The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted a roundtable discussion with GMF board member Chris Schroeder in Berlin on the opportunities and challenges of tech entrepreneurship in a changing global environment. The discussion was moderated by Sudha David-Wilp, senior transatlantic fellow and deputy director of GMF’s Berlin Office. Daniela Schwarzer, director for the Europe Program and the Berlin Office, opened the discussion with welcoming remarks.
Chris Schroeder, entrepreneur, author, and technology advisor, remarked on the importance of emerging markets in the Middle East, specifically Iran, as well as Rwanda in Africa. He highlighted the ubiquitous access of technology, which political decision makers still find hard to fathom. He estimates that 2/3 of the population will be in possession of a smart device, which will open new channels for empowerment and have societal ramifications. He cited 25 million educational videos that were uploaded in a mere nine months in Egypt alone.
The ensuing discussion involving international and local entrepreneurs, business angels, and venture capitalists swiftly shifted to the opportunities and challenges Europe and cities such as Berlin offer, or in the latter case, hinder from becoming successful ecosystems. Arguments included the absence of a common European language, Germany's privacy data issues and the ambivalent perception regarding entrepreneurship. Other examples included the city of Dublin's approach to make it as easy as possible for start-ups, such as a low corporate tax and the ability of existing infrastructure to guarantee immediate functionality. Dublin has evolved to be the gateway to Europe for many American companies, tax and talent are the prime reasons. Recommendations for cities to retain talent and entrepreneurs included listening to need and the ability to move goods, people, and ideas. Moreover, the current generation is highly mobile and will gravitate to places offering the right backdrop for success. Berlin still offers a unique energy with real opportunities, an entrepreneurial scene that is hungry and dedicated. However, a need for early education on entrepreneurship clearly shows in the hesitancy of Germans to accept equity over cash when the opportunity is given. There is desire for security rather than risk taking.
The discussion was held at Factory Berlin, the campus for founders and innovators, located in Berlin-Mitte.