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24 June 2016 - Jan Wessels

No talk, all action at Startup Weekend Bremen

Startup weekend Bremen involved 40 participants, 18 ideas and seven start-up teams, not to mention gallons of coffee and plenty of energy.

Revolutionising house hunting in cities using virtual reality. Training people to live a sustainable lifestyle using an app. Introducing food-sharing ideas to tackle our throw-away society. Offering professional HR management methods to smaller trade businesses. Using an app to arrange get-togethers for people with shared interests. These are just some of the many exciting ideas that were reviewed, refined, reworked, and even rejected at the Bremen Innovation and Technology Centre from 20 to 22 May.

The start-up scene in Bremen is growing. This is evident from the new event formats, which are giving the city real impetus and are a sign of a dynamic environment. One such event is Startup Weekend Bremen. The event, which was sponsored by Bremeninvest, Bremer Aufbau-Bank, Kraftwerk City Accelerator Bremen and Nehlsen AG, hopes to put Bremen on a more equal footing with other locations in Germany.

The organisers of Startup Weekend Bremen
The organisers of Startup Weekend Bremen (from left to right): Jonas Fromme, Nienke Klöffer, Jan Wessels and Luis Humpert. © The Art of Journey / Luis Humpert

From idea to start-up

It's Friday, 6pm. The aim of the weekend is to go from idea to start-up in 54 hours. That means no drawn-out speeches. The motto 'no talk, all action' says it all. Forty designers, developers, marketing experts and other start-up enthusiasts – both students and professionals – have gathered at the Bremen Innovation and Technology Centre. Marco Langhoff, founder of eatclever UG, a food delivery start-up based in Hamburg, starts by giving a brief account of how he and his team attended Startup Weekend Lüneburg in 2012 and are now represented in 13 German cities. The event then gets under way. Among the participants are 18 people who have a potential start-up idea. Each has 60 seconds to pitch their idea and win over the others. Afterwards the participants are divided into seven teams to work on the most popular ideas and turn them into fully fledged concepts by the end of the weekend.

Help from experienced mentors

Few participants have experience of the lean start-up process and the development of business models. To bring them up to speed, the team of organisers – Jonas Fromme, Nienke Kloeffer, Luis Humpert and I – ran several pre-event workshops to prepare the participants ahead of the weekend.

By hosting Startup Weekend Bremen, we wanted to help creative people to move from comfort zone to action zone as quickly as possible, to find a team, and to see whether start-up experts and other people can see potential in their ideas.

During the weekend, the teams were able to work on their ideas at a number of different workshops with the help of more than a dozen experienced entrepreneurs and mentors.

Start-up ideas covered everything from leisure pursuits and trade businesses to food sharing and sustainable living

Sunday, 5pm. The teams are running on adrenaline. They haven't had much sleep. They have been working around the clock to refine business models, programmes and products. Every so often they go back to the drawing board. It is now time for them to pitch their concepts to invited members of the public and the panel of judges.

The panel selects a winning team in four different categories. Team EAGLES wins both the best social concept and the best green concept for their app, which shows people how to live a more sustainable lifestyle in 21 days using gaming mechanisms. The best design goes to the team from foodnextdoor. Committed to tackling our throw-away society, they ask the question: 'how can surplus prepared food be put to good use in the local neighbourhood?' The team from localise comes away with the best pitch. Their app allows users to meet with like-minded people to do leisure activities. Finally, the panel of judges award the prize for the best start-up at Startup Weekend Bremen 2016 to the team from Handwerksmensch. The concept is like a recruitment agency for the trades, in which potential future employees are trained and connected using modern methods and a scalable system.

Further impetus planned for Bremen's start-up ecosystem

My fellow campaigners and I do not want Startup Weekend Bremen to be a one-off event. Many of the participants expressed interest in regular meetups to create an informal platform for new ideas and workshops. We were delighted with this feedback. It shows that the dynamic start-up ecosystem has the potential to grow even further.

start-up teams receiving invaluable feedback
start-up teams receiving invaluable feedback from experienced entrepreneurs and mentors. © Jan Wessels

In order to raise the profile of the start-up scene in Bremen, I am also working with www.bremen-startups.de to create an online platform dedicated to the city's start-ups. We want to develop a number of features, resources and tools, including an events calendar, a newsletter, a start-up monitor and interviews, a jobs section and an ecosystem guide.

If someone from Frankfurt googles 'start-ups' and 'Bremen', they should be able to see at a glance that there is a start-up community here and where people from that community meet.

I have also raised ideas about the start-up ecosystem at the University of Bremen. Together with the team from the Chair in Small Business & Entrepreneurship led by Professor Jörg Freiling, I am working on a concept to make university teaching on entrepreneurship accessible to students of all disciplines. This kind of university teaching is an important means of developing creative thinking and business acumen among students and giving them specific instruments with which to implement their ideas. Multi-disciplinary teams can be extremely effective in coming up with exciting concepts – we saw further evidence of this at Startup Weekend Bremen.

Bremen – a blank spot on the start-up map of Germany?

The start-up scene in Bremen exists, but is it recognised at national level? In the most recent survey by the German Startup Monitor (DSM), Bremen was identified as a blank spot on the national map. Only a handful of start-ups had been registered. Other places of a similar size to Bremen apparently have a more prominent and active start-up scene. According to the German Startup Monitor, the Rhine-Ruhr region collectively accounted for 8 per cent of German start-ups (0.3 per cent in Bremen).

Is Bremen really such a wilderness for start-ups as the German Startup Monitor suggests? After all, Bremen is Germany's tenth-largest city and has a vibrant creative scene. It is home to thriving IT companies. It is ranked among the top ten industrial hubs in Germany and delivers excellence in higher education. And it has long been home to BEGIN24, a broad-based network of people offering consultancy and support services for start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Perhaps the network of German Startup Monitor researchers simply doesn't extend as far as Bremen. After all, anyone who knows the start-up scene in Bremen can easily name more than a handful of start-ups. In Bremen, we are seeing more and more co-working spaces. The founders of Disrupt Space Summit have established Bremen as an internationally recognised location for aerospace start-ups. The 'Bremen Startups – shaken not stirred' events run by André Wollin are now attracting more than 200 attendees. Kraftwerk City Accelerator Bremen and team neusta systematically promote and fund start-ups. Things are happening in the Bremen start-up scene and that's great to see.

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