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HamburgAmbassador Meeting © Christian Spahrbier

International start-up scene showing growing interest in Hamburg

Survey: "The chances of securing start-ups from other countries for Hamburg have never been as good. "We just need to tell the story"

This year’s annual HamburgAmbassadors meeting is being held from May 6-9 under the theme “Start-ups – Innovation made in Hamburg”. Dr. Rolf Strittmatter, Chairman of the Executive Board of Hamburg Marketing, remarked: “Start-ups are the breeding ground for the global companies and family businesses of tomorrow, and thus essential for Hamburg’s future as a sustainable business location.”

Yet another important reason for keeping HamburgAmbassadors – as facilitators and networkers outside Germany – up to speed up on innovations in Hamburg, he believes. Thirty-five HamburgAmbassadors currently represent the city’s interests in 24 countries on an honorary basis. Hamburg News put questions to certain HamburgAmbassadors ahead of the gathering: How is the start-up culture evolving in other countries? What kind of support is there and what are the chances of luring start-ups from Denmark, London or Chicago, for example, to Hamburg, and for closer co-operation?

Hamburg offers good, basic conditions for start-ups

The trend favours Hamburg in the start-up scene, according to the Start-Up Monitor of the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (Reconstruction Credit Institute), Hamburg has the most new start-ups in Germany. Hamburg Invest’s Start-Up Unit was set up with a view to boosting this positive development. Its aim is to enhance Hamburg’s start-up ecosystem and to increase its visibility nationally and internationally.

Start-up culture evolving

The HamburgAmbassadors rated the development of start-ups in their respective host countries as outstanding. Nils Blunck, HamburgAmbassador in Hungary, pointed out: “There are now start-ups in all business sectors. In around 2010, the Hungarian start-up ecosystem comprised a few hundred active individuals and start-ups; between 2012 and 2014 the number of start-ups increased considerably, and since then constantly.” In Denmark, HamburgAmbassador Jens-Peter Saul has observed a primarily technical impulse for innovation: “The bustling and creative start-up environment has given birth to some of the most successful technological companies and pioneering start-ups in the world in AI, Big Data, Block Chain, health technology and the Internet of Things (IoT).”

How other countries promote their start-ups

The HamburgAmbassadors are moreover observing a wide variety of approaches to funding in creating a fertile start-up culture. HamburgAmbassador Leif H. Sjöström from Stockholm reports: “Promoting start-ups plays a central role in the Swedish government’s employment policy.” In Latvia there is even a Start-Up Act’, “that cuts the start-ups’ non-wage labour costs and facilitates investment by providers of venture capital,” said Christopher Zimmer, HamburgAmbassador in the Baltic Region. And Christoph Lichtenfeld from Chicago points to a multiplicity of incubators and co-working spaces, as well as leading venture capital companies. There is good reason for the latter: “Chicago’s start-ups are in the lead when it comes to return for investors,” he noted.

Geballte Kompetenz für die Hamburger Medien- und Digitalbranche

Effort is repaid

In addition, the HamburgAmbassadors mention innovation hubs and research parks, business angels, case competitions and crowd funding events that make it easier for start-ups to put their ideas into practice. Robert Pfarrwaller, HamburgAmbassador in Austria, is certain that the input is repaid. “There have already been a number of major successes, for example the sale to Adidas last year of Runtastic, a running App, for more than EUR 200 million.” He points to mySugr as another successful example.” This company has developed an app-based comprehensive diabetes care programme that was taken over in 2017 by Hoffmann-La Roche – one of the world’s largest pharma companies. Around 40 per cent of the start-ups in his host country derive from the digital sector and 19 per cent from the life sciences sector, Pfarrwaller estimates.

Hamburg attractive to foreign start-ups as a business location

A promising sales market is always key to business success. But this is limited in smaller countries, such as the Baltic region or Austria. “People look in the direction of Germany for that reason,” said Christopher Zimmer, HamburgAmbassador in the Baltic Region. HamburgAmbassadors, as honorary ambassadors abroad, have a decisive role to play when the focus turns to Hamburg in particular. In principle they see great potential for co-operation in the start-up scene between Hamburg and their host countries.

Securing the MassChallenge Accelerator for Hamburg?

This could even increase, Hans Christoph Lampert, HamburgAmbassador in England believes. Given the extremely high cost of living in London, he has observed growing interest in Hamburg in the youthful and dynamic start-up scene. “Hamburg is cool and has a lot to offer young people and their families.” With a bit of support – with respect to questions on health care and the German educational system – there is a good chance of relocating to Hamburg, he said. The more often Hamburg presents itself there, the greater the interest, as was shown by the Hamburg on Tour event last autumn. Lampert added: “We just need to tell the story.”

Seeing and seizing the opportunities are seen as key to a successful relocation strategy. Bodo Liesenfeld, HamburgAmbassador in Boston, believes there is a good chance of securing the player MassChallenge – by it’s own account “the most start-up-friendly accelerator on the planet” – for Hamburg. “MassChallenge aims to set up a base in Germany and is looking for a partner,” he pointed out. A move has to be made now, as the company is also thinking about Berlin.

Overview of Hamburg's start-up scene

The bilingual White Paper (German and English) by Hamburg News offers all kind of experts’ practical tips and tricks and interesting reports about start-ups’ first steps in Hamburg. The download link can be found in the top right of this page.
Link to White Paper


The HamburgAmbassadors international network has been in existence for 13 years and is unique in Germany with respect to it’s structure. Appointed by the mayor, HamburgAmbassadors act in an honorary capacity. The network is under the auspices of Hamburg Marketing GmbH, which also takes care of the organization and co-ordination of the HamburgAmbassadors programme.
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