The Italian startup battalion Berlin – the community, the companies, the clichés

Italians in Berlin
Italians in Berlin

We take a look at the growing force of Italian startups that are flocking to Berlin to pursue their business dreams. What’s the draw?

Italians in Berlin

Enter co-working space Sankt Oberholz cafe in central Berlin, and among coffee machine rumblings, occasional dance tracks and English-speaking tables, there’s the chatter of Italian. Although the tech-savvy flock here from near and far in pursuit of startup dreams, Italians are becoming a growing force.

While there’s no official record on the breakdown of nationality numbers in the startup hub, the 420 invite-only members of the Italian-Berlin tech community digItaly gives some indication.

So what’s attracting this young breed of Italian startuppers to the German capital? We speak to the founders of frestyl, Ploonge and Lookals – part of the young Italian Guard to talk business-building, Italian politics and stereotypes to find out…

Ploonge Berlin Branch Manager Giuseppe Colucci

Giuseppe Colucci“You see, Italians aren’t always stereotypically late,” announced Colucci as he walked into our office 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

“People tend to think that Italians are a bit un-professional and cheat you. The Italians I see here are  serious and professional,” he explains.

Originally from Brindisi, Italy, Colucci arrived in Berlin more than two years ago to work for an NGO. “I was in Spain, but it was very difficult to find a job there so I moved to Berlin. I already knew that many people come here because it’s an inspiring place,” he says.

Since September last year, Colucci was made head of social dining network Ploonge in Germany which has its HQ in Milan. He first learned of Berlin’s startup scene after connecting with digItaly when his girlfriend was working for AirBnB.

“I was surprised to see how well they’re (Italians) doing in the Berlin startup scene. There’s a lot of potential from our country which we don’t use back home and it’s a shame for our whole system that we let these people go to other countries.

“It was really great to see that not only are Italians very active and successful here, but they’re also very willing to help new ones. Everyone’s really helpful… it’s a growing community.

“When I went to hy! Berlin – a startup conference here – I was in the bar and all the people there were Italians. There were big groups with up to 50 people – all Italians!

“It seems like Italians make up a lot of early-stage startups, and Swedes dominate the more established ones,” he adds.

Thoughts on Italy as a young professional

“I don’t miss Italy’s lack of governmental support for young people. You’re still considered a kid there when you’re 35 because the system is so old. You feel like you’ll never hold any sort of power because you’re considered young – people in power are so different and very old-fashioned. There’s a problem with understanding each other.

“I do miss the stereotypical things – I miss the sun, I miss Mama, I miss the food like fresh seafood. But here in Berlin – it’s a city where your creativity can make your dreams come true…”

Frestyl cofounders Emanuela Tumolo and Arianna Bassoli

Emanuela Tumolo (left), Arianna Bassoli (right)Cofounders Emanuela Tumolo and Arianna Bassoli of live music discovery app frestyl moved to Berlin in August last year after being hand-picked to attend accelerator program Startup Bootcamp.

“Everyone back in Italy was like ‘go to Berlin’. So the idea was to move here for three months and see…. and here we still are,” says Tumolo. “For a growing team that’s international there are more possibilities here. You keep in touch with the startup scene on a professional, personal and motivational level,” adds Bassoli.

The duo – who cofounded with Joanna Brewer from the US – met while studying for their PhDs in Sienna.

“The problem with Italy is that the startup scene’s so distributed, so every city wants to be the startup hub… there’s good energy with young startups there and it’s growing, but the market is still not completely ready.

“I’m not surprised that there are so many Italians here, because Italians love trends. So at one stage everyone was going to London, another stage it was Dublin, Barcelona and now it’s Berlin. Everyone’s here,” says Tumolo.

“Italians are individualist, but here it’s nice because there are groups that are welcoming for newcomers and it’s supportive. It’s getting a bit out of hand!” she adds.

Bassoli says: “You can see on my Facebook feeds that everyone’s talking about Berlin even if they don’t live here.

“When we go to Sankt Oberholtz it’s becoming half English, half Italian.”

Lookals founder Marco Vismara

Marco VismaraHeading a tight three-person team from Italy out of Oberholtz and its fellow co-working space betahaus, Marco Vismara is looking to be the app for Airbnb of tourism – currently focusing on personal tour experiences in Italy.

Vismara headed to Berlin in late 2008 to further his German langauge learning. It was then that he started exploring the idea of becoming involved in the burgeoning startup industry.

“A few years ago, no one was talking about startups in Italy. It’s an international scene. In Italy they have good ideas but just not the right connections,” he says.

Vismara founded Lookals in September, 2012, and unlike a lot of Berlin expats he speaks German fluently.

“You can be in touch with people from around the world here, and it’s such a good opportunity to learn something new from those in the US or Chile, and bring everything back to Italy through my connections… I would love to create a bridge between Italy, Berlin, and all other important startup countries one day.”

For related posts, check out:

Milan – Italy’s top startup hub?
“You feel like an animal in the zoo” – frestyl on breaking down gender bias and revolutionising the live music industry
Ready in Rome – inside Italy’s “exploding” startup scene