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Hergen Wöbken: "We don't always have to spray hot air in Berlin"

Hergen Wöbken: "We don't always have to spray hot air in Berlin"
Photo: © IFSE

Booming Berlin“ – is the title of a new study by the Institute for Strategy Development (IFSE). The study examined the development of the Berlin start-up scene from 2012 to 2016. The result: Berlin start-up companies will be Berlin's largest employer in a few years. At the same time, they hardly cooperate with the creative scene at all. What is the reason for this? Can this be changed? Should it be changed? We spoke with Hergen Wöbken, publisher of the study, strategy consultant for organizations and decision makers from business, culture and politics.



CCB Magazine: Hello Mr. Wöbken, you and the Institute for Strategy Development (IFSE) have investigated the developments of the Berlin start-up scene from 2012 to 2016 in your study "Booming Berlin". One result is that start-ups and the creative scene have hardly cooperated at all so far. Were you surprised by these results?

Hergen Wöbken: It's amazing that one of the world's largest creative scenes has so far hardly found any connection to the local start-up scene. But for connoisseurs of both scenes this is not really new or surprising. And it's alarming. Our aim now was to draw more attention to this topic. Many players in the start-up scene have moved to Berlin because, among other things, there is a diverse creative scene here. And of course there are already many points of contact. However, only about 20 out of 620 startups have a connection to the creative industry in terms of content. And so the potential - for both sides - is far from exhausted.

CCB Magazine:Why is it that start-ups and the creative scene in Berlin hardly cooperate at all so far?

Hergen Wöbken: In the beginning, start-ups were mainly successful with business models that focus on imitation and efficient implementation. This brought a culture to the city that is in conflict with a Berlin work culture of the "digital bohemian" around the turn of the millennium. This culture also includes the notion of sustainability, which some representatives, especially in the creative industries, oppose to a profit orientation, although this need not be a contradiction in terms. Now it's important to make this field of tension fruitful and create a Berlin start-up culture that combines profitability with a sense of purpose and innovation with sustainable business models.

We need a Berlin start-up culture that combines profitability with meaning and innovation with sustainable business models

CCB Magazine:How does this work?

Hergen Wöbken: First of all through classical mediation work. On the one hand, you have to convey to creative people that setting up a business requires a great deal of creativity, but can also offer independence, self-realization and the creation of meaning. On the other hand, investors must be made aware that new business models in the creative industries have a lot of potential. And this is especially true when the focus is not on maximizing short-term returns, but on creating long-term value. Incidentally, these are the virtues of the social market economy, with which German SMEs in particular have made a significant contribution to Germany's economic strength in recent decades. After all, we are facing revolutionary changes. And so it is better to actively and jointly help shape them. This is why increased cooperation between start-ups and creative people is also desirable.

CCB Magazine:What do you have to do for it?  

Hergen Wöbken: First of all we need mediation platforms. These can be established by large companies in the creative industries in their own interest. It's also conceivable that small players in the creative industries could join forces. And we need incubators, accelerators and events and workshops with a focus on start-ups and the creative industries. This is not about well-meant support for founders. It's about dreaming together, sweeping away many of the ideas of the printing company, developing great visions for a networked world and then translating them into business plans. Strong outside mediators can accelerate this process and benefit from it themselves.

CCB Magazine:The creative industry is a broad field and comprises around eleven sub-markets. Were you able to identify industry-specific characteristics in your study that have so far prevented cooperation?

Hergen Wöbken: No. But it could be a mistake to still think in old industry boundaries. We were already concerned about this in 2010, back then in connection with the so-called music industry, but it applies to all areas of the digital creative industries: The technical distribution medium Internet was the end of many exploitation models of the creative industries. It's also the end for the industry boundaries within the creative industries.

CCB Magazine:One result of your study is that in a few years start-up companies will be Berlin's largest employer. Already today, the young companies in the city together employ around 13,200 people. In Berlin's creative industries, on the other hand, every second creative and cultural worker cannot live from his or her actual work and does not hire additional employees. How do you solve this problem?

Hergen Wöbken: The problem of Berlin's creative industries was not the subject of our study on start-ups in Berlin. But we are happy to develop solutions to it, if anyone is interested. Regarding the number of employees in the start-ups, it has to be said that the number of Berlin start-ups has doubled in the last three years and has thus risen to 620 by the beginning of 2016. In 78 percent of these companies, there are fewer than 22 employees, while only about eight percent employ about half of all employees. We have very different workplace conditions here. That's why we can't join in the general and unreflected praise of start-ups and their job creation.

Berlin will never become the new Silicon Valley

CCB Magazine:"Berlin will never become the new Silicon Valley," is one of your conclusions. Do you find that good or bad?

Hergen Wöbken: That's the way it is. We in Germany have to understand that Berlin and unfortunately no other German location can be the new Silicon Valley. Instead, we have to bring together all the different strengths of the comparatively small locations in Germany and beyond in Europe so that we don't miss the boat. As far as Berlin is concerned, we should reflect on our own strengths.

CCB Magazine:What are Berlin's strengths?

Hergen Wöbken: Berlin is characterized by its culture, diversity and decentralization, and we should preserve that. Berlin is a border city for adventurers and has a wonderful history, a high heterogeneity, this is unique, this is also a treasure of this city! We don't always have to spray hot air. Why? For what? The most important thing for Berlin is a realistic and at the same time self-confident assessment of its own strengths, but also its weaknesses. Hype has at most a marketing effect, although I strongly doubt the sustainability of this effect. So if you question the hype, you don't want to criticize, but rather create a solid basis for further development.

CCB Magazine:In the study, you emphasized that it is the task of politics to answer the question in which direction the digital economy between participation and platform capitalism must be developed in the future. What advice do you give politicians?

Hergen Wöbken: I do not give advice to anyone who does not ask me. As a citizen of this city, I demand that our politicians admit that with the digital transformation of society all yesterday's recipes and solutions are outdated. And of course I am happy to help develop new approaches and solution models.

CCB Magazine:But which models do you prioritize for the future? And what in particular would have to be done for the creative industries in Berlin? By whom and in what form?

Hergen Wöbken: Much has already been said and thought about this. Just do it! The alliance platforms mentioned above and increased cooperation are important. But there are also binding commitments from politicians. These can also be rejections. Kurt Hackenberg, from 1955 to 1979 the City of Cologne's Councillor for Art and Culture, made this exemplary: he promoted cultural education, supported experimental culture and brought people together in the city. He always made concrete promises and refusals. This is important, also for Berlin. Not all experiments will be crowned with success, that's also clear. But that's not too bad. Those who always defend old business models have already lost.

CCB Magazine:  Mr. Wöbken, thank you very much for the interview.

 An overview of the complete study is available here

Category: Knowledge & Analysis


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