On the 5th of April the time has come: The startup week Düsseldorf starts. Ingo Stefes from Wirtschaftsförderung Düsseldorf is one of the organizers of the event. We talked to him about how the startup week came about and what the biggest milestones were. He also told us what role politics plays in the development of a start-up ecosystem.
The startup week will take place for the fourth time this year. How did the idea come about?
Ingo Stefes: In 2014, Thomas Geisel was elected as the new Lord Mayor, who emphasized the importance of the start-up scene in his election campaign. As a result, the whole topic suddenly had a much higher priority. In the context of this start-up initiative, the startup week was born. At the beginning this was planned as a very small format with about ten organizers. For example, the CCI should be present and offer its services and advisory services together with other companies. Before that I worked in the founding scene at the University of Düsseldorf and asked other companies and consultants from my network if they did not want to participate. Then the whole thing has become a bit far apart. In the first year finally 40 organizers came about.
How was this first startup week recorded?
Ingo Stefes: The first year saw an incredible 2000 visitors. Because of this shockingly good response, we decided to continue. For example, as organizers, we take care of the tickets and everything else that goes along with it. The organizers consider their own concept with which they participate. Especially with the support of the city, this event continues to be very attractive for many companies. The core, however, should definitely be to do more for Düsseldorf start-ups.
Why did you choose Düsseldorf?
Ingo Stefes: Dusseldorf is already a great business location with good infrastructure. Airport and highways are very easy to reach. In addition, many large companies such as Vodafone, Metro, Henkel or QVC had already settled in Dusseldorf, which are considered as possible cooperation partners for start-ups. In addition, the good living conditions in the state capital make it easier for start-ups to find workforce. This point should not be underestimated, because to get a start-up fast, you need highly qualified people. These in turn have certain demands on living and working conditions. It’s also practical if you do not have to start from scratch. Because of the coworking spaces, some start-ups had already formed in Düsseldorf.
To what extent does politics support this development?
Ingo Stefes: The city of Düsseldorf and politics are behind topics such as innovation and start-up promotion. This support, which we learn, among others, from the mayor of Düsseldorf, is important and by no means self-evident.
Our goal is a start-up ecosystem. For this purpose we want to develop new ideas as business promotion. For example, the start-up safari in the fall will give start-ups another chance to present themselves. It certainly helps that business development here in Düsseldorf is a city office and not privatized. Although we have to give an account, we also have the necessary resources and support.
How can you evaluate the Dusseldorf start-up ecosystem for the moment?
Ingo Stefes: Similar to Cologne Cathedral it will probably never finish. And that’s a good thing, because if everything stays as it is and nothing changes, it’s boring.
This start-up initiative has made a lot of progress in recent years. The application for funding by the “Digital Economy NRW” initiative, the emergence of new initiatives such as digihub and the creation of more and more networks certainly deserve special mention. This will then also events such as the Digital Demo Day out. There you can make new contacts to companies on site and get the opportunity to expand your private and professional network.
New coworking spaces are constantly being created, more and more companies are engaged in innovation and digitization, and the promotion of young people and children in the field is also progressing. All of this is important for the start-up ecosystem to grow.
However, this diverse ecosystem often seems confusing at first glance. That may be a deterrent. So it’s even better that more and more private initiatives are developing, such as the Startup Sprint. This is a point of contact for founders and those interested in making it easier to enter this ecosystem.
What can be described as a special success of the startup week?
Ingo Stefes: There is now an increased mutual perception of start-ups and established companies. The city of Dusseldorf is also increasingly perceived as an attractive location for start-ups nationwide, which subsequently motivates an increasing number of start-ups to come here. Because in Düsseldorf you will find know-how, support and networks. The startup week promotes this process.
And what will be even better in the next few years?
Ingo Stefes: An ecosystem needs well-educated, young, courageous talents in all sorts of areas who are willing to start a start-up or to be part of it. An even better cooperation with the universities is very important for this. But even the city itself can do more so that young people see self-employment as an equal career option. We also want to further international networking so that we can get in touch with the local start-ups, understand differences in the way we work and ultimately learn from them.
Also published on Medium.