Why many startups are betting on the province

East Westphalians like to give themselves modest. “Instead of talking about how much a company is worth, you ask here: how much revenue do you actually make a profit?” says Sebastian Borek. Borek is the head of the Founders Foundation and, a few years ago, the conference Hinterland of Things with which he wants to bring new companies into contact with long-established companies. Startup meets middle class, so to speak. “We bring the economy together here. And the beauty is: on a relevant topic for the future,” says Borek. But that is only a means to an end. He calls shaping the future what he really wants to do with his conference. Reasons for the region, then.

Sebastian Borek is the founder of the Founders Foundation. He wants to give the region optimism for the future. Photo: Bastian Hosan

One of the Bielefeld founders on the hinterland of Things is Torsten Bendlin. Together with two others, he has Valuedesk a company that wants to help the industry implement sustainable cost-cutting processes. “We’re looking at what the industry needs to save money on its own,” he says. He calls Salesforce for savings the business model.

Bielefeld offers itself for such a product: “Thousands of medium-sized companies sit here, from small mechanical engineers to Dr.Oetker, Miele, Claas and so on.” The potential for customers is huge, some of them he visits by bicycle. “They are two kilometres away. What a competitive advantage!” In addition, you can pay the employees in Bielefeld. “In Berlin you have to pay a lot more money.” The fact that the Founders Foundation helps the founders to get started does the rest, says Bendlin.

One of the founders that the Founders Foundation has created: Torsten Bendlin. Valuedesk aims to help companies save money. Photo: Bastian Hosan

Janik Jaskolski is also one of the founders working closely with Boreks Foundation. His company Semalytix operates in the healthcare sector and works to bring physicians, patients and the pharmaceutical industry closer together. Although it is true that Semalytix Founded out of university in 2015, the company only got the global approach through the Founders Foundation. “Bielefeld is a great location for us because there are three universities here,” says Jaskolski, Bielefeld, Paderborn and Osnabrück.

At each of these universities, there are good programs that train up-and-coming talent for an AI start-up like his. He also says, “If we were in Berlin or San Francisco, we would be knocking out five times as much for probably worse people.” In addition to the established, large companies that offer the network, in which the region’s startups can embed themselves, the much less competitive pressure is also a reason to start up in Bielefeld – and then to stay there. And even though Jaskolski’s company Semalytix develops technical solutions for customers all over the world, he says: “Our technical nucleus is clearly Bielefeld.”

“In Berlin or San Francisco, we would spend five times as much on worse people,” says Janik Jaskolski. Photo: Bastian Hosan

So it’s the founding stories that the Founders Foundation adorns itself with. The drive, however, is different. “It is important for us to focus on high technology,” says Borek. He calls it “thick boards drilling.” Digitize what is more digital without doing digital bullshiting. “That’s not an end in itself.”

In Germany, far too little is founded in European comparison, and certainly not in the regions. But without new companies, the old ones often do not make the leap into a modern world of work. So Borek and his foundation have created an offer to iron out this deficit. 45 startups have now emerged directly from his foundation, 75 in the region as a whole. “So we hit a nerve,” he says. Although Bielefeld’s modesty dictates that we remain on the ground, Borek says: “The companies here know their value.” And they become more confident and stand up to the competition. The DNA of the region, however, is precisely the middle class and that is rather sceptical by nature. This is what the newcomers in the region are happy to do.

But they wouldn’t have to. In the meantime, the Bielefeld Connection is so large that it continues to grow on its own. “Often we don’t have to do that much anymore,” Borek said. The young companies bring venture capital to the city, at the universities there is now Speaker*s, which he no longer knows. And the potential for the region “is still not exhausted.” The technology is still in its infancy. Five percent have been done, so there is still room for improvement. Of course, this is in line with his greatest goal of establishing optimism for the future in the region. So there’s something else going on.

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