firma.de Gone International: Our special partnerships with AHKs around the world

updated on 26. November 2019 24 minutes reading time

Thanks to our partnership with DIHK, we’ve gone global! Together with multiple German Chambers of Commerce Abroad (AHKs) – those diplomatic beacons of German enterprise – we’ve created a fast lane for international companies to start doing business in Germany.

What are German Chambers of Commerce Abroad (AHKs)?

The network of AHKs – which consists of bilateral chambers of commerce abroad, delegations and representatives of German business – advises, consults and represents German companies that wish to grow their businesses internationally. Furthermore, AHKs are institutions of German foreign trade promotion – which is precisely where firma.de comes in.

The German Chambers of Commerce Abroad have served as reliable partners for companies for over 120 years. They are invaluable institutions that bridge the gap between cultures and languages.

The Association of German Chambers of Commerce e.V. (DIHK) continuously coordinates and develops the network of German Chambers of Commerce Abroad. They are co-funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi).

Which AHK’s do firma.de partner with?

To mark the occasion, join us on a (virtual) tour of the startup ecosystems that the first three AHK’s that partnered up with us operate in. It may inspire your own global expansion – which is exactly something an AHK can help you with!

The Baltics

We’ve been discovering that our AHK partners are located in some lesser-known oases for startups. First and foremost, the Baltics are leading the way in cultivating the right conditions for tech startups to flourish.

The German-Baltic Chamber of Commerce in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, led by the excellent Dr Lars Gutheil who saw the value of an AHK X firma.de partnership right from the start, was the first AHK to sign up to the initiative.

So what’s happening in the Baltics? Tech Tech Baby! How technologically advanced these three nations are, puts much larger and richer nations to shame. A combination of its tiny size, limited export industries and Soviet history tied the region’s chances of economic mobility to tech innovation. Naturally, this has led to these governments developing an ‘entrepreneur type’.

What does a top-down love for startups look like in the Baltics? Something like this:

  • A modern legal framework
  • Lower taxes
  • Minimal red tape
  • Tech-friendly infrastructure
  • A global outlook with fewer language barriers

 

Interesting facts about their startup ecosystems:

Estonia

  • Digital infrastructure bonanza: E-government. E-citizenship. E-banking. E-everything. Embracing the digital world has created the conditions for a booming startup scene in Estonia.

Latvia

  • Deep Tech: In Latvia, there is a big emphasis on helping nerds convert their deep tech innovations into marketable products. A by-product of this is has been an explosion of drone companies in the country.

Lithuania

  • Cryptocurrencies: It might come as a surprise to learn that Lithuania is a giant in the cryptocurrency world with blockchain technology being integrated into Lithuanian everyday life. In 2017 Lithuania’s startup ecosystem raised €500 million in funding via initial coin offerings (ICOs), a figure only surpassed by the US and China.

 

Interesting startups:

Estonia

  • The mega-success of Skype has proven anything is possible in the Baltics. The sky was the limit and Estonia has been making leaps and bounds ever since. Most notably, TransferWise is following in its predecessors ‘unicorn’ footsteps and is on its way to becoming a global giant. Meanwhile, Taxify (now Bolt) is taking on the mobility giant Uber with its more ethical business model.
  • Estonia has many up-and-coming startups in all tech-domains. One interesting example in the SaaS industry is Alphablues, a startup that has harnessed the power of AI to build virtual customer assistants which are taking automated customer service to the next level. The company is a poster child for digital entrepreneurship because it’s doing this bootstrapped.

Latvia

  • Latvian startups are tackling universal business problems with simple digital solutions and are taking the world by storm. For example, Printify and Printful offer respective global platforms for easy on-demand online printing, fulfilment and shipping. All e-commerce sellers have to do is come up with a design and the rest is taken care of. Simple yet revolutionary. Straight out of Latvia, Printify and Printful are two of the biggest and best print on demand providers. But, Printify has been had a recent boost with USD 3 million in funding for further growth as well as being named Latvia’s 2018 startup of the year, which will no doubt lead to some very big things.
  • Another example of Latvians coming up with streamlined solutions to complex problems is Mintos, a visionary startup that has created an online marketplace for loans that is global. Mintos gives retail investors an easy and transparent way to invest in loans offered by a variety of alternative lending companies around the world. This enables the movement of international capital that is not only efficient but also equitable.
  • In the ‘Deep Tech’ space, Latvian startups like Naco Technologies, are doing things like developing the world’s fastest nano-coating process for physical vapour deposition (PVD) and being acquired by German automotive parts supplier Schaeffler Group.

Lithuania

  • The startups of tomorrow and here today in Lithuania. SketchAR is an app for teaching drawing using augmented reality, machine learning, and neural networks. This futuristic app won the 2018 Webby Award for the Best Use of Augmented Reality.
  • The education of tomorrow is also already in Lithuania thanks to an up-and-coming startup called BitDegree, an online education platform for digital skills with blockchain-based token incentives for learning motivation and tech talent recruitment.

The future is here in the Baltics!

 

The Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is another example of a small country in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) hitching its wagon to the digitization growth engine. Similar to its CEE peers, the Czech Republic has gone through an immense transformation in the post-Soviet era. After the collapse of communism, its economy was rebuilt and the lives of its citizens repurposed. International businesses came for the cheap labour but are now staying for the talent.

The Czech Republic was one of the lucky countries in emerging Europe as it was able to build a viable manufacturing sector, most notably a thriving car industry. However, as things progress for the republic, conversely, its legacy of cheap labour is fading. This among other things is eroding its tangible exports and pushing the Czech Republic towards knowledge-based economies.

It is the changing economic landscape that is making technology increasingly more important for Czechia’s future prosperity. As a post-communist nation, the Czech Republic has performed well economically but is reaching its capacity. With record-low employment rates and labour shortages in key industries – ie accommodation, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture and construction – there are massive opportunities for automation technology to help solve this problem. Located in the heart of Europe, the Czech Republic could be the perfect place for that automation startup you might have in mind.

In the startup world, however, digitalisation is still king. Security has been a major focus for the tech industry in the Czech Republic (it’s even ranked number one on the National Cyber Security Index). This is perhaps a remnant of its communist past but is definitely a response to a universal need in the modern digital era. Interestingly, cyber security’s next stage of evolution is AI which is particularly evident in the Czech Republic. For example, the organisation Prg.ai considers itself a ‘world-class AI super hub’ and is on a mission to be officially recognised by the EU as such.

 

The startup scene in the Czech Republic offers things like:

  • A welcoming startup community – young Czech’s inhabiting the startup ecosystem are open to help you no matter where you’re from.
  • English-friendly business culture.
  • It’s capital Prague is home to a growing ex-pat community with many services catering to the needs of foreigners living in the city.
  • Cost of living that is pretty reasonable.
  • Fewer financial hurdles for businesses. An analysis conducted by NimbleFins ranked the top 12 countries in Europe for startup businesses, the Czech Republic ranked first in terms of the cost of business, ie operating costs, tax rates, and wages.
  • A flat corporate tax of 19%, and a flat personal income tax of 15% – some of the lowest rates in Europe.

 

Interesting facts about the Czech startup scene:

  • Up until about 2012, the Czech Republic is one of the few places in the world where the top internet search engine was not Google. It was, in fact, Seznam.cz – a company founded in 1996 by Ivo Lukačovič in Prague and was Czechia’s first web portal.
  • The Aspen Institute’s Czech Startups Report states that startups mainly operate in the following fields: SaaS (28%), web services (21%) and mobile software services (17%). Other areas include analytics/ business intelligence (16%) and cloud services (12%). Around 10% of startups mentioned the Internet of Things and education as their fields of activity.
  • The Czech Republic has similar layers of red tape as Germany, making the AHK a very sensible option for German businesses wanting to expand in the region.

 

Interesting startups:

The heavyweights:

  • Two of the biggest startups to come out of the Czech Republic have been AVG and AVAST both giants in digital security. AVAST, one of the world’s biggest cybersecurity companies, is headquartered in Prague. Founded in 1988, it has now expanded into machine learning and artificial intelligence research. In 2016, it acquired rival AVG Technologies for $1.3 billion, and in 2018 it has its first IPO on the London Stock Exchange, with a value of £2.4 billion — one of the UK’s largest technology listings.
  • GoodData, a company that harnesses big data to empower businesses to make better decisions.
  • Y Soft integrates software and hardware solutions to help complex organisations run like clockwork.
  • Socialbakers a deluxe unified marketing platform. A veritable feast for those who want to take their marketing to the next level via digitalisation.
  • STRV is a fancy pants but seriously cool software design and engineering company.
  • Flowmon Networks helps IT professionals know, enhance and secure their networks.
  • Kiwi.com is a Czech online travel agency that does fare aggregation, metasearch engine and booking for airline tickets. Despite a saturated market, it’s leaping ahead of its competition with its so-called ‘virtual interlining’. The company’s USP means customers can buy flight itineraries that combine normally non-cooperating airlines to get the best price. It also guarantees missed connections to make like airlines do. Originally called skypicker.com, it recently paid $800,000 for the domain name Kiwi.com to enable its rebranding.

The new kids on the block:

  • Neuron Soundware has created technology that can recognise broken machines using sound. The company uses artificial intelligence methods to analyse and diagnose audio signals. Its vision is to take sound and voice analysis to the next level with the power of machine learning and neural networks via its intelligent interfaces between machines and people, and machines and mechanical devices.
  • GreyCortex is a Brno-based startup is giving organisations a highly advanced way to make their IT operations more resilient via the usual suspects of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data mining.
  • Apifier, a Y-combinator alumni startup, offers a cloud service that enables extraction of structured data from any website. This means if you’re in the biz of e-commerce you can check up on what ALL your competitors are doing online instantly.

Israel

The Israeli startup scene is said to be the most important outside the USA, which is extraordinary when you consider that it’s only 71 years old. But, as a nation of 8.712 people, it is punching well above its weight in terms of the sheer number of startups and VC per capita. Israel’s success has been so impressive that it has been the subject of a best selling book, Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

Israel’s startup scene teaches the world a valuable lesson on the impact multinational companies have on startup ecosystems. Like most things in life, the situation is not black and white.

The high concentration of talent steeped in a culture of innovation has attracted many multinationals to set up R&D centres there which in many ways is sucking the life out of the startup ecosystem. That being said, multinationals are the gatekeepers of scaling up for many startups. The kind of investment, a global network and vast expertise big corporates can offer can be a game-changer for many young startups. Only time will tell how this dynamic will play out.

The startup scene in Israel offers things like:

  • A strong and well-established startup ecosystem with ready access to a large number of angel investors and VCs.
  • Lucrative tax incentives for businesses in digital, data and tech.
  • A hotbed of tech talent.
  • A coastal lifestyle.
  • A hyper entrepreneurial culture where innovation is king.

Interesting facts about the Israel startup scene:

  • For those of you who remember the nineties, you might be surprised to hear that Israel is the home of ICQ. It was later bought by American Online and – well, the rest is history.
  • Israel has world-famous expertise in Cybersecurity. A shining example is, Check Point Software Technologies was a pioneer in the cybersecurity industry is a pillar of the Israeli startup ecosystem. Coming on to the scene in 1993 when the internet was starting to become a thing, it grew into a multinational software and combined hardware company that provides cybersecurity for global players and has managed to evolve as fast as technology has in the modern world. It is now Israel’s biggest tech firm.
  • Although cybersecurity continues to be a mainstay in the Israeli startup scene, it’s moving with the times. With the success stories of Appixia or Waze it’s not letting the opportunities of the mobile device pass it by.
  • Israel became the third country in the world to legally export medical-grade cannabis. More than 500 companies applied for licenses after the January export law passed. There are currently 110 active research studies in Israel, with much more to come. Although most Israeli tech companies are focused on growing the plant, startups like Syqe Medical recently raised $50 million to further develop an inhaler which can accurately control patient dosages. The vaporiser is a major milestone towards transitioning medical cannabis from an inexact drug to a prescribed medication; physicians may be able to adjust dosage remotely with these ‘smart inhalers.’
  • There are many ubiquitous companies that were started by Israeli entrepreneurs. For example, the co-working space empire WeWork was co-founded by Israeli entrepreneur Adam Neumann in 2010 in New York City. While another Israeli conceived startup, Fiverr enjoys immense brand recognition, especially in the USA. And, Lemonade, or Lemonade Insurance Company, started by Daniel Schreiber and Fiverr co-founder, Shai Wininger (also in NYC). A relatively new company, Lemonade has already made some serious waves in the insurance industry, and even grabbed the attention of the Wall Street Journal as a startup to watch and has even reached Europe’s shores. These companies alone point to the fact that Israel is seemingly a great incubator for entrepreneurs.

Interesting startups:

The heavyweights

For a country that is only 71 years of age and has a population of about 8.7 million, incredibly, it has inspired an awful lot of unicorns. To name a few:

  • Wix has spearheaded the revolution that enables non-developers to do things once upon time only developers could do – like create killer websites. As an early mover in the freemium website creation business, its epic rate of growth saw the company reaching unicorn status in record time.
  • StoreDot is an Israeli born company that has done amazing things with battery technology. StoreDot’s proprietary battery chargers can completely power up a dead cell phone battery in about five minutes.
  • Fiverr is following in the footsteps of other tech companies that have used digital two-sided marketplace framework to completely reshape industries standards. Fiverr has helped bring the gig economy to the mainstream by using technology to seamlessly connect creators with people who need things to be created.
  • INIFIDAT is based in Herzliya, Israel and is on a mission to eliminate “compromises between performance, availability, and cost at multi-petabyte scale for enterprise storage.” This has translated to data storage, data protection, business continuity, and sovereign cloud storage for elite companies around the world. It is funded by top-tier venture capital firms such as Goldman Sachs and has total funding of $325 million.
  • It’s only a matter of time until we’re all zipping around in driverless cars. It should come as no surprise that Mobileye a startup developing self-driving technologies was just acquired by Intel Corp via the biggest acquisition in Israel to date. (The US tech giant, acquired the firm for a massive US$15.3 billion in March 2017.)

The new kids on the block

Many of the top startups that are attracting big bucks are in the business of some seriously ‘techie’ things. For example, Seedtable.com ranks Wiliot – a fabless semiconductor company developing passive SoC platforms for the IoT market – and Cato Networks – a company that provides cloud-based and secure global SD-WAN for the distributed, mobile and Cloud-enabled enterprise – high up on their top 100 Israeli startups list.

Beyond these examples, there is an abundance of startups using tech to tackle some of the biggest problems in the world today.

  • Sisense Ltd. Sisense develops business intelligence software for big datasets, which allow companies to gain insights on customers and users without requiring professional data analysts.
  • Taranis uses deep learning on proprietary data sets to predict and prevent crop disease and pest losses.
  • Nutrino is using big data and wearables to finally demystify the increasingly polarised industry of personal nutrition.
  • Unbotify is fighting the battle of the bots using behavioural biometrics analysis. A future free of pesky bots is one we should all look forward to.

 

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