Going from start-up to scale-up rapidly and successfully

18 October 2021
Hamburg Invest's Startup-Unit hosts panel discussion during ITS World Congress

Founders in very different growth phases flocked to the recently-ended ITS World Congress in Hamburg where the start-up area was a hive of activity with over 60 pitches on stage. While some start-ups are still in the very early stages and seek a product market fit, others have already launched on the market successfully and are now hoping to scale-up rapidly and grow efficiently based on a solid business footing. However, such a path can be challenging as revealed during a panel discussion hosted by Hamburg Invest’s Startup-Unit Thursday (October 14, 2021). 

Entrepreneur and moderator Freya Oehle welcomed Hendrik Kramer, co-founder and CEO of Fernride, among various panellists. The Munich-based start-up, founded in 2019, is developing a teleoperation software platform for controlling driverless vehicles remotely. Another panellist, Sebastian Heise, Graphmaster COO of the Hanover-based "Grown-ups" also focuses on connected navigation. Founded in 2013, the company now has some 80 employees. They were joined by Matthias Schanze, an investor in mobility ventures and founder of the VC platform Rethink Mobility, who has vast experience with both established and fledgling companies. Christoph Kober, a representative of Hamburg Invest's Startup-Unit, highlighted what cities can do to enable start-ups to grow healthily and efficiently.


(f. l. to r.) Freya Oehle, Matthias Schanze, Hendrik Kramer, Sebastian Heise, Christoph Kober

Values, mistakes and the art of keeping it simple

Kramer emphasised the importance of establishing principles such as transparency and a prototyping mindset. Communication is crucial to doubling Fernride's workforce to 70 by late 2022. This was echoed by Heise who surmised: "There are far more failures than successes. Ninety-five out of 100 things you try do not work." However, it is important to learn from mistakes. Founders should keep things as simple as possible, according to Schanze, and noted: "Make sure your potential partners understand you and your business model. Don't waste your time."  Start-ups that are eyeing growth, for instance, need both financial support e.g., through IFB Hamburg's InnoRampUp scheme, and access to potential investors, working spaces, talented staff and networking opportunities. Speaking from an urban perspective, Kober said. "The focus is always on what can we do as a Startup-Unit to help support start-ups to scale-up."

Hamburg in close contact with other start-up hotspots

When asked whether Germany is the right place for a start-up to grow to a significant size, the panellists agreed that there is no all-or-nothing answer. The German start-up scene, especially the technology sector, should not be overshadowed by Silicon Valley, Kramer said. Emphasis should be on networking, Schanze noted, and urged start-ups: "Don't think of failing first. Take a risk." Kober pointed to Hamburg's close ties with other start-up hotspots such as Munich or Tel Aviv. Apart from mindset and talent, the right innovation ecosystem is also crucial. That applies to new scale-ups in Hamburg as well. Visibility plays a key role in that process: "Our city is visible. We use that to raise the visibility of start-ups, for instance, by taking them to network at Slush in Helsinki or to the digital and creative festival South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austen, Texas."

Sources and further information

Hamburg Invest's Startup-Unit 

The Startup-Unit is a one-stop agency for all queries about start-up offers in Hamburg, funding, key events and networks in the Hanseatic city.

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