Berlin’s English-speaking Tech Open Air announces funding round ahead of annual conference


Berlin-based Tech Open Air has raised a new funding round ahead of its annual conference this July, the group announced this week.

Money came in from The Collective, Factory, The Family and some music-based startups like Native Instruments and SoundCloud. Founders from startups like 6Wunderkinder, Project A, Delivery Hero, Auto1 Group, HelloFresh, OneFootball, Idealo and Zalando as well as Christophe Maire, who TOA’s organizers call “Berlin’s ‘godfather of tech.'”

TOA refused to give a number, but their press release indicates they are thrilled with the figure. They currently employ about 45 people, many of whom were not born in Germany, let alone Berlin.

“We have 40% from Berlin, 20% from wider Germany and then 25% other Europe and 15% other continents. I don’t know if that is 100% correct,” admitted Tech Open Air founder Nikolas Woischnik to Geektime, because the stats they have are based on the IP addresses of Eventbrite users, who might not pick up on the international origin of many Berliners attending.

Its fifth year running, the event has ballooned to include over 175 other satellite events, including a franchise of the Finnish Slush conference. Other sponsors with programs include Springer, Kickstarter, IBM, Uber, Google, Apple and Microsoft. There are also a lot of universities, embassies, hotels, clubs and restaurants with special offers and sponsorships across the city during the festival.

“It’s Berlin-flavored with live music, art installations, boats, picnics, mindfulness, yoga, various sports . . . we expect 7,000-8,000 attendees this year in all.”

Connected to Anglophone tech hub Opnrs, TOA runs its events entirely in English. It’s not merely a matter of practicality, but policy. The organization’s founding intent was to be an English-speaking lighthouse for Berliner tech. But why have everything in English?

“We’ve never published anything in German,” Woischnik reiterates. “This was never a question we asked ourselves. The startup scene is international. I don’t know a startup that English is not the primary language. It’s not because the founders are foreign, although they often are, even ones with three German guys will have English as their [main] language. Look at our team, I would assume we have maybe 10% German,s 90% not from our team, out of 45 people.”

TOA founder Nikolas speaks at TOA15 (screenshot, TOA via YouTube)
TOA founder Nikolas Woischnik speaks at TOA15 (screenshot, TOA via YouTube)

Despite Geektime’s running apologies, Brexit colored our conversation. Responding to rumors that the Germans and the French might be itching to dethrone English as an official language of the European Union (which might indicate the talk as rumor since English is an official and the most-spoken language of Ireland), he said the idea was “just ludicrous.”

“English is the language that most people speak as a second language. It’s just a great common denominator. With German you won’t even be able to order anything in our coffee place!”

The event will include appearances by Kickstarter co-founder/CEO Yancey Strickler and some other big names from Springer, Flickr and mainly from verticals like blockchain and AI.

“Blockchain is the #1 vertical this year. We have a bunch of stuff. AI, design, mostly applying to other things, not fintech; like how to build applications on blockchain.”

Asking the obvious question, we needed to know what he anticipated about the real effects on Berlin in the wake of Brexit, and the more immediate considerations of how it would affect the agenda at TOA. Geektime asked if he thought Berlin indeed would see a sort of ‘startup windfall’ in terms of immigration and investment from uncertainty in Britain.

“It’s hard to predict, ecosystems like Berlin or Amsterdam will try to use Brexit for their own purposes, or Dublin. Other than that with these themes it’s going to be interesting to see how this topic will stay in the news. Like any other topic or leaks or Panama Papers, they dominate news for a week, but then two weeks later no one will talk about it.”

TOA Berlin attendees by year, including satellite events
TOA Berlin attendees by year, including satellite events

Woischnik is looking forward to the largest iteration of the festival they’ve ever hosted, with nearly 4,000 expected to attend the main event and another 4,000 coming to town for the satellite festivities. A number of them will likely be British. But how long might they be looking to stay?

In terms of British entrepreneurs and techies, reverberations indeed are percolating. Mentioning friends of his, he said many “are joking around about wanting German citizenship, but I know people who are serious about it.”


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