“Karlsruhe is motor of digitization and hotspot for digital pioneers”

09/01/2016  |  CODE_n16 Startup CONTEST, Entrepreneurship, Interview

You want to know why your startup should settle down in Karlsruhe rather than Munich or Berlin? Who better to speak to than Matthias Hornberger – board member of our new.New Festival supporter Cyberforum and CFO of Kizoo – who knows the city better than anyone else. In this interview, we also took the opportunity to talk to Matthias about his opinion of many more aspects, like the way the tech scene has changed over the years or his advice for startups fishing for venture capital.

Matthias, you are CyberForum’s Chairman of the Board, and CFO of Kizoo Technology Capital, an investment company with a focus on digital startups. Which advice do you give a startup fishing for venture capital?

Matthias: Build a great product disrupting a large addressable market with a clear focus and a strong, tech-oriented team. Swing for the fences! The business model of venture capitalist does not allow for investments into small target markets or products far away from having true customer impact. (A solo entrepreneur also does not fit the ideal profile. Especially in tech startups, teamwork and complementary skills are absolutely necessary).

Matthias Hornberger, CFO, Kizoo Technology Capital GmbH

Matthias Hornberger, CFO, Kizoo Technology Capital GmbH | Fotograf: Christian Ernst

Talking process, preparation is key. Create an equity story convincing enough not only for the upcoming round, prepare a crisp pitch deck and then strive to get `warm` introductions. This significantly increases the chance to earn a shot at the can, a date to present personally. Know your counterpart before you enter the ring and – if you lose the bout – hang in there. Stamina is the most important character property of entrepreneurs – young or old.

You have been working in the tech industry for 16 years. Around 2000, you took part in building up WEB.DE to be Germany’s leading internet portal at the time. What distinguishes today’s tech-scene, or especially today’s tech-startups from the former tech-scene?

Matthias: Back then, the internet was mostly uncharted territory. Everybody felt there was something really big to conquer, but nobody knew exactly how to do it. Not only did we lack most of todays’ off-the-shelves tech solutions – WEB.DE ran its own data center on a proprietary language – people did not have the education, too. Everybody had to pick up technical and business knowledge – step by step and trial and error. At WEB.DE we probably tested 30 to 40 business models before we got it right. On the other hand you had the chance to prove yourself as a real digital pioneer – it was kind of a gold-rush atmosphere with all the positives and negatives coming with that.

Nowadays founders have the opportunity to acquire the skills of being a technical-focused entrepreneur in many places including university. Especially in Karlsruhe, we have great universities for this – Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences. Both of them rank at the very top in known surveys among students or employers and have a great output of highly skilled and motivated tech people.

Having the right skill set as well as an idea and a team it is much easier to get proof of concept than back in 2000. You can completely focus on your core value proposition and just buy into the necessary infrastructure to launch a service. You could use platforms-as-a-service and embed your own technology by an application programming interface. You can do your accounting in a low-cost way by using cloud services and you can improve your online marketing performance by systems based on machine learning. There are a lot of technical possibilities to facilitate daily business. Still, the idea has to be good – and the execution of the team has to be great!

You mentioned Karlsruhe. In case I build up a startup, why should I decide to do so in Karlsruhe – and not in Munich or Berlin?

Matthias: Karlsruhe has great advantages especially for B2B ventures. Many of our startups are spin-offs of our universities and usually have a deep-tech background. Acquisition of tech personal is easier and the proximity of large, solution seeking B2B customers helps a lot. Compared to larger cities, we have a merged and non-bureaucratic ecosystem for startups and the personal atmosphere that makes it easy to exchange ideas and know-how or to establish ties with potential business partners. We have an intense and efficient cooperation between the universities of Karlsruhe, the municipality, clusters such as CyberForum and technology firms – all these players are really interested in supporting upcoming generations of entrepreneurs. Karlsruhe is motor of digitization and hotbed for tech entrepreneurs.

For the first time, CODE_n new.New Festival takes place in Karlsruhe. What do you expect from that event, regarding the regional startup scene?

Matthias: We are thrilled to have this top notch innovation festival in town. This gives us international visibility and momentum. It is a show room not only for innovative companies from all over the world. The CODE_n16 CONTEST will set the stage for two startups from Karlsruhe: otego, offering a sustainable technology of energy generation for wireless sensors; and Kinemic, developing a gesture control software for digital devices.

Thus, CODE_n gives us an exceptional opportunity to spark a fire of innovation and to present Karlsruhe to the broad public as the hotspot for digital pioneers it is. I am excited to be a part of this amazing event!

Thanks so much for the interview, Matthias – and see you in Karlsruhe!

Want to see Matthias live on stage during the new.New Festival? Click here.