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Rhineland Region Transforming Into Manufacturing and B2B Startup Hub

Our member spotlight on Germany’s Rhineland region shows a startup ecosystem developing throughout Aachen, Bonn, Cologne, and Düsseldorf.
Sean Ludwig
on September 09, 2019

The Rhineland region, located on the western edge of Germany, encompasses large cities including Aachen, Bonn, Cologne, and Düsseldorf. With its many cities, the region has a diverse array of industries and a large number of world-class universities that are creating a base for talent.

When it comes to the startup scene in Rhineland, between 750 and 1,050 tech-focused startups call the region home. High-Tech Gründerfonds, the largest seed investor in startups in Germany, is based partially in Bonn and has invested about $1.1 billion in local startups to date. Showing how the scene is capturing global attention, Pirate Summit — Europe’s largest invitation-only conference for early-stage startups, investors, and corporate executives — is hosted annually in Cologne. Cologne is also home to HEADQUARTERS Downtown, a coworking space that serves as the heart of the local tech community as it’s close to the city centre and to the two most famous Cologne universities.

“Rhineland’s startup community has significantly evolved in the last four or five years,” Dr. Lorenz Gräf, founder of a popular coworking space and incubator STARTPLATZ, said. “It feels like a true ecosystem with more people, better knowledge, stronger connections, and a focus on modernizing traditional German industries.”

One startup sub-sector Rhineland is known for is Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics. The Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering (WZL) of RWTH Aachen University is based there and conducts research on cutting-edge industrial production. Startups in this area that have captured attention include Silexica, a software company, which raised $18 million in a Series B round in 2018, and Industrial IoT developer Cumulocity, which was acquired by Software AG in 2017.

An additional startup sub-sector booming in Rhineland is B2B Enterprise Solutions. More than 20% of DAX-listed companies (the 30 major German companies trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange) are headquartered in Rhineland, so there is a large market for startups focusing on helping large businesses succeed. On top of this, the area annually hosts Digital Demo Day, the biggest B2B-startup-focused product show in Western Germany.

Accelerators and incubators are flourishing in the region. Besides E.on:agile, an accelerator that connects founders with experts, RWTH Innovation as a subsidiary of RWTH Aachen aims for building the largest, integrated tech incubator in Europe. This project is funded by the government of North Rhine-Westphalia and takes place in cooperation with successful local partners such as the digitalHUB Aachen. Dr. Malte Brettel, Vice-Rector for Industry and Business Relations of the University of Aachen emphasizes that “the area’s accelerators are based on unique resources. In particular, the RWTH Aachen with more than 45,000+ students, 5,600+ researchers and 375+ companies working on the campus provides endless opportunities for technological breakthroughs and thus entrepreneurial opportunities.”

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Some additional startup ecosystem highlights about Rhineland from the 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report include:

  • Top 20 Global Ecosystem for Knowledge
  • Top 30 Global Ecosystem for Affordable Talent
  • Ecosystem value of $1.4 billion
  • Output Growth Index of 8 out of 10, showing considerable growth in total startup creation, calculated on an annualized growth rate

Our members in the Rhineland region are Digihub Düsseldorf, Digital Hub Cologne, Digital Hub Bonn, and digitalHUB Aachen. These four digital hubs act as central matchmakers for startups and established companies in the region, with “the aim of developing new digital business models, products, and solutions.” They also work to promote the startup scene generally, hold educational and networking events for founders, and more.

Other organizations that are having a meaningful impact on the startup scene in the Rhineland region include:
  • Capnamic Ventures, a leading early stage venture capital firm
  • Coparion, a venture firm which only finances companies headquartered in Germany
  • NRW Bank, the state development bank of North Rhine-Westphalia based in Düsseldorf and Münster
  • Tengelmann Ventures, a seed and early stage venture capital investor the areas of consumer internet, digital services and emerging technologies.
  • Vodafone Uplift, the Vodafone startup program
  • Life Science Incubator, which helps Life Sciences startups find their footing
  • Techboost, the Deutsche Telekom startup program
  • 1stMOVER, connects the start-up, corporate and investor worlds for the successful development of new digital business

Do you have an interest in promoting and talking more about Rhineland’s startup ecosystem? We’d love to talk. Please get in touch with us about becoming a startup ecosystem ambassador!


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