Hamburg has a growing reputation as a hidden gem in the global startup scene. Germany’s second largest city is a real economic powerhouse – with one of the highest startup rates per capita and more than 1,200 active startup businesses. Featuring a remarkable list of success stories such as About You, Jimdo and XING, Hamburg is also ranked as one of Europe’s most liveable cities. As it happens, Hamburg is one of the few cities with its own startup award, which is aimed at integrating innovative business approaches into the city’s ecosystem.
Veronika Reichboth, head of the Hamburg Startup Unit, is one of the initiators of the new Future Hamburg Award, which is now open to submissions. EU-Startups took the opportunity to interview Veronika and to learn more about the award’s focus on mobility, logistics and green hydrogen for a more sustainable city.
Hi Veronika, thank you for joining us today. What is the Future Hamburg Award and what kind of startups can apply?
The Future Hamburg Award is the international startup award by the City of Hamburg. The first edition of the award was successfully launched in 2018, with 120 submissions from literally all world regions. Starting from now, the Future Hamburg Award 2021 calls on the best startups worldwide to submit their business models and solutions for a strong, sustainable and liveable city of the future. This year’s edition is focused on three key industries: logistics, mobility, and green hydrogen. That said, other sustainable innovations for tomorrow’s cities are also welcome to enter the competition. All startups that are no older than 5 years can apply. The only eligibility requirement here is that businesses need to have at least a minimum viable product (MVP). Submissions can be entered online until 31 March 2021.
What are the benefits the winning teams can look forward to?
Our idea is to offer the winning team a truly unique opportunity to get access to Europe’s premium test fields for new products and to develop their business model in Silicon Valley. The winning team will be able to join a one-month programme at Plug and Play’s Sunnyvale office. As part of the Plug and Play network of over 400 companies from around the world they will be able to advance their startup venture and engage with an international community of potential partners or clients. Moreover, we will offer one finalist startup the chance to test their innovation in Hamburg with one of our partners and to get in touch with relevant international players. Am Hafen Capital is investing what could be a six-figure amount for this purpose, while homePort is making its test site available on an exclusive basis. We strongly believe that this combined approach is much more valuable and sustainable than offering only a cash prize.
This year, the Future Hamburg Award is also welcoming new partners – Plug and Play, homePort, and Am Hafen Capital. Could you briefly describe these collaborations and its benefits for startups?
We are very happy that for the Future Hamburg Award we’ve been able to join forces with Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play as a main partner. For Hamburg as Europe’s up-and-coming startup hotspot it is a perfect match to cooperate with the world’s leading innovation network for startups. They are highly visible with their office in Hamburg, they contribute their outstanding expertise and an excellent international network, and they also provide one of the prizes: the winning startup will be able to join a one-month international programme by Plug and Play in Silicon Valley. Likewise, we will provide one winning startup with access to Hamburg’s vibrant startup ecosystem – with homePort, the Hamburg Port Authority’s innovation campus, as well as Am Hafen Capital GmbH as a major VC. These two players establish the link to Hamburg and will facilitate the implementation of test models in the port and might even provide an up to €1 million in funding.
What are the judging criteria, and how will the winners be selected?
We are very proud that we’ve been able to put together an excellent jury with a high expertise that will evaluate all submissions. To ensure a fair and transparent process, we defined a set of criteria to assess the product and innovation level, the market potential, the competition, the business model, funding, experience, impact and, last but not least, the startups’ presentation skills. Participants can apply very easily online via our submission platform at www.future.hamburg/en/award. They should only make sure to have their pitch deck at hand. After the submission deadline on 31 March 2021 the jury will create a shortlist. Shortlisted startups will get the chance to present their startup to the jury. Due to the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, we are currently redesigning the pitch event and the award ceremony, which are both scheduled to take place this summer. I am sure we’ll be able to announce the date and more details soon.
Who are some of the previous winners and participants, and how did their entrepreneurial journey continue since then?
In 2019, the three finalists of the award were given the opportunity to present their business models in front of a jury and an expert audience on the OMR Festival in Hamburg. The winners were Heptasense from Portugal, Humanizing Autonomy from the UK, as well as LignoPure from Germany – who recently secured seed funding to the tune of over €2 million. And according to Joana Gil, CEO of LignoPure, this was also thanks to their participation in the Future Hamburg Award. As one of the winners of the competition, they had the unique opportunity to present their business to investors, and they have been able to build a broad network since.
What makes Hamburg’s startup ecosystem so unique, and why should aspiring entrepreneurs choose Hamburg as the place to start and grow their business?
Well, as mentioned earlier, Hamburg has emerged as a vibrant startup hub in Europe in recent years. If you look at the figures, Hamburg continues to be ranked highly as a business location. A recent FDI study by the Financial Times Group actually ranked Hamburg as “Germany’s smartest city”, putting it on par with cities such as San Francisco, Houston and Montreal. True to its Hanseatic roots, Hamburg has always believed in combining tradition and innovation across all business sectors. Hamburg is the place where Hapag-Lloyd invented the pleasure cruise, and where countless household staples such as Tesa sellotape and Edding permanent markers have their origins. Today, the city’s innovative industry clusters draw their success from Hamburg’s century-long legacy as an international trading hub. And at the same time, Hamburg is an incredibly beautiful city and, thanks to its port history, has always been welcoming and open to people from all over the world. This is something that international founders really appreciate, and we are happy to see that our startup community continues to flourish. A recent analysis by Startupdetector has counted about 1,200 startups in Hamburg as well as some 1,000 investors. I would like to encourage nascent entrepreneurs to check out different locations to ensure that the chosen location really matches their needs. So I think it is crucial that the Future Hamburg Award also allows us to share our knowledge about the assets this city has to offer. At the same time, the Hamburg Metropolitan Region with more than 5 million inhabitants can greatly benefit from startups, because these can provide the location with a surplus of innovation.
More about the Future Hamburg Award 2021
With the Future Hamburg Award, the City of Hamburg honours international startups that demonstrate outstanding development within their industry in terms of innovation, impact and growth. The Future Hamburg Award was initiated by Hamburg Marketing and Hamburg Invest. Offering comprehensive information and support services, the Hamburg Startup Unit is the first port of call for nascent enterprises in Hamburg. The award website also provides founders and interested parties with up-to-date information on Hamburg as a startup location, accelerator programmes as well as coworking spaces available in Hamburg. Startups, don’t forget you can still apply until 31 March 2021.