Dr. Manfred Janssen

Manfred Janssen
© KölnTourismus GmbH, Foto: Axel Schulten

Dr. Manfred Janssen, Managing Director of KölnBusiness, tells us about what Cologne is doing to help start-ups survive and flourish.

The newly founded KölnBusiness (the agency that promotes economic growth) provides support for the local businesses as well as investors and start-ups. Dr. Manfred Janssen, Managing Director of KölnBusiness, tells us about what Cologne is doing to help start-ups survive and flourish ...

Dr. Janssen, you have been Managing Director of KölnBusiness, for a year. In an interview, you talked about repositioning the Cologne Business Development Agency as “the coolest project in Germany”, why?

Re-structuring an organisation almost from scratch in a major city represents a huge opportunity. Streamlining its administrative structures, doing away with hierarchies, making it agile, introducing state-of-the-art IT and working methods – that's a cool project!

What are your priorities for the future? Can you name your first three objectives?

Of course, as well as continuing to offer established services, we will be doing a lot of new things! For example, business services will be focussing on the retail trade, while marketing and communication will be driving digital transformation. We are also building a brand-new area of expertise focussed on
innovation. This is our business development unit with which we aim to foster a climate of innovation in and around Cologne. We are focusing on our three lead markets, the startup ecosystem and the universities.

Why is Cologne so attractive to founders?

One of Cologne’s and the Rhineland's major locational advantages is its proximity tocustomers and applications. We are talking about a catchment area of some 17 million people and a strong economic core! This is crucial. It is also what makes it possible for start-ups to survive and grow in the first place. In addition, Cologne is very popular with young people as well as skilled workers.

How does KölnBusiness go about supporting start-ups?

Firstly, through our StarterCenter, a foundation certified by the state of NRW, we partner with the Handwerkskammer (a body responsible for various occupational trades) and the Cologne Chamber of Commerce and Industry
to provide advice. Secondly, through our Startup Unit Cologne we take a close look at improving framework conditions, simplifying administrative processes and connecting founders with partners and investors. At the same time, the Startup Unit reaches out internationally. Cologne has an extraordinary
network of twin cities through which we promote cooperation within the start-up community. A well talked about case in point is Tel Aviv, a well-known founder hotspot.

How do you assess the importance of universities for start-up projects?

Universities represent a decisive driver to the start-up process and the local climate of innovation. In addition to our start-up infrastructure, there is also a whole range of other Cologne-based initiatives available to start-uppers, including the Excellence Startup Center.NRW, the Cologne University Start-up Network as well as various other public-private associations. We are also making a lot of progress on the funding front. In this regard, we work closely with local partners to foster innovation.

How do you encourage companies to go digital?

As a neutral player, we create platforms that enable universities, businesses and start-ups to engage in a dialogue. We also add an international perspective to this mix. In Germany, the focus of collaborations is often on getting key details right or on improving existing products. But in the United States and
China, established companies get a lot of their ideas from start-ups. This is a very effective way of introducing brand new ideas into a company. That’s why we focus on industry, university and start-ups when it comes to innovation.