We have followed four entrepreneurs through their highs and lows. Founding a company rarely runs smoothly, and ups and downs are part of every start up. But one thing’s for sure: it doesn’t always have to be Berlin. Below, four entrepreneurs talk about what attracted them to Bremen, and what is keeping them here.
Esteban Bayro-Kaiser, 35, Wearhealth
Bayro-Kaiser says that he has grown up all over the world. The 35-year-old, who is of German and Bolivian heritage, studied in Chile before coming to Germany to gain a doctorate in artificial intelligence. His cosmopolitan upbringing is reflected in his ambitions: he wants his start-up Wearhealth to become one of the world’s top 5 ‘wearable AI’ companies.
He has a clear vision of what the company should look like, and his beliefs are just as strong. How the company should grow. What makes a good entrepreneur. He has a path in mind and leaves no doubt that he can and will follow it. But he is by no means reckless. “I’m certain that everything I’m doing is wrong,” he says. In this regard, he is very much channelling Socrates: “I know that I know nothing”. That is why he has chosen a mentor who knows how to establish a tech start-up and lead it to the top.
“I wanted to learn from others and avoid the mistakes they made. Our principle is to not take anything for granted and to question everything,” he says. To fail and to learn from failure is crucial for any start-up. But he never had any doubts when choosing a base for his business. “Why move to Berlin? There are plenty of skilled young people here in Bremen, and we work closely with local research institutes and the excellent university. We have an entire technology ecosystem on our doorstep.”
The foundations have been laid, now it is up to Wearhealth to establish the rest of the building.
Imke Hanscomb, 26, and Yanna Hanscomb, 27, Tizz & Tonic
“We discovered our roots here in Bremen,” say Imke and Yanna Hanscomb, when asked what brought them to Bremen. The sisters were born and raised in the small town of Elora in Canada. Their German mother, who hails from Münster, met their father, who is English, on a year abroad in Canada, and they both decided to stay. It was pure coincidence that brought Imke to Bremen.
She is passionate about fashion, which is no surprise considering her parents are artists and have their own studio in the basement of their home. “If we wanted to be creative, we could always go down to the basement and let our creativity run wild,” says Yanna. Imke decided to work for herself at a young age, launching her own fashion label, Johnnywishes, when she was 16 and still at high school. Three years later, she left it behind when she moved to Toronto to study fashion design with a focus on lingerie. “The course showed me how it should ‘normally’ be done – the design, the tailoring and the sewing,” Imke recalls.
“I had taught myself everything, and I found the course very restrictive.” After spending some time travelling and working in casual jobs, Imke arrived in Bremen. A welcoming city – but is it a place to set up a company? Imke loves the city’s thriving creative scene which gives her, as a fashion designer, plenty of opportunities to network and to find inspiration. So why not have another go at setting up on her own? She asked her sister Yanna for advice, who at the time was living in Spain on her year abroad. Yanna was so taken by the idea of producing eco-friendly underwear that she moved to Bremen. Together, they founded the label Tizz & Tonic in March 2017.
Since spring 2018, they have been sewing and selling their underwear in a pop-up store in Bremen’s city centre. The language barrier was their biggest challenge. “The people here are very open and friendly, but you won’t get very far if you only speak English,” says Yanna. Nevertheless, setting up their business here was the right decision. “We met the right people at the right time and received plenty of good advice,” Imke says. Both are now taking language classes. And their mother really enjoys visiting her daughters back in her home country twice a year.
Elad Yaacov, 36, TonePedia
Elad Yaacov has music in his blood. He is a professional musician and entrepreneur. The guitar player hails from Israel, and it was a coincidence that brought him to Bremen. While travelling by train in northern Germany, he met co-founder Hajo Hajo. The keyboard player immediately struck up a rapport with Yaacov: “When we got off the train, it was as if we had known each other for years. Our interests and skills complement each other perfectly,” Hajo recalls.
There are good reasons why TonePedia is based in Bremen. It is here that they found the investors and the environment they needed to bring their idea to life. “I really like the locals. They are direct, down to earth and treat you as an equal. The small start-up scene is very dedicated and sticks together. It would be different in Berlin and Munich – they are far too busy,” says Yaacov, who has been living in Bremen for 18 months.
He particularly likes the old quarter and the entrepreneurial spirit of the Hanseatic League that permeates the city. His start-up has caused quite a stir in the music industry. Tonepedia is a service that allows users to listen to and compare the sound of instruments, effects equipment and amplifiers online. Musical instrument manufacturers and dealers rely on the Bremen-based service – its web player increases dwell time and reduces the number of returns, as musicians no longer have to order and hope for the best.
According to Yaacov, the hardest part of any start-up business is breaking into the market. His advice to anyone starting a business is to persevere. “It’s exciting to work in a start-up, but it’s also quite challenging. You need a lot of energy, and not everyone is made for it. Many people don’t realise that – although there are plenty of motivated entrepreneurs in Bremen’s start-up scene.”
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