Merkel to Lure Startups to Germany With Free Data Offer

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Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government plans to offer German startups free satellite data to help them compete with Silicon Valley companies, the minister in charge of digital infrastructure said.

Starting next year, the government will release road, rail, geographic and other data it owns to new German-based companies that ask for it and set up a 100 million euro ($125 million) modernization fund, Transportation and Digital Infrastructure Minister Alexander Dobrindt said in written replies to questions.

“My aim is to awaken the digital startup spirit, to keep and develop Germany as the land of ideas and creativity,” said Dobrindt, a member of the Christian Social Union party that’s part of Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc. Data owned by the ministry that could help companies includes data gathered by the Galileo and Copernicus satellite programs, he said.

Merkel and other German policy makers regularly complain that Europe has fallen behind in the digital race as U.S.-based companies such as Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. dominate. Data privacy concerns among the German public are adding pressure on the government to promote European-based alternatives.

“We have to simplify launching a startup as much as possible in Europe” and improve conditions for venture capital, Merkel said during a panel debate on Germany’s digital future in Berlin today. “But everyone who knows the issue says it’s also a cultural question.”

Investors poured $15 billion into Silicon Valley startups last year while “German companies injected just 600 million euros into the local Internet economy,” Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat ally of Merkel, said in remarks to the BDA employer federation in Berlin yesterday.

“I also note that Google is a co-investor” in Berlin’s Factory campus, he said, referring to a downtown area of the capital that opened this year as a crucible for tech startups.