partner in Morrison & Foerster's new
Berlin office, had an eye-opening experience while
visiting Silicon Valley to check out the start-up culture
"In Berlin, the streets and coffee shops buzz with
people on their iPads pitching ideas, with start-up
events happening practically every
night," says Meissner, a corporate and finance
lawyer who represents both founders and investors. "The scene
is visible and active; it is the real deal."
Investment in young companies in Berlin is one-tenth that
of Silicon Valley, Meissner notes. Yet the action is
lively. Incubators are popping up throughout the
"Berlin is overtaking London and Tel Aviv as
Europe's top start-up destination," he says.
"Why? For the same reason that attracted
artists here almost a decade ago: plentiful and
affordable living and work space. Munich, Hamburg, and
Cologne have some start-up activity, but at double the
living costs, people choose Berlin."
The Berlin story began with the three Samwer brothers,
who ignited the scene in 1999 by funding a German version
of eBay and then selling it to eBay 100 days later for
"Their model was to clone U.S. successes," says
Meissner of the Samwers, whose empire now includes
global incubator Rocket Internet; European Founders,
their fund for early- and later-stage Internet businesses;
and Global Founders Capital, targeting start-ups
Players more focused on innovation have since come into
prominence, but Berlin has yet to hit full stride.
"For all the activity, there are simply
fewer investors here, and absent a huge IPO story, U.S.
interest remains lukewarm," Meissner explains.
"Mindful of past bubbles, investors can be skeptical
of new ideas, and the government has yet to fully get
behind supporting young companies."
There are encouraging signs, however. "The government
created a fund that pays business angels back 20 percent
if they hold their investment for three years, subject to
certain criteria," says Meissner.
"Sequoia Capital recently put €18 million
into a start-up here, and the €88 million round
attracted by online food delivery service Delivery Hero was
Berlin's largest ever. So hopes are high that Silicon
Valley is coming."
There are also a growing number of corporate accelerators,
Microsoft and Coca-Cola among them, providing founders with
funding, mentoring, and networking support. "In 2013,
leading German media company Axel Springer partnered with Plug
and Play Tech Center—a leading Silicon Valley
startup investor and accelerator—to create Axel Springer
Plug and Play," says Meissner who, with his team,
advises Axel Springer Plug and Play on its deals. "That
is the kind of direct bridge that promises well for the
Keywords: Berlin, Incubators, Start-Ups,
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