Spinlab @ Tom Weber, Bertram Schultz

04 Oct 2018

"Made in Leipzig" – a place to get off the ground

Leipzig is a city of start-ups: the number of young, innovative new businesses is rising steadily, and creative professionals can find the best conditions to realise their ideas here. There are great examples of successful business models, diverse support and a large network of partners on the road to success.

Spreadshirt is the prime example of a start-up that’s ‘made in Leipzig’. Originally a small business founded in 2002, today Spreadshirt is an international corporation employing 500 people. The initial idea: customers design motifs for their clothes and have them professionally printed. Sixteen years on, Spreadshirt is now one of the world’s leading e-commerce platforms for on-demand printing of clothing and accessories. And there are more examples of success stories from the city: food.de, one of Germany’s largest online supermarkets, was founded in Leipzig, as was the nation’s second-largest crowdfunding platform visionbakery. And in 2018, the title of “Saxon Start-up of the Year” also went to Leipzig, to a company called Hero Society, which helps young people to recognise their strengths and talents and supports companies in their search for new recruits.

@Tom Weber, Bertram Schultz

Professional support for founders

What is it that makes setting up shop in Leipzig so appealing? Everyone involved focuses on cooperation and mutual support. There are networks, start-up initiatives, coworking spaces and platforms for exchange and promoting innovations. In 2014, the creative space at Leipzig's Baumwollspinnerei and HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management (HHL) joined forces to found "SpinLab - The HHL Accelerator" (see "3 questions for..."). Against this backdrop, Leipzig's Office of Economic Development has also been involved in the development and promotion of new businesses since 2016. With its specialisation in the areas of energy, smart cities and e-health, in April 2017 Leipzig was also named one of twelve digital hub locations across the country by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs (BMWi).

And with their Unternehmensgründerbüro, or Start-up Office, the City of Leipzig and other partners assist entrepreneurs in matters relating to founding a business, providing advice on founding, planning, and financing, and during the stabilisation and further growth phases. The Social Impact Lab specialises in socially innovative approaches and the founders of social enterprises. New businesses with a university background in the area of biotechnology and life science can find professional start-up support at BIO CITY Leipzig.

Basislager Cowork @Anne Schwerin
Spinlab @ Tom Weber, Bertram Schultze
Startup Weekend Leipzig 2017 @Anne Schwerin
@ Spreadshirt

Universities as important catalysts

HHL brings together students, start-ups, businesses and investors at its annual Accelerate conference. Since the year 2000, graduates of HHL alone have founded around 250 businesses, and HHL has repeatedly secured a top-three position in the Gründungsradar, a survey of Germany's best universities for start-ups conducted by the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft and the BMWi. The Gründungsradar reflects how well universities support students and scientists when it comes to starting a business. Also successful in this respect is Leipzig University, which forms part of SMILE (Self-Management Initiative Leipzig) - a support network for founders which also involves HHL and other higher education and research institutions in Leipzig. Since 2006, SMILE has been providing interdisciplinary and cross-university help on the road to self-employment. Every year, SMILE honours outstanding start-ups and innovative ideas at Leipzig Founders' Night.

Perfect for founders to share experiences

Coworking spaces like Basislager offer founders modern infrastructure plus space for exchange and further education. The online portal Startup!Leipzig also serves as an interface for the city's founders, authorities and initiatives, providing information about events, tenders, funding opportunities and founder profiles. Events like Startup SAFARI offer unique insights into this centre of innovation: more than 50 start-ups and coworking spaces open their doors for two days, which is a particularly efficient way for external investors to get a quick overview. The FuckUp Nights format also offers a stage for tales of failed start-ups - an important subject for any start-up to consider on its own road to success.

3 questions for Eric Weber, Managing Director and Co-Founder of SpinLab - The HHL Accelerator

1.  In your opinion, what are the best reasons for starting a business?

Starting your own business is the perfect opportunity to learn. While in large companies you only have one area of responsibility, founders need to be all-rounders. There is probably no other area where you learn so much in such a short time as when you run a start-up. What’s more, you have full freedom and decision-making power, with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails. All in all, founding a business is also a form of self-realisation.

2.  What makes Leipzig a great place for start-ups?

Leipzig is a great and green city with a reasonable cost level and nothing is ever far away. Many innovative and highly skilled people from all over the world live and work here. At the same time, the Leipzig start-up scene is well networked, and in recent years it has grown enormously in terms of both quantity and quality. It certainly also helps that Leipzig is close to Berlin and very well connected to Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg. Leipzig is also the most important major city in Central Germany, so it’s great at attracting people, companies and ideas from this entire region. It is precisely because Leipzig is such a good location for start-ups that we, the Smart Infrastructure Hub, together with Dresden, were selected as one of the twelve German digital flagship locations as part of the BMWi’s Digital Hub Initiative.

3.  How does SpinLab support start-ups?

In addition to intensive coaching, start-up teams benefit from a top-class mentoring programme and numerous contacts to investors, established companies and other founders. They can use a modern coworking office on the creative grounds of Leipzig’s Baumwollspinnerei and are given access to various technologies from partners. Even after the programme has ended, the selected start-ups receive assistance with recruiting, can plan their expansion via an international exchange programme and are given the opportunity to rent office space directly next to SpinLab. Upon admission to the six-month programme, founders can use all of the services free of charge and without participation, and even receive up to 15,000 euros.

Eric Weber @Tom Werner

Eric Weber has been Managing Director and Co-Founder at SpinLab – The HHL Accelerator since 2015. Previously, he worked as a research assistant and start-up consultant at HHL and at Erdgas-Consult GmbH. He holds a PhD in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management from HHL.