According to BusinessDictionary.com, the definition of a startup is: “(the) early stage in the life cycle of an enterprise where the entrepreneur moves from the idea stage to securing financing, laying down the basis structure of the business, and initiating operations or trading:”
These days, the term ‘Startup’ relates mostly to young, initiative ventures primarily in the IT / AI branch of the business world. Both the solutions AND the possibilities are endless in this brave new world, when every idea under the sun can find a common ground (or possibly just a similar ‘backend’).
Startupnight is a four-venue event promising such young business initiatives a one-night-only platform to meet corporates, investors and find first customers who are willing to test their products and give them real feedback. The USP of the night is that the Startups really do take center stage with the big corporations there to listen.
I spoke to Startupnight’s initiator Cem Ergün Müller about the project, his on-going collaboration with the Deutsche Telekom, how to best navigate Startupnight 2018, and why the theme of startups should should get everyone started up…
How did the idea for Startupnight originate? Where did the idea come from? What was the ‘hole’ in the market you were trying to fill? What makes it different?
Seven years ago, when the hype around startups started in Germany, a lot of commercial events came out with a superficial approach and not many deep dives. There were the usual suspects presenting over and over again at different events. Startups in the audience asked detailed questions were the concrete answer usually was left out.
I thought the scene could use a format where startups would be the attraction and in the center of the event.
So we created the open format Lange Nacht der Startups, where corporates would show their interests in the ecosystem by supporting it and not exploiting it. With companies like Telekom, Volkswagen, E.ON and many more, we hit a nerve. Everyone wanted to reach out to startups, but everyone by themselves. This way we could raise credibility and awareness of the potential for startups to cooperate with corporates.
You are rather well known as an innovator and developer. Your work and activities have opened up a lot in the field of startups, yet available descriptions of what exactly you do remain quite vague… How would you describe what you do to an everyday person not so familiar with the vernacular of this technical world? How do you explain it to your children? (smiles)
Well this is my historical background I have two university degrees – a technical (one) and an economical (one). I always felt at home in both worlds, which were separated somehow. So over the years I became a project developer in telecommunication with a strong interest in digital transformation but more in the interest of making change happen. People still fear new technologies. Usually not because of the technology but more because of what it could do with their jobs and lives. I am intrinsically motivated to reduce this fear.
So if you ask me how I explain it to my children, I would say that I am trying to make the world an easier, more productive place, where we can focus on relevant and meaningful topics and reduce repetitive and boring work.
How much is Startupnight ‘you’ and how much of it is the Deutsche Telekom? I mean, Telekom’s ‘role’ is vaguely clear here, Telekom of course being the leading internet and telephone communications provider in Germany…. However, this event seems to be more visible as an exhibition platform to see what is new in this field… You have this sort of ‘home base’ at Telekom— what is happening there on a day-to-day basis? What type of impact does the innovation happening here in Germany have on the rest of the technical world? Moreover, what kind of effect does a Startupnight have on your overall work? (I mean, does anything ever surprise you, do you get ideas?)
All corporates are looking for innovation, for new revenue potentials, and to stay in the game. We have a large customer base who are interested in new services on top of the best network; but the world keeps on turning. If you stop moving, other companies will pass you. On the other side, startups have great ideas, great speed and often-great execution power. We think that this is a perfect match.
The event is for startups and about startups. Although Deutsche Telekom might have initiated the event, the other corporates are great partners and the cooperation is real. Not all the startups will partner with large corporates, this is why we also invited our network of investment companies that largely grown over the years. So yes, Startupnight became a platform for startups to meet corporates, investors and find first customers who are willing to test their products and give them real feedback.
I really enjoy it when I see that startups find investors here and first discussions start with corporates. Over the years, we had many startups here who became really big. Not necessarily because of us, but maybe with a little help. For me personally, it is pure inspiration. The speed, the curiousness, the ideas some people come up with, are sometime surprising and totally out of my world of interest, but I love the passion and I just cannot stop supporting them. In different roles as a mentor, a networker, etc.
Also regarding Telekom, is there some kind of everyday support of service Telekom offers? (I’m just curious, I’d kindly request to be careful the answer doesn’t sound too ‘advertising’)
Telekom has many startup initiatives like TechBoost, Hubraum, (and) Startupnight of course. Let me give you a good example. We are leading the development of 5G in Germany and Europe; but a great network needs partners, so we are pioneering in Berlin a prototyping program with startups where they learn about our future network and its capabilities and we learn from startups about their products and dependencies with our network. This is a great advantage for both sides to continue to be Europe’s leading telco operator now and in the future.
In your opinion, is this area of technical startups possible to be permeated by someone who is curious, but is totally outside of it? I mean, I get it because of my business background; but I feel like the people inside of it are so into their processes that things needs little explanation to them; but to the outside world, it is kind of like trying to jump on a playground ride that is moving fast and won’t slow down….
It is indeed a technical world and complex. It is often even more complex to build something to make it look so easy to use from the outside. We decided a few years ago to think in technological categories and industries to support our visitors to find their way around Startupnight. We are showcasing startups in the domains of mobility, energy, fintech and telecommunication as well as in the technology fields of artificial intelligence, internet of things, virtual and augmented reality and blockchain. We are trying to explain these technologies in our side conference in the evening and of course through the participating startups. You can find all details on the Startupnight website.
How about with Startupnight? Is there consideration being made to curious outsiders, is there something you would recommend for them? (Looking at the website, it is a bit tricky to get an overview or a directive if you don’t recognize the names of the speakers, for instance…)
We have exhibitions in four locations in different categories, where startups are presenting themselves. We have a huge program because we are addressing different target groups; therefore, I understand that our website is not the easiest to get an overview.
If you are looking for a job in certain domains, you can look at startups and check out if the people are nice and your competence is needed. You do not have to be a developer to work in a startup. At a certain stage, startups are looking for HR, marketing, controlling, etc….People.
(Click here to see a list of the startups.)
We have a little side conference at the Telekom location to explain technologies and topics around startups like VC funding. So, if you are a beginner or a so-called tech noob and just heard about AI or Blockchain, you will have the opportunity to understand, what’s behind these technologies, what they mean to companies, society and maybe themselves.
(Click here to see a list of the scheduled talks.)
Speaking of the ‘tech noobs’ (smiles), what in the offerings do you think will impress them? Also, will there be changes or differences from the former five Startupnights?
We continued to develop and evolve. We have some serious high-tech companies at Startupnight. From AI over blockchain as a base technology but with a lot of sense for the public world. Therefore, everybody can get a good sense of where the startup world is moving to right now. We have many VCs there, who are interested in finding startups to invest; we have a speed dating organized a conference with maybe not the most famous speaker but sure with a lot of competence and practical backgrounds. They know perfectly what they are talking about.
How do you see the startups and the ideas to be pitched at Startupnight? What kind of an impact do you see them playing in society and the world market?
My interest and expectations are manifold. I know of some great startups with huge potential who are presenting themselves. Some of them are not pure startups anymore. They had their first investment rounds, have already real customers, and are generating revenue. Others have just started a first product and are looking for visibility. You never know, who will make it. Six years ago, we had Amorelie and MODOMOTO at our first Startupnight. Now both companies are huge and driving their markets with many employees.
I want to see these startups become the next corporates and generate jobs and prosperity for Berlin and Germany, but of course, I cannot deny, that I am very curious about the different technologies our startups will be presenting. I believe that many founders have the stamina to become big companies. Not necessarily the next unicorn, but generating good revenues and be respected as great entrepreneurs.
Friday, 07. September 2018, 17 – 1 h.
(Main Stage) Deutsche Telekom, Französische Straße 33 a-c
– DRIVE. Volkswagen Group Forum, Friedrichstraße 84
– Microsoft Atrium, Unter den Linden 17
– Deutschen Bank Atrium, Unter den Linden 13/15 (Eingang Charlottenstr.)
Images courtesy of Startupnight and Wikipedia, all rights reserved.