Germans Attempt to Put on a Tech Conference That Isn't Torturous

Photographer: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

An aerial view of Berlin, Germany. Close

An aerial view of Berlin, Germany.

Photographer: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

An aerial view of Berlin, Germany.

Aydogan Schosswald hates tech conferences, which might be surprising since he organizes them for a living.

“I have to focus 24/7 on the events,” Schosswald said. “Looking at conferences as a product, the proposition is questionable. You pay a lot of money, and you get a lot of random business cards.”

That's why the latest tech conference he helped put on, Hy! Berlin, had more of a talk-show vibe with its seven television cameras situated around Radialsystem V, an events space in Germany's capital. Schosswald, who co-founded the conference, wanted to get away from the typical geek gathering where bloviating panel discussions abound.

“We want to enable European entrepreneurs and give them access to an international stage,” he said. “It's not a tech conference anymore. It's a show, and every good show needs some entertainment.”

The twice-a-year event, which began yesterday, featured short video segments broadcast on the Web and live music from Timid Tiger, a German rock band that released a new single at the conference. Evgeni Kouris, the group’s eccentric keyboardist who has graying curly hair, is also an entrepreneur. His startup Toywheel, which makes an education app for kids, won the first Hy! Berlin startup competition.

For the next two days, about 150 business professionals will participate in an invite-only retreat featuring Jawed Karim, a founder of YouTube, and Charles Adler, a founder of the crowdfunding operator Kickstarter, among those coaching global entrepreneurs as they tour Berlin’s streets, museums and office buildings. Among the planned sessions, they will have lunch at the TV Tower, Germany's tallest structure, and meet with venture capitalists at a cafe.

Of course, there was still plenty of the usual conference fare on the first day. Speakers included Travis Kalanick, the chief executive officer of taxi-booking operator Uber, and Axel Springer CEO Mathias Dopfner, whose German publishing giant is an investor in the event. Five startups presented their projects. And yes, some attendees exchanged business cards.

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