Passion Never Fails

Launching a business is a sink-or-swim prospect – all the more so in a foreign country with a different language. But international entrepreneurs are increasingly braving the waters in Germany and feeling very comfortable.

September 2022

Today, Tatyana Eliseeva can laugh about her founding story, but two years ago, things looked rather different. “I was in Berlin with the promise of funding in one hand and the threat of having to leave the country in the other,” remembers the founder of the medtech start-up HealthCaters.

Her now thriving start-up enables health checks from home or the workplace and aims to contribute to the prevention and early detection of diseases. At the time, Eliseeva had been working in Germany for just over two years.

“I had difficulty explaining to the immigration authorities that I was financially secure thanks to a grant from a start-up acceleration program,” she says. So she reached out to the regional economic promotion organization Berlin Partner for help. “They handled the specifications, and I was allowed to stay.”

Born in Russia just nine days before the USSR collapsed, Eliseeva was raised in difficult times. “People looked reluctantly to the future,” she says. “I believe that’s why it is harder for me to take risks.”

But the sense of security Eliseeva felt in Berlin encouraged her to set up shop there. “I knew that whatever difficulties came up, there would be a support system. I wouldn’t want to have started a business at any other place.”

»I knew that whatever difficulties came up, there would be a support system in
Germany«

Tatyana Eliseeva,
HealthCaters

»Germany has great market potential, which we want
to use«

Adi Arthanareeswaran,

MeinDoc

The Bottom Line

Germany has greatly benefited from the global explosion in VC investment and last year produced a record number of unicorns. Entrepreneurs weighing up their location options should take a long look at the heart of Europe.

Entrepreneurial diversity

Germany’s entrepreneurial scene is now conspicuously international. An annual study by the German Startups Association and the auditing firm PwC found that 7.8 percent of new entrepreneurs in Germany are not German nationals. According to the study, those founders are well educated and an asset to the business scene.

“More diversity brings more productivity, and a diverse economy creates high-quality jobs,” Germany Trade & Invest’s Trend & Innovation Scouting manager Almut Weigel emphasizes. “Germany has become a much more attractive location for foreign founders in recent years.”

One of the main reasons is government funding, available through innovation programs such as the Digital Hub Initiative of the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. “Twelve Hubs across Germany reflect local industry specialization,” explains Weigel.

The focus in the Berlin hub is on fintech and the Internet of Things. The big idea is to give start-ups a leg-up and to locate them where they fit into the economic infrastructure. The hubs offer help with networking, office locations and the opportunity to take part in networking events or trade fairs.

Indian-born Adi Arthanareeswara and his Vietnamese cofounders took part in the accelerator program of the Digital Hub in Leipzig. For the entrepreneurs, this support was just one of many arguments in favor of Germany. Their start-up MeinDoc simulates medical surgeries to make it easier for patients to understand their treatment. “Funding from state-owned bank KfW and competitions like the Innovation Award have helped us a great deal. You don’t find attractive projects like this everywhere,” states Arthanareeswaran. “Moreover, Germany has great market potential, which we would like to use.”

Anything’s possible in Germany

Michelle Tian, cofounder of the start-up Passionfroot, agrees. Her start-up helps digital creators like YouTubers manage their business more efficiently by streamlining their workflows on their “drag ’n’ drop no-code platform.” “Germany offers great opportunities because the entrepreneurial market is not saturated,” she says. Tian grew up in San Francisco and moved to Berlin in March 2020. “I came here from a privileged environment and a great network but never regretted it once.”

She and her cofounders were attracted to Berlin’s diversity and dynamism. “It’s not like San Francisco’s tech bubble where people can easily become out of touch with real-world problems,” she says.

Passionfroot has already raised EUR 3 million in funding. “I feel like although Germany is such a big economy and there’s heavy bureaucracy, which can seem unattractive, there’s still so much potential to grow,” she says.

»Berlin is not like San Francisco’s tech bubble where people can easily become out of touch with real-world problems«

Michelle Tian,
Passionfroot

»I know that I can rely on what representatives of German institutions say and there is a lot of support. You’ve just got to ask«

Arjeta Culaj,
LinksUp

Figuring out the paper maze

Before foreign founders can start, they must navigate their way through a “paper maze” that will seem alien to them. The federal system – that divides Germany into many jurisdictions – can seem complicated, but it also enables special advantages. Support can be provided at the point where it’s needed, for example, as Arjeta Culaj from LinksUp discovered. “At the beginning it was hard to know what the first ToDo was, especially without speaking German fluently,” says the Albanian founder, who has lived in Germany for eight years.

Like Passionfroot, LinksUp is a business page builder that enables “solo-preneurs” to manage their digital content, but with a unique difference: LinksUp has a sales platform for Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT), which are used to authenticate original versions of digital content such as memes or art.

While dealing with the authorities was tough, Culaj has come to appreciate the thoroughness of Germany’s start-up process. “I know that I can rely on what representatives of German institutions say and there is a lot of support. You’ve just got to ask.” She is the first to admit that founding a business in Germany initially seems daunting. “But once you have walked through the legal process of founding, you’re basically good to go,” she says. She praises the nurturing approach of the start-up scene, where mentoring and networking events are standard practice. She compares founding in Germany to receiving a “bear hug”: “A heavy hug that hurts a bit but means extra well. Anything is possible. You just have to try to be patient!”

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