Embarrassingly conventional – startups are failing on diversity

Hamburg has serious ambitions to become a truly international city – whatever that means. On 21st March this year, it was announced that our city will be Germany’s candidate for the 2024 (and failing that, 2028) Olympics. This could catapult Hamburg onto the international stage, finally giving Hamburg the international profile that it deserves as Germany’s second largest and arguably nicest city.

In one aspect, the city’s campaign has room for improvement: diversity. In the push to get Hamburg selected as Germany’s candidate city, twelve Hamburg ad agencies stepped in to help. Unfortunately, the image they presented of Hamburg was anything but fitting for an international city:  a picture of the founders, owners and CEOs showed a group of twelve white men.

I, and many other people who know the multinational, metropolitan side of Hamburg, felt a bit embarrassed. How can a city launching an international publicity campaign be blind to something so important (and obvious)?

But surely having a startup ecosystem, with disruption in its very DNA, is a chance to turn mainstream society on its head and show how we can get the most out of all people, no matter what race, religion, colour, creed or gender? Not so fast – looking to Silicon Valley, with only 10% of female founders, startup ecosystems seem to be falling short of these lofty aims.

Sketchnotes by Ines Schaffranek

In Hamburg only 12% women founded a Startup, in Silicon Valley only 10% (Sketchnotes by Ines Schaffranek)


In fact, instead of leading the way it seems that old economy companies like Yahoo (with CEO Marissa Meyer), and Intel (with its $300m diversity drive) are making more progress than their upstart counterparts. And Hillary Clinton, previous to launching her presidential bid, ticked off Silicon Valley for its massive male majority. This is unfortunately one trend that startups around the world not only haven’t set, but have missed completely.

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Attracting talent to Hamburg: building relationships and solving problems

Hamburg looks very different from an international perspective than it does domestically. Within the German-speaking world, Hamburg is a strong brand: everyone has heard of the Michel, the Reeperbahn, the port, the Speicherstadt, the musicals and increasingly the Hafencity. Even individual neighbourhoods like St. Pauli, Eppendorf and Eimsbüttel are familiar at least by name, and Hamburg is known as Germany’s media powerhouse. So justifiably, to people in the DACH region, Hamburg is level with places like London and can easily compete with Berlin.

But internationally, Hamburg is not as well known. No-one has heard of the Michel, the Reeperbahn is just a red light district, and most people aren’t aware of Hamburg’s maritime identity. Internationally, people have heard of Hamburg, but couldn’t say where it is on the map.


Hamburg’s not well known abroad. Sketchnotes: Ines Schaffranek

Every now and then, we hear that the authorities in Hamburg want to bolster our international standing: whether to attract more tourists, or – more relevant to Hamburg Startups – attract the brightest and best. I think they are sometimes perplexed by the disconnect between Hamburg’s success within Germany and the outside world. The question is: how to resolve it? How to make Hamburg more attractive internationally, so that talented people want to come and live here, found companies, build a life and make a contribution? Read more

5 PR lessons startups can learn from Hollywood’s most famous rebel – guestpost by Lina Wüller

She is in an intense and wild story and people everywhere are curious. She has spent her entire life believing and following her own way. She was completely wild, but never a bad person. Driving all the attention to her. She stands up for what she believes is right. And most importantly, she allowed herself to fail and  learn from mistakes.

She grew up in the public eye, yet was never afraid to be different: When she married for the first time, she walked down the aisle in black rubber trousers and a white shirt which had the groom’s name scrawled on it in her blood. It didn’t last. She then married a bad boy 20 years older than her – both wearing vials of each other’s blood. When she was young she tried all different kind of drugs, drank too much and checked herself into rehab. She made no secret about her sex life and she loved girls as much as she loved boys. No matter how hard she pushed, she was surrounded by media attention treating the red carpet like it was her living room.

5 PR Lessons

5 PR Lessons

Today, she might be a wife and mother, but she sure as hell hasn’t stopped being a rebel. She fell in love with an A-lister and her now-husband on the set of a film, has adopted three children and had three of her own because that’s what she wanted to do. She has never cared about what people said about her. She is an award winner, a Dame, a human rights advocate, and a UNHCR Goodwill ambassador taking part in field missions around the world. She is one of the highest paid and most recognised celebrities in the world.

We are talking about  Angelina Jolie who believes in bringing attention to the good cause and in promoting humanitarian issues. She has so much energy, and so much goodness. She campaigns loudly, and communicates with fire. She is a rebel, but a rebel with a very good cause. Here are 5 lesson we can learn from her: Read more

Startups need monkeys not elephants

At the Startup Mixers, networking events organised by Hamburg Startups, you’ll find a mixture of founders, startup employees, people who are thinking of starting startups, and, er, people who are just somehow attracted to the startup scene. The mentality that draws these people together is a certain fearlessness, a willingness to take calculated risks, to act in contravention of societal norms, and – most importantly – agility.

They move quickly and fail fast, throwing everything they have into their latest idea. They are persistent enough to stick at it long enough, but realistic enough to jump ship where necessary. Read more

Hamburg’s startup scene should pave the way to a more international Hamburg

Hamburg can be tough if you come here looking for a job without speaking German. I know because I often speak to internationals who moved to Hamburg, not least for my blog “Why Hamburg?”. A city as international as Hamburg – with its 250,000 foreign nationals – should be a relatively easy place to find a job if you’re able to do business in English. But unfortunately, too many people still have problems fulfilling their potential because they cannot (yet) speak German. Read more

TripRebel’s Perfect Pitch at Startups@Reeperbahn – Guestpost by John Heaven

September was hot in Hamburg, as international startups stirred the Reeperbahn Festival, bringing a huge amount of SXSW flair to our otherwise commercially-oriented Hanseatic city! It all happened at our second Startups@Reeperbahn event, which took place as part of the Reeperbahn Festival: Our finalists, five european startups had the opportunity to pitch to investors, media representatives and other startup stakeholders in a dimly-lit, neighbourhood atmosphere. TripRebel convinced both jury and audience and took home both  SPIEGEL ONLINE PRIZE – a media budget of EUR 100,000 and the audience-price a ticket to M-Forum this week at the baltic sea. John Heaven – Englishman, blogger and independent web developer, summarized the evening at Club Hamburg for you. Please give John also a warm welcome for it’s him, who will take over the wonderful task of writing the English Column ‘Views From Heaven’ which you can enjoy on regular basis at Hamburg Startups. There’ll be more of John then soon but for now, please enjoy his guestpost of TripRebel’s Perfect Pitch Read more