If you work for a startup, you’ll know that networking isn’t optional or a fun extra — it’s the tech scene’s lifeblood. How else do you meet the perfect investor; the talented programmer who will take your tech dream from fantasy to reality or even a potential customer? So if you’re part of the ecosystem, you probably attend a lot of tech events. But while providing the perfect opportunity to meet investors, tech talent and customers, these startup events can often be a let down. Startup Night’s founder Cem Ergün-Müller is the first to admit this, despite working in the field. Approximately eight years ago, while working as the head of marketing and communication at T-Labs, he “dived into the Berlin ecosystem” to learn more about startups and how the scene worked. After going to lots of different events, he had to admit something to himself. He wasn’t excited: instead, he felt discouraged.
“I was very disappointed in terms of how the events were organized, what the scope of the events was. Plus, it was really expensive and in the end I found it was always the same speakers, always the same topics – like the top dos and don’ts of funding. I decided it was time for an event that would place startups at the center, a night that would make startups the main attraction.”
That event was Startup Night, an “idea which came out of Deutsche Telekom, but which is a stand alone project.” Startups would be positioned front and center in the event, but they would also have to ensure a great night for attendees – “We are really interested in it being like a live pitch instead of just pitching decks. Startups have to demonstrate the product – but it’s not just a pitch deck they’re sending somewhere and they’re not just presenting slides. They’re presenting everything: their personality, their passion, their product, their team and it’s all in one place.”
hubraum has been part of the project since day one: “As I was with T Labs, it made sense to gather all the units [within Deutsche Telekom] who were working together with startups and aligning in terms of an event like this. But hubraum has never taken the lead so strongly as they have this year.” It’s hubraum who has helped develop the program and whose staff have helped with startup scouting and choosing which startups will be involved. They’re also responsible for the investors’ lounge for the first time. But hubraum’s most significant contribution? The program’s focus areas. While in the past, Startup Night zoomed in on simple areas – IoT, blockchain, AI – “for the first time we’re focusing more on the user. Massive amounts of data input and ubiquitous connectivity provide new possibilities for collecting and analyzing data for better decision making and automation. This leads to a more customer-centric approach because decisions are not made on opinions or assumptions, but are based on real data. This year we’re asking, What does it mean for a startup to contribute to the smart data economy, how do startups with their intelligence, whether AI or blockchain, shape that economy, how is data helping users be more successful in business or in their private lives?”
But hubraum’s deepened involvement isn’t the only thing Cem’s looking forward to this year. He namechecks the opening keynote from board members from corporates like Volkswagen, E.ON and Deutsche Telekom as one to watch – “It feels like proof of the sheer ambitiousness of the event that even CEOs from these huge companies are talking.” He suggests startups check out the talk on how they can connect with Deutsche Telekom (“We’re laying our hearts open and saying this is what we’re looking for and this is how you can connect.”). He also suggests startups compete in the chance to win a trip to China. If you’re a member of the audience looking for a good survey of some of the sharpest startup talent of the moment, he thinks you should swing by the vote for Innovator of the Year under 35 or the Startup Choice Award. “The Startup Choice Award is one of a kind because all participating startups are reviewing each other and they decide who the coolest startup of the evening is. There’s no jury, there’s no investors, it’s just the startups deciding. I really love this idea of a real peer review.”
Audiences should also expect the unexpected, with Cem telling me that startups often interpret the guidelines set to them in a creative way. He cites the time the founder of Amorelie, Berlin’s sex toy startup decided to make her booth stand out. “She wrapped a curtain around her booth and pinned a note outside saying “18+ only.” And then, of course her queue was around 30 metres long the whole night.” He thinks this is also a good tip for any startups participating in the event for the first time this year.
“Think about the message you want to convey. If your service is focused on data privacy, don’t just have a poster up saying “Your data privacy is supported with us”, and then sit in front of a laptop waiting for people to come to you. Be creative – put a toy monkey in a cage, I don’t know!”
Any other advice for startups attending for the first time? “Don’t hide behind your computer and don’t just wait for people to come to you — try and engage with the audience.” He also stresses that startups should treat the event as a marathon, not a sprint: “The average startup has 70 to 100 talks per night. So startups are usually exhausted at the end. But we always have an aftershow party – and you should try and stop by. The party usually lasts 3-4 hours and it’s great.” And what about corporates? “Go out there and talk to the startups, don’t come alone, come with 2, 3, 4 people because there’s a huge number of startups to meet. As such, the best strategy would be to plan ahead of time who’s doing what, who you’re going to see, and who should be in which location to get the most out of it.”
Ultimately, Cem is excited for audiences to pack a lot into six hours. “You get everything you need in one night – that’s our claim, right? And it’s true: The only night you need. You get to meet investors, to meet possible partners and customers, to meet a startup you’d want to work for, to see what the future will bring in terms of the next big thing.” We can’t wait to see you there!
Startup Night will take place for the seventh time this year on September 6 across different locations in Berlin. You can buy tickets for it here.