August 30, 2016

Germany’s Silicon Valley

By focusing on the site of “The Factory,” future archeologists digging in Berlin could learn a great deal about how technological changes in the previous three centuries transformed the world.

This 130,000 square foot building was a brewery in the 19th century and an air raid shelter in the 20th century. Now, in the early 21st century, it is mecca for Europe’s entrepreneurs and high tech workers. The Factory is also a testament to the late 20th century political winds that swept through eastern Germany and East Berlin. It overlooks an area where, during the Cold War, East German watchtower guards shot at people trying to escape to West Berlin.

Today, the retrofitted factory “is packed with all the perks of a Silicon Valley campus: nap rooms, scooters, 3D printing stations,” reports Bloomberg Businessweek. “It’s a social club for startups,” the Factory’s co-founder told the magazine. But it’s not all fun and games. “A decade ago there were a few dozen tech startups in Berlin. Now there are 2,500, and the Investitionsbank Berlin, the government’s regional economic development agency, says there are 70 percent more digital jobs there than there were in 2008,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

And these startups are giving German’s big high tech companies a run for their money when it comes to attracting hardware and software developers. A 27-year old code writer who moved from Austria to Berlin told the magazine, “I really want to work for a startup. You have more responsibilities. It’s not just 9-to-5. You actually change something and your opinion matters.”

Connecticut’s newly established CTNext hopes to give The Factory, Silicon Valley, South Boston and other innovation centers a run for their money. The legislature gave this Connecticut Innovations, Inc. subsidiary the resources to help grass roots organizations make it easier for innovators and entrepreneurs to hook up and launch new businesses. (See the OLR bill analysis for SB 502, May Special Session, sections 1-9.)