3 challenges for Leipzig’s startup scene


It’s official: 3 out of 3 panelists well-connected in the startup scene agree that Leipzig is not and will not become the next Berlin.

A new start in Hypezig.
A new start in Hypezig.

When I first moved to Leipzig, people said it was an amazing city because it was just like Berlin, had the same vibe as Berlin, was cheaper than Berlin. Even to this day, it is almost impossible for someone to explain what they like about Leipzig without including the word “Berlin.”

With its proximity to Berlin, Leipzig feels like it needs to establish itself in a way that no other city in Germany has to: finding out a way to prove that it is more attractive than the metropolis “next door.” Just like the younger sibling trying to survive high school without living in the shadow of the cool older sibling, Leipzig is facing the challenge of creating its own identity.

Meanwhile, Leipzig’s startup scene is considered to be up and coming. At least 3 new co-working spaces are supposed to be opening within the next year, and the existing startups and spaces have high hopes for this city.

Last month’s Startup Safari Leipzig event opened with a panel discussion of 3 successful German business owners and investors, touching upon this very topic.

From left: Panelists Sebastian Janus (Founder of GetYourHero and 10XStudio), Jörg Frohberg (managing director of Merolt and JALCEM Beteilingungs), and Sören Schuster (managing director of Technologiegründerfonds Sachsen) debate the startup scene with Marco Weicholdt (managing director of Basislager Coworking) at Startup Safari 2018.
Panelists Sebastian Janus (GetYourHero and 10XStudio), Jörg Frohberg (Merolt and JALCEM Beteilingungs), and Sören Schuster (Technologiegründerfonds Sachsen) debate the startup scene with Marco Weicholdt (managing director of Basislager Coworking) at Startup Safari.

They were asked what they thought of the city’s startup scene as well as where they thought it was going. They offered many critiques on the city and the scene, and pinpointed where it needed to be improved.

There is a stereotype, however, that Germans hate being wrong. And our 3 panelists proved this once again, when they refused to predict where Leipzig’s startup scene was headed, as well as what they thought its future would look like. But they did identify the 3 largest challenges for it.

They are the following (with extra commentary by me):

1. Investors

Like the city itself, Leipzig’s startup scene has yet to establish its own identity. It’s still in its early stages. Leipzig has yet to find its niche that will bring investors to the city. Investing in Leipzig may not yield the same return as investing in larger, more established cities.

2. Founders

When it comes to seeking out a location to build your startup, Leipzig isn’t the first choice. Why would any founder want to come to Leipzig when it is so close to Berlin?

If startups have any desire to expand or become international, they will either spend all of the extra money they saved in rent commuting to Berlin, or end up moving there eventually anyway. (Though some would disagree.) Sure the rent is cheap, but Leipzig does not have the resources or talent that Berlin has.

Which brings me to my next point.

3. Talent

Out of all the people I’ve met here in Leipzig, no one moved here for their career. A job, maybe. But my impression is that no one moves to Leipzig because this is where they want to establish themselves.

People move to Leipzig because it’s young and different compared to some West German cities. In Leipzig, you get all of the benefits of the German social system, but people here are a lot more flexible with the rules. (Or are they?)

Berlin is a city with a magical balance of people moving there for their career, and the other half moving there just to live life. Berlin has an incredible international scene, with people coming from all over the world to live in a melting pot of acceptance.

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin.
The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin.

People move to Leipzig either because they could not find an apartment in Berlin or because they want something different but are not sure what. Comparatively, there are still very few international people in Leipzig, and they have established a rather tight-knit community because of the lack of English resources and of being able to meet people in this city.

So how do you attract ambitious people to a city where their options are limited?

If Leipzig wants to be a serious player in the international startup scene, it is facing a severe challenge. Leipzig is located in Saxony, which has the reputation of being Germany’s most racist state. Germany’s most conservative and racist political party has a large group of supporters in this area.

How can Leipzig expect to attract an international or competitive talent pool when the whole state is known for being unwelcoming to foreigners?

Sure there might be signs in Leipzig that say “Refugees Welcome,” but if you want the global multiculturalism that comes along with successful startups, Leipzig is not ready for it.

Alternativeness in Leipzig is only welcome to a certain extent.
Alternativeness in Leipzig is only welcome to a certain extent.

By Deniz 

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