European Pirate Summit 2012: Putting Cologne on the Startup Radar

European Pirate Summit 2012 - 1


One of the bigger discussion points at the Summit was if Europe or the European Startup Ecosystem can match the one in the US (or Silicon Valley / California to be more specific). On some level there was also discussion whether London is the (only) place to be if you’re a startup in Europe. But I’ve also repeatedly heard to focus on your product: So, I’ll only touch upon that discussion a bit later and will focus on the arrrrr!-wesome European Pirate Summit!

I’ve long awaited the second edition of European Pirate Summit after I’ve missed the premiere last year! The venue stayed the same, which is Odonien – a scrapyard theme park meets DIY-electronics. With fire.

Aboard the ship

The conference welcomed 500 guests from all over Europe. And though they came from all different parts of Europe, a big chunk did come from Germany. The 2-day event was split into the “Captain’s Deck”, which was the main platform, the “Engine Room”, which had more focussed discussions on specific issues and the pitch room, where startups can pitch their idea to fellow startups and angels/VCs/what-have-you. While on “Captain’s Deck” you will have panels discussing “From investment to exit – an angel cycle” or have the startup pitch competition, the “Engine Room” hosted talks such as “Bootstrap your startup with online freelancers” or “Crowdsourcing in EU: From mechanical turk to serious cloud labor”. And of course there’s loads of open space to just chat with other entrepreneurs, ex-entrepreneurs-turned-VC and everything in between, while having a drink from the all-inclusive bar.

The level the startups are in varies, I met with several people who were still developing a concept and haven’t even yet got a name for their brand / company, upto startups that have launched and received several million Euros in funding already.

You would also see different types of finance guys, from angels with a (tighter) budget up to big VCs that represent a company which handles billions of Euros in investment (Tip by many experienced pirates/VCs: Don’t start a company with an exit in mind!). And in the mix you would also see many bloggers, journalists, editors, PR people. And some of the youngest coders in the world!

Look up these pirates

Two startups to take note of, who faced off in the final pitches battle, are HoneyTracks, – a game analytics software – and Boxcryptor which provides on-the-fly encryption for cloud storage (i.e. Dropbox or Google Drive servers can only see garbage data). They “walked the plank” and faced tough questions from expert judges to emerge as the top two of dozens of startups.

The whole summit also had a bit of an American feel to it as well, with the event’s MC being Evan Nisselson (@nisselson) from New York, an experienced entrepreneur and startup mentor (and photographer!) – who did a really good job in guiding the pirates through the whole event.

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On stage you would often see Milo Yiannopoulos (also in the opening keynote), founder of the tech/startup website The Kernel, who doesn’t mind using curse and stepping on some people’s toes (not literally, of course) when sharing some of his insights.

My personal favorite was Lars Hinrichs of HackFwd, who also founded the German-based business social network Xing about 10 years ago. Behind a cool and calm exterior you would find a really smart entrepreneur with a strong sense of responsibility and a fierce determination (kind of reminds of Bill Gates, to tell you the truth). His tip: “Only if you make a mistake twice, then it’s a failure.”

Thoughts on the European startup ecosystem

There were several discussions about startup ecosystems. And yes, Silicon Valley IS huge. And London is starting to be the hub for entrepreneurs in Europe. But Berlin is surely emerging as a top contender as well. Cologne is perhaps not that advanced in terms of startup ecosystem, but I’ve always preferred betting on a dark horse. Being in Cologne the last 6 years, I definitely feel a vibe that Cologne is emerging. In my opinion, if Cologne was an entrepreneur stock, Warren Buffet would probably file the city under “value investments” (if the city weren’t as corrupt as it is… sigh).

Europe being what it is, one of the arguments was that the ecosystem is spread across the continent. But some investors noted, it wouldn’t mind seeing government funding kicking off the process of creating an even stronger and more established ecosystem. Silicon Valley and a couple of other noteworthy high tech / startup hubs (such as Israel) also started with government backing. So even though London is the current frontrunner in Europe, it doesn’t mean that other cities should be ignored.

In his closing keynote speech, Saul Klein of Index Ventures says that we are just scratching the surface and to prove his point he presented a list of successful European entrepreneurs changing the way we do business.

Was it a perfect event?

Of course not! How boring would that be? Being a German, I’ll also go into some constructive criticism (but being partially Indonesian, I’ll be nice, too): The venue (did I tell you it’s located across an 8-story brothel + strip club, by the way?) did pose some tough challenges for the organizers I assume, with none of the technical equipment being pre-installed and no sound-proof rooms available. But what they had developed based on that was an awesome place to be! Something where you can tell your friends “you just had to be there to feel the craziness”. But sometimes it was hard to listen to the speakers talking, with all that active networking and idea exchanging going in the background. This did provide more of a flexibility to move between the activities but also increased the noise level. Also the schedule was often a bit off, so I never had the sense when something was going to start and planning which session to see was sometimes a bit difficult.

But these things are just some small dents in this otherwise memorable event! I’m quite sure I will join next year! If you’re considering of going, take the self-test and find out if you’re pirate.

Thanks to the Crew

The whole Pirate Summit Crew – Till, Maurice, Fabian and Waldemar being the core organizers – did a tremendous job setting up the whole event, many of them still studying or working somewhere. I’ve met many new people and got some helpful insights into the startup / tech / pirate world!

European Pirate Summit 2012 - 7 Everything on the main stage happens under the watchful eye of the MC’s event Evan Nisselson.

European Startup Summit 2012 - 6Some of the youngest app developers – young pirates!

European Pirate Summit 2012 - 5 The engine room provided some space for specific discussions

European Pirate Summit 2012 - 2 “Arrrr!!!” Was the main language of the pirates!

European Pirate Summit 2012 - 4 Trick question: How many VCs does it take to run a summit?

Three at European Pirate Summit 2012 Having met all three… who are you most afraid of?

Party at the European Pirate Summit 2012 This is how most people will have remembered the parties “There were pirates, bright lights and a lot of blurry things”

Fire Entertainment 1 at European Pirate Summit 2012 Evening Entertainment: Yes, that guy was trying to hurt himself with some heavy machinery

Evening Entertainment 2 at European Pirate Summit 2012 My excuse: “No, really, it’s a conference for young companies and financing.”

Always online at the European Pirate Summit 2012 Always online.

Toilets at the European Pirate Summit 2012 The toilets. Seriously.

Out of beer at the European Pirate Summit 2012 That moment when you say: “We’ve overdrank our drinking budget already. By a lot!”

Burning the corporate guy at the European Pirate Summit 2012 Burning the corporate guy

Talking PR in the engine room at the European Pirate Summit 2012 Talking PR in the engine room

Robot fire at European Pirate Summit 2012 Cowboy + Robot + Fire… what’s not to like??

Working at the European Pirate Summit 2012 Just because you’re on stage and a beautiful girl is gonna ask you questions, doesn’t mean you should stop working. Now THAT’s what I call focus. Or A.D.D. .

Closing Robot Performance

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