7 million of investment. According to the magazine EU-start-ups, the next step for the growing FinTech will be to obtain a banking license. Read more about the financial industry in Germany in our sector overview.
Further reading about start-ups in Germany
Find out more about private equity financing options for start-ups, legal forms for entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurship and German unicorn start-ups or a general overview of the German start-up scene and the FinTech industry.
Centurion Plus Berlin
Whether you are an entrepreneur or an investor looking for the next big venture, Berlin offers vast opportunities for start-ups. From the choice of the right legal form, questions about intellectual property protection, as well as advice on equity investments and partnerships of start-ups – entrepreneurs need legal support.
As a business angel you might be looking to invest in one of the promising start-ups mentioned above or perhaps you have questions regarding the founding process of a start-up and the infrastructure in Germany.
The start-up scene also attracts professionals from abroad searching for job opportunities in the next big company and need advice concerning immigration issues.
Our team of flexible lawyers can help you with all these queries. Contact Centurion Plus today for an initial consultation.