Go West, Berliners: Nelou and Signavio off to Silicon Valley



Reps from two Berlin startups will be winging their way to the United States next week as part of the new German Silicon Valley Accelerator (GSVA) programme.

Boris Berghammer, co-founder of online fashion marketplace Nelou, will take up his place in the programme on Monday. Fellow Nelou co-founder Regine Harr said yesterday the company’s aim is to launch in the US, as well as talk to investors and bring more US fashion designers on board.

Signavio’s managing director Dr Gero Decker will leave on Sunday, with plans to open a US subsidiary and recruit a sales and business development team for that office. Process expert Signavio already makes more than 10 per cent of its revenue in the US, he explained. “In order to make a significant leap forward, we need sales operations in the country.”

Get a mentor. Pay your own board

Through GSVA, up to four German companies per quarter receive three to six months of mentoring and support in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. The programme, which has a total estimated cost of €1m per year, will run for at least three years.

The core of the GSVA programme involves matching German-based companies with carefully selected Silicon Valley-based mentors. It also covers office space and infrastructure in Sunnyvale plus support with visa applications and associated costs. Successful applicants have to pay their own accommodation and travel costs.

Successful Berlin-based applicants include security specialist Trifense, Signavio and Nelou. Social insurance platform Friendsurance also won a place this year but has decided to wait and further build its presence in Germany before taking on the US.

Going west? Berlin needs to think big

GSVA operations chief Oliver Hanisch, who is based in California, said yesterday that German companies tend to underestimate the time and budget needed to tackle the US market.

Hanisch added that, in some cases, there’s also a tendency to underestimate what can be achieved. “If you look at presentations in Germany, for example, they don’t think big enough for the US,” he said. “If you look at their financial model, and you look three or five years down the road, what do you expect to have as revenues? It’s a fraction of what an American company would have there.”

Then there’s the challenge of having less-than-familiar credentials. Graduating from a respected university in Germany won’t necessarily carry weight and the same goes for the people you’ve worked with. “If you have a great client in Germany and it’s not a T-Mobile, a BMW or one of those guys, no-one will know them in Silicon Valley,” Hanisch said.

When that happens, having the right introduction or contact can make all the difference – and that’s what the GSVA programme aims to provide. Find out more at the GSVA website.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Tolomea]