HackFwd helps Berlin closer to that ‘gateway to the east’ promise

12.12.2011, News, by .

Ola Sitarska and Paulina Wardęga from MyGuidie with Lars Hinrich

The “Pitch in Berlin” contest at this weekend’s HackFwd Build 08 event gave space to 10 startups (or startup ideas) from all over Europe. Anyone could apply to be selected for the opportunity to pitch their idea to an invitation-only audience of techies and investors. This time, in its second iteration, the event audience consisted of not only the high caliber mentors, investors, and entrepreneurs in the HackFwd network, but also of influential tech journalists such as Mike Butcher (@mikebutcher), the editor of TechCrunch Europe, and Om Malik (@om), the gigaOM impressario.

The pitches varied from a fishing social network through financial information for investors to betting or travel. The Eastist region was represented pretty well: 2 from Poland, 1 from the Czech Republic, and 1 with a Croatian co-founder. Most excitingly, the winner of the contest was MyGuidie from Poland, an online marketplace where people can offer their experiences and skills by organizing and selling activities.

MyGuidie’s victory is almost like an early Christmas gift to this blog, because it’s a pleasure to write about. Not only is it a dynamic young startup from Warsaw, it has several characteristics that make it stand out from the crowd usually covered here:

  • The founder, Ola Sitarska (@olasitarska), is 19.
  • It’s founded by a woman. (OK, I guess I could say “girl” at this age, but I recently read a thought-provoking article on this topic.)
  • She already has two startups behind her.
  • The rest of the team is also female.
  • The site has a beautiful design with a strong focus on usability.

I fully expect that we will be hearing more about this energetic founder in the future.

The rest of the crew was interesting as well. CityRace.me, also from Warsaw, is building a GPS API that supports offline games, such as their first project – a real-time game of snake. Tripomatic from Brno in Czech Republic is aiming to grab a piece of the giant travel market by helping tourists build their itineraries. And Vinto is an online wine marketplace curated by wine professionals. One of the two co-founders is based in Zagreb, while the other is in Germany.

The pre-seed investment firm HackFwd, started by Lars Hinrich of Xing fame, is one of the emerging startup incubator models in Europe. HackFwd’s unique approach is to invest in promising engineering teams and their ideas, “take care of the legal and administrative stuff”, provide enough money for a full year, and shower the startups with mentorship, education, and networking. The teams can be based anywhere they want, and the “incubation” happens through regular group meetings, also called “builds”, that take place throughout the year. Unlike with the pitching contest, not just anyone can apply. An applicant has to be referred by one of the HackFwd referrers.

It seems that HackFwd has settled on Berlin as the meeting place of choice for now. The Pitch in Berlin idea will hopefully become a tradition as well.

Tech bloggers writing about the rise of Berlin as a startup hub have been listing its proximity to “Eastern Europe” as one of its advantages, proposing it’s a “gateway to the east”. This is indeed an advantage, but it hasn’t really been seized yet. The startup scene and accompanying events are mostly filled with Germans and expats from Western Europe or the US. However, events like HackFwd builds show the potential Berlin’s geographic position has. Or, at the very least, it’s definitely a convenient nearby hub for the Polish and Czech crowd.

You can see photos from the event by using one of the current HackFwd startups, Sharypic. You can also watch some of the inspiring talks from this and previous HackFwd events here. And lastly, you can watch a sideways qik video of the MyGuidie pitch here.

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