The Five Must-Know people of Germany’s biggest startup city


betahausverni5s-495x334I’ve had the fortune of spending the last two weeks in Germany, learning and exploring the startup scene, and I thought i’d share a little bit about what I’ve learned along the way. I know we normally cover the French tech scene, but as Germany is right next door, consider it a “know thy enemy” sort of thing, or consider the fact that France & Germany are two huge markets that any global tech company will have a couple hundred employees in, so you might as well start doing some research now.

I know everyone’s talking about Germany these days, but it seems people have been talking about the wrong city. Berlin’s got plenty of up-and-coming startups ( and SoundCloud), don’t get me wrong, but after spending one weekend in Cologne, I knew I was in a startup scene.

I attended what must have been the craziest weekend event I’ve ever attended in Cologne last week, and I had the fortune of meeting (and re-meeting) the six people who collectively  power the Cologne Startup Scene. Here’s what you need to know:

0229c4dTill Ohrmann: If you know just one guy in Cologne, it’s got to be Till. Maybe it’s because he co-founded The European Pirate Summit – Europe’s coolest tech event – maybe it’s because he runs Startup Weekend & Startup Digest; nonetheless, nothing move’s without Till saying so. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the first Pirate Summit, and he’s got a passion about what he does, and he’s working hard to bring value to Europe, value to Cologne, and value to everyone around him. Don’t step foot in Germany without paying the Till.

0a0491eManuel Koelman: The other co-founder of the European Pirate Summit, Manuel has been described as “rational” – not normally an adjective that would stand out, unless you consider that the first time I met him he was pushing his newly born son around a junk yard wearing a pirate outfit at a tech conference across the street from a brothel. Along with Till, Manuel oversees the management of the European Pirate Summit, which has put Cologne on the map for many as a startup location.

main-thumb-13344-200-gkxdaepxSpx2OF91pxZTZtAbWnvqGqOVOlivier Thylmann: CTO of AdCloud, a company purchased by Deutsche Post back in 2011 to enhance their digital ad offering, Olivier has become a regular hero in the Cologne startup scene. His company still has offices in Paris and Madrid, in addition to Cologne, and he has since opened a fund with AdCloud cofounder Henning Lange. His brother, Fabian Thylmann, is also an entrepreneur of sorts – his company Manwin is the owner of YouPorn and several other well known porn sites.

b27a025a5cb9c03706967221c8846e02-largeThomas Grota: a VC at T-Ventures, the investment arm of Deutsche Telekom, Tom’s quite active in the German startup scene. He’s a mentor at HackFWD & Seedcamp, and a board member for MyTaxi, 6WunderKinder, Smarchive, flaregames, and Apprupt. He’s quite vocal about the investment scene in Europe, and recently posted a guest blog post on VentureVillage about it, called “Adapt or leave” – why the rules of the investment game in Europe will change in 2013.

3d7f545Vidar Andersen: cofounder of Gauss – The People Magnet, a Cologne-based startup, Vidar has certainly made his rounds since I met him at the European Pirate Summit in 2011. Originally from Norway and with years of experience in sales, development, and having founded multiple startups, Vidar is what some would call “a hustler.” He runs several local meetups in Cologne and works tirelessly. Easily someone I’d count among the people I’d start a company with, given the opportunity.

I also have had the wonderful pleasure to meet Tim Schumacher, founder of, one of the most popular domain marketplaces, who stepped down as CEO of the now public company to pursue other adventures, and is an active investor in Germany. I’ve also been recommended to follow Jan Kus, the founder & CEO of Railslove & previous developer at 9flats.

Needless to say, there is plenty going on in Cologne – I’ll be back every few months, I imagine, as they just keep coming up with awesome reasons to invite me back!