TEL AVIV GOES MANNHEIM
The innovation program B-WIP-Accelerator is coming to Mannheim and opening up remarkable prospects
Should an economically prosperous state such as Baden-Wuerttemberg join forces with one of the most dynamic startup ecosystems worldwide such as Israel, big things can happen. A cooperative effort between the startup city Tel Aviv and STARTUP MANNHEIM begins on July 5th, supported by the Ministry of Economics and the Israeli Consulate General. Vice Consul General Jonathan Glick and Florian Fischer, project manager of the accelerator, met up with us to discuss the new perspectives that the innovation program B-WIP-Accelerator will open up.
Baden-Wuerttemberg and Israel — how did this cooperation come about?
Jonathan Glick: Things got moving about a year and a half ago. I was talking with my boss, Consul General Dr. Dan Shaham, about innovative economic regions in the south of Germany and about possible cooperations with startups from Tel Aviv and Israel in general. He had met Mannheims Lord High Mayor, Dr. Peter Kurz, shortly before, as well as the director of STARTUP MANNHEIM, Christian Sommer and was impressed by their enthusiasm and dedication. In April of last year we arranged a meeting in Mannheim and I was able to acquire valuable insights into the structure and functioning of the Mannheim startup scene.
Why is Tel Aviv interested in a cooperation?
Jonathan Glick: The startup ecosystem in Mannheim is the best in Germany! As part of my job as Vice Consul General I am on the road all over the south of Germany: in Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Hesse. Nowhere else have I encountered a city that offers such a highly developed landscape for founders. Christian Sommer and I scheduled several meetings over the coming months in Mannheim and Munich. During that period we talked extensively about Mannheim and Tel Aviv, about entrepreneurship and innovative capacity, about possibilities and the potential of a collaboration. We quickly realized that it was time to build a bridge between the two cities.
Florian Fischer: I was in Israel and Tel Aviv for the first time in August of 2016 and instantly fell in love with the place. My desire to revisit the country to deepen my connection with the land and the people was so strong that I returned in October of the same year and spent six months there. I completed an internship in Tel Aviv, in the middle of the startup nation of Israel – and it was great.
What opportunities does this cooperation offer the two cities?
Florian Fischer: The special thing about Baden-Wuerttemberg are the large and medium-sized companies based here. This mix has fueled innovation for decades. The past couple of years have shown that companies in the region have strongly begun taking the digital developments of our time into account, as to not lose touch with where things are going. They are not going to let any disruptive startups leave them behind. Tel Aviv on the other hand is a global hot-spot of start-up culture. Many very innovative small enterprises are pushing up through the cracks and are forced to think on a global scale early on, as the market in Israel is more limited. This circumstance makes the Tel Aviv ecosystem unique compared to other regions, such as Silicon Valley, which offers the vast North American market right at its doorstep. A cooperation between Israeli startups with global mind-sets and Baden-Wuerttemberg as a key player in the German manufacturing industry promises enormous potential – especially as both markets are very well positioned in the B2B-sector. Another strength of this potential cooperation lies in the Cyber-Security area. Mid-size German enterprises are having a hard time with the issue, while Israeli startups are among the world market leaders of the area. We see a lot of positive synergy effects on the horizon between these two ecosystems that are separated by a mere four hours by plane.
Jonathan Glick: Not only the technological side of things matches well, but also the people themselves. Mannheim is a real startup city, on the brink of becoming a smart city. There is a real energy in the innovation sector here. This applies both to the city administration, as well as the startup ecosystem STARTUP MANNHEIM. There is great willingness to innovate and cooperate. I love the humility of the people involved, that have kept their eagerness to learn and allow new influences, in spite of their major success stories. I missed this in many other regions I have visited.
What can Mannheim and Tel Aviv learn from one another?
Florian Fischer: One thing we can learn for sure is that start-ups can very well be tightly connected with the technology sector. Germany has a prominent startup scene in Berlin, that is very focused on the B2C-sector, which is quite unusual in an international comparison.
Jonathan Glick: A cooperation is a success once both sides profit. I see a real chance for German businesses to learn that it can really be worth it to take risks and venture a journey into the unknown. It makes sense to act quickly, even if this can cause chaos initially. Only this way can one quickly achieve results and create something new in a short period of time. Israeli startups on the other hand can learn how to take on the next growth step, as small well running businesses. How to successfully take the leap from 100 to 1000 employees. This kind of thing is lacking in Israel, as there are hardly any companies of such size. A „Small SME“ in Germany is a large corporation in Israel. Businesses from our metropolitan region are real pros when it comes to expansion. Startups in Israel will very often reach a point early on, where the managers are no longer capable of coordinating further growth. At this point large corporations will often take over – which is not always good for the business. We would love to gain some of your knowledge on how to master these transitions.
What is the key to success in the Tel Aviv startup scene?
Jonathan Glick: Truthfully, Tel Aviv has no magic powers. Jerusalem is our capital city, while Tel Aviv is the business metropolis. The city has a good banking system and is internationally oriented. As Israels party and lifestyle capital, Tel Aviv has a real attraction for young people from all over the country. Young people and startup culture just belong together, they go hand in hand. Maybe the success of Israeli startups also comes from our peoples willingness to take risks. Both our history and our geopolitical situation has taught us to deal with risks. This might explain why we seem to deal better with risk-taking than many other countries. Furthermore, there are no companies such as Daimler, VW or Siemens here. There is also no middle class as Germany has it. Our highly qualified university graduates must take control of their own destiny and found their own businesses. There simply aren’t any large companies that offer a safe career path for us.
Florian Fischer: I feel it is part of Israeli-Jewish heritage to keep a high level of flexibility in life. Many Israelis demand of themselves to adhere to their chosen path and to do their jobs as well as possible.
Jonathan Glick: I don’t want to get tied up in the stereotypes connected with being a Jew, but I feel that to suffer persecution makes people develop a high degree of adaptability. If one is forced to leave the country and resettle, one must learn to adapt to things quickly. The ability to adapt to ever-changing contexts forms the character of a society and this also applies to the economy. Only a few years ago nobody was really involved in the issue of autonomous driving. The idea arose and Israeli startups were immediately all over it. We moved very fast, much faster than Germany with its established and long running tradition of car manufacturing.
Florian Fischer: Especially the automotive industry is an excellent example of how Israel and Germany can work together. We build great hardware and Israel produces great software – I see great potential here.
Would you give us some insight on how you guys plan on structuring this accelerator?
Florian Fischer: There will be a ten-week innovation program that aims to bring together businesses from Baden-Wuerttemberg with startups from Israel. For two weeks the participants will be in Tel Aviv and for the rest of the time things will happen in Mannheim. Over the course of the program business consultants supplied by our partner Roland Berger will coach participants as part of an innovation training program. We aim to create joint ventures and partnerships that are tailor-made to suit the requirements of the German company sides. First of all, we wish to find out what these exact requirements are. Once we have found this out we wish to connect fitting Israeli startups with the German companies. We hope to create exciting and constructive partnerships through our program.
Jonathan Glick: Both sides will profit from the program. German businesses will gain a new perspective on innovation. Small start-ups tend to act very fast. Decision-making processes and meetings are usually a lot more time-optimized compared to big businesses. With his department for digital transformation Roland Berger wishes to support German businesses in successfully interacting with startups. Many times there is a giant divide between these corporate cultures, which one should not underestimate. There are numerous examples of how this kind of collaboration can go wrong. Also acquisitions of startups will often fail, in spite of the fact that both parties complement each other extremely well. We see our role as a kind of intermediary between these two worlds. This pilot program is meant to bring the two worlds together. Newly acquired knowledge can be field tested right away. As Israeli startups traditionally take their cues from English-speaking regions this is going to be a very exciting experience for everyone involved.
Let us take a look into the future. Are there plans yet? Will this be the first of many years of this program?
Jonathan Glick: We have a saying: „To take the stairs all the way up, one must only focus on each next step.“ Another little cultural difference between Israel and Germany. When we think of a long-term project we have a timespan of one year in mind, which is very short by german standards.
Florian Fischer: We have many plans for the future. And yes, we intend to repeat the program. We wish to host the program biannually.
Jonathan Glick: If I dare to look into the future, I am firmly convinced of one thing: Mannheim will be the place in Germany where businesses from all over the country get in contact with highly innovative startups. I’m not just referring to Israeli startups, but also too the core of the regional scene. Mannheim will become a role model as an innovative intersection between german businesses and the startup scene. This I am sure of.
Interview: Andreas Stanita / LA.MAG Content. Corporate. Communication.
Photos: Sebastian Weindel