A Southern Superhub for Innovation in Europe

When I started my first company, IRIDAS, in 2000, I felt like a weird person. The environment here in Munich almost 20 years ago was not very supportive of startups and almost everyone around me told me that I had gone off the rocker for leaving a well-paid job (ironically in a startup), to do my own thing. My main customers were in the US and support from there was amazing, so in the end my local ecosystem seemed not to matter that much.

About a decade ago, startup culture started to reach Germany, but I felt I had not much in common with the young bearded app developers who launched products that were often copying business ideas conceived in Silicon Valley. While I still have a lot of respect for people, who are running successful businesses based on this model, it is clearly not my thing. I am interested in deep innovation with a focus on long-term impact.

After I sold IRIDAS to Adobe in 2011, however, I started to bump into more and more startup companies, who are doing very interesting work here in my hometown of Munich. Whether its the guys from VoltStorage, who are coming up with a novel battery for residential energy storage (disclosure I joined their board a few weeks ago). Or Magazino, who create novel logistics robots with AI, I started to see vibrant network of truly innovative companies, who opted to start here in Munich and the surrounding areas, and who found a supportive investment ecosystem, a well-educated workforce and excellent infrastructure.

When I discussed this change with DLD Conference founder Steffi Czerny a few months ago, we decided to do a panel on this topic, called the Southern Superhub.

There are many reasons I always stayed in Munich. I would have had many reasons to move to the United States. My companies have always had a global workforce. With IRIDAS we had teams in Germany, Eastern Europe, Canada, and the West Coast. With Hyperganic we have people in New York, Argentina, Italy and here in Munich. But what makes Munich attractive are many things. The standard of living is high. I don’t know any other place that is as attractive, especially when you want to raise a family.

I just spent two weeks in LA and the Bay Area — and most of it was in a car, trying to navigate the traffic on the West Coast. Munich, in contrast, is walkable and has an excellent mass transit system. It’s rare for me to take more than a few minutes to travel to a meeting. Long-distance travel is simple and comfortable, either by high-speed train or by plane. I rarely need more than 15 min to my gate at Munich airport. Try that at JFK.

Many founders who traveled the world before settling back here, realize, it is very hard to find these conditions anywhere else on the globe. In addition there are many less “soft” factors that play a big role: We have two of the world’s best universities located in Munich, many big industrial companies like Siemens, BMW, Airbus, EOS, OHB have their headquarters or a significant presence here. IBM Watson moved their IoT division to Munich with a 200m investment and more than 1000 employees.

For many decades Germany was known for its solid engineering skills and process innovation. What is now happening is that really bold ideas like flying cars (Lilium and Airbus/Siemens) or Satellite launchers (Zero2Infinity) are using Munich as their home base.