Hamburg's Reeperbahn delivers startups, concerts and airstream interviews

F ourth Day was at Hamburg’s Reeperbahn conference recently, not only to get down to the freshest beats at the concurrent Reeperbahn festival, but also to dive into an event that has put the city’s flourishing tech startup scene on the map.

The day before the festival itself, Fourth Day spent the afternoon in Hamburg’s newly-renovated Speicherstadt, a huge complex of century-old waterside warehouses which has been subject to huge investment by the city over the past few years.

In one of the warehouses, Hamburg’s Virtual Reality Headquarters (VRHQ) is housed. VRHQ is an amalgamation of four companies, NoysVR, Spice VR, Spherie and VR Nerds who all create virtual reality needs to agencies for income streams, but now spend their spare time pushing back the boundaries of the technology together, such as the immersion of someone into a live concert or into an accurate computer-generated version of DESY, one of Germany’s largest particle accelerators.

The cooperative arrangement of the quartet into a larger concern allows them to spark ideas and share work with each other. Soon, a university will open up offices in a floor upstairs to add the academic and research touches.

The festival itself sprawled over multiple locations. As well as countless satellite events on the famous street itself (attended in part by a similar number of Beatles tours), there were three or four concert locations and several small conference spots for new aspiring companies to pitch, mingle and hunt down investors.

Top of the bill was the startups@reeperbahn pitch competition, which saw five startups pitch in Dragons Den-style timeslots and format to a panel of five judges. The prize: €150,000 and free tickets to the City of Hamburg stall at next year’s SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Prior to the final pitches, journalists were given the chance to ask their own questions of the finalists in some remarkably kitsch airstream trailers outside the venue, decorated on the inside with interesting artefacts such as one might expect to find in one of the Reeperbahn’s less salubrious establishments. An intriguing concept indeed!

The winner was an equally intriguing company. Cargonexx, a data-based company matching carriers to freight forwarders which ensures that all trucks on the roads are filled with goods rather than empty, thus having the twofold effect of making businesses more efficient and reducing the environmental impact of truck freight.

Friday saw the start of the Reeperbahn conference in earnest, where a huge number of entrepreneurs and founders were given license to tell their stories and present their new niches or disrupting technologies, among them Coldplasmatech, a medical device offering help from the pain of chronic wounds by dressing the affected areas and generating cold plasma directly on the damaged skin, stimulating the body’s self-healing powers.

But the festival and conference revealed Hamburg to be more than just another port city with a famous red light district. With digitalization it is becoming more and more important. It has a lot of knowledge, a lot of players and plenty of facilities. It is becoming a place to try something.

The author

Lizzie is an Associate Director in the Manchester team

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