Techstars Expands With New Accelerator in Berlin

How do you say “startup accelerator” in German? We might soon know, now that Techstars is opening a new program in Berlin.

The first program is this summer, with applications being accepted through March 15. Techstars said the program will be run in English, and it expects to have more than 100 mentors.

Techstars announced the news Wednesday in a blog post by Jens Lapinski, who will be the Berlin accelerator’s managing director. He previously has been a mentor with the London program.

Lapinski and Techstars began laying the groundwork for the expansion about six months ago, and Lapinski said he has already met with 50 to 100 Berlin-based entrepreneurs and investors. It gave him exposure to the German capital’s growing startup scene, which is catching up with London’s, at least when judged by the number of startups able to raise $10 million rounds, his post said.

Lapinski believes Berlin’s quality of life, relatively low costs of living and running a business, and the prevalence of English speakers make the city a great place to launch a tech company. But there’s also a pragmatic appeal.

“I think there is more high-quality seed capital in Berlin than there are investment opportunities of the same quality,” he wrote, saying it was a climate “perfect for entrepreneurs.”

Those potential investors don’t just bring their money to the table, they also have experience building tech companies.

“Berlin is a city with almost no ‘old’ money,” Lapinski said. “Almost all of the angel investors that are actively investing in Berlin are former Internet entrepreneurs. They have been there and done it. It makes a huge difference.”

In an interview, Lapinski added that Techstars plans to help startups work around some of the wrinkles in European technology investing, which is in some ways more difficult than in the U.S.

“I think when it comes to early stage funding, there is plenty of cash in Germany. When it comes to later-stage funding and the companies are more mature, we can make intros to funds abroad. We specifically have processes and staff for this,” he said.

This is Techstars’ third foray overseas and first in a non-English-speaking country. In 2013, it took over the Springboard accelerator in London, and two classes have graduated under the Techstars London banner. In 2014, it started an accelerator focused on developing technology for the financial industry in a partnership with Barclays, the British banking and financial services group.

Lapinski said the program will take startups from all over the world, although he expects the majority will come from Europe. The London program has a very international flavor, but the diversity hasn’t been a problem when it’s come to differences in language or culture.

“In London we had companies in the program that originated from the U.K., U.S., Ireland, Germany, Spain, Estonia, South Korea, and Israel,” he said. “They were all very different and obviously had different cultures, but they all had the same kind of problems when it came to growing their businesses. I expect the same in this program.”

Startups do seem to reflect where they come from, but it’s not about nationality in Lapinski’s view. It’s more about whether they come from places where tech companies and entrepreneurs already have established a legacy that nurtures the next wave.

“Companies that are surrounded by very experienced entrepreneurs, mentors and investors tend to behave differently, more mature. I think that is the primary difference,” he said.

All told, Techstars now has accelerators in nine cities and eight accelerators focused on specific industries that are run in partnerships with companies, including Nike, Kaplan, and Qualcomm.

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