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Cologne: superlative city for startups






coworking spaces



An open, creative atmosphere and a good digital infrastructure – even during the pandemic Cologne remained an attractive location for founders and, in 2021 saw a new startup established every third day. In Cologne, start-ups are flourishing, the city’s ecosystem is young and connections to investors and the Cologne science scene are first class.

In and around the city alone, there are over 550 startups and scale-ups with revenues of 1 billion euros.  

Attractive investors, major players, 12 incubators, around 50 coworking spaces, numerous networking events, a wide range of funding programs, including one initiated by KölnBusiness GmbH – a management consultancy established in 2019 – and, of course, Cologne’s status as a great place to do business and create the perfect environment for healthy fast-paced growth.

Cologne start-ups have a track record in pioneering software, health, media and marketing.

Start-ups benefit from a varied university landscape with over 100,000 students. Twenty-three colleges and universities as well as 12 research centers, along with numerous incubators and accelerators, are hotbeds of new talent.

Congratulations to Unicorn status startups

The Cologne-based online translation solution Deepl has been awarded Unicorn status as part of a new round of funding. Unicorns are start-ups with an estimated value of at least 1 billion US dollars prior to IPO or an investor exit*. In Germany, there are currently 32 companies with Unicorn status.

© Design Offices

Coworking in Cologne is booming

Coworking spaces are a great way to grow your network. And now there is space for coworkers throughout the city – something that is definitely down to the inspiring mix of established businesses, startups and creative freelancers that makes the city’s ecosystem perfect for productive exchange!

At Friesenplatz in the city centre, for example, WeWork provides space for over 1,000 coworkers. Approximately half a kilometer up the road at the Wallarkaden, even more space was made available in 2021. Solutions such as "Eigene Schreibtisch" offer fixed workspaces on request, with the Labs-Schreibtische coworking service even offering its coworkers mentoring and training. Networking events, language, and yoga courses, as well as Lunch&Learn sessions are also part of the concept.

STARTPLATZ, an experienced start-up incubator and accelerator, is in the middle of Cologne's Mediapark. It offers everything from consulting, coaching, workshops, events to access to its extensive network. To date, STARTPLATZ has invested over 170 million euros in start-ups. Design Offices offers conference rooms for meetings, workshops or coaching at various locations in Cologne. In Cologne’s Ehrenfeld district, The Ship​​​​​​​ meets founders’ needs.

Selection of coworking spaces in Cologne

And the idea is … the Cologne Masterclass.

Selecting and coaching

A new seal of quality for promising Cologne-based start-ups is the Cologne Masterclass. Through this program, KölnBusiness and its partners select and coach outstanding start-ups and introduce them to top-class investors. The program aims to make the Cologne region even more attractive for investors as a business center.

Startups that have succeeded in one of the programs or a competition run by a partner organization are nominated and given the opportunity to present their ideas to investors on Matching Day.

In addition, selected start-ups benefit from things like access to Cologne Masterclass’s network of partners, preferential participation in various KölnBusiness funding programs, and help with marketing activities.

The Managing Director of KölnBusiness explains in an interview how Cologne as a business location enables start-ups to grow and survive and why the good news in terms of funding never stops.

Cologne Uni promotes start-up culture

The university’s GATEWAY start-up service.

In 2019, the University of Cologne received 22.8 million euros to promote digital skills and startups. Since then, Cologne based students, employees and scientists have been working intensively to promote and foster startups as well as a culture of entrepreneurship.

"Make Ideas Work". In its role as a science center, Cologne is home to a variety of innovative research. However, research journeys from initial idea to practice often take very different directions. Encapsulating its spirit in the slogan "Make Ideas Work", the Gateway Excellence Start-up Center offers advice and coaching on all aspects of founding and start-ups. Its key aims are to support spin offs from university startups and to establish Cologne as a startup hub in Germany. Bundling four Cologne scientific institutions (the University of Cologne, the TH Cologne, the German Sport University Cologne, and the Rheinischen Fachhochschule Cologne), since 2021 the Center has sought funding for prospective founders as quickly as possible. The University of Cologne’s GATEWAY Center for Innovation and Start-up Excellence also shares these goals and finds itself in good company, sharing, as it does, office space with the start-up service provider in THE SHIP.

© Jürgen Schmidt

From Start-up Unit to DIGITAL X.

The City of Cologne’s Start-up Unit also supports founders and invites them to exchange ideas at networking events. The Digital Hub Cologne brings business, science, and industry together and provides advice on topics related to digitization.

Other start-up gatherings include the c/o pop convention, or DIGITAL X, and trade fairs such as dmexco and gamescom, which complete the offerings.

City-run initiatives such as Digital Hub Cologne, BioCampus and InsureLab help businesses digitalize and connect them with innovative start-ups.

BioCampus Cologne, for example, offers start-ups and innovative technology companies a long-term and sustainable perspective. InsurLab Germany e.V. is a joint initiative between business, science and public institutions aimed at strengthening Cologne as an insurance center and is currently supported by more than 80 member companies – insurers, startups, and leading service providers. The Digital Hub is a pilot and point of contact around the issues of digitization and innovation for established companies as well as the start-up ecosystem.