The relationship between Felix Petersen and his home town of Berlin is a symbiotic one.
Scratch the surface of Berlin’s tech scene and you’ll find traces of Felix’s influence everywhere, and vice versa. His connection to the European tech and startup scene is deep, his knowledge is broad — and he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time like being in Lisbon just as that city’s startup scene blossomed.
Felix is also an archetypical TOA (Tech Open Air) person: an inter-disciplinarian who wants to bring people and technology together in a powerful, meaningful way. And now, appointed managing director of Samsung NEXT in Europe, a new adventure starts for him — and it may have a profound effect on the European tech world.
Felix’s journey to Samsung NEXT is a fascinating one, and its variety is testimony to his relentless search for cutting edge technologies. He launched two of Berlin’s pioneering and innovative startups, Plazes and Amen, worked on initiatives with Nokia, is an old hand when it comes to attracting money from all over the world, and has spent the last decade or so investing in and nurturing new tech talent.
Felix’s background explains why Samsung NEXT picked him to be managing director of the group’s brand new operations in Europe.
Samsung NEXT is the Korean tech giant’s innovation programme which aims to build, grow and scale smart ideas, products and businesses all over the world.
It has grown quickly, with offices opening in Korea, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, New York, Tel Aviv — and now, at the heart of Europe’s tech scene, in Berlin.
Samsung NEXT is announcing the launch of its new European operations at TOA. It has a huge presence at the event, which will include a fireside chat with Felix on the main stage on the 12th of July.
TOA.life spoke to Felix about his past, present and future —his excitement in Samsung NEXT’s potential, his belief in the strength of European tech businesses, his love of Berlin, and what he’s looking forward to as Samsung NEXT appears at TOA this year.
Felix’s early days in tech hinted at the exciting present.
Felix has been building things online since the late 90s, and its then that he sensed a step-change in how technology was starting to work.
“In 2003, I realised I wanted to build products. I missed the first wave of startups and didn’t really know about venture capital or how startups worked — but when Web 2.0 came, in the form of del.icio.us and Flickr, I knew I had to get involved.”
He co-founded the pioneering Geospatial company Plazes, which allowed users to do something quite revolutionary: a location-based service to let the world know what they were doing and where they were doing it, from their phone or laptop.
“Back then, publishing on the web was still for geeks or big corporations — but suddenly blogging happened and I was fascinated by the social web. In Plazes, we created this location-based service, bringing the real world to the sharable, social web.
“We sold Plazes to Nokia in Berlin, and then we brought companies like Dopplr from other countries to Berlin. So Berlin was really put on the map and that period lies at the root of a lot of what you see now . Really cool things came out of that time.”
Felix says that he may be a Berliner by birth, but he’s a European at heart and believes that big changes are happening right now.
Felix’s subsequent investments (he was a very early investor in Soundcloud, for instance) were as much about the capital as they were about the startups in Berlin. He helped convince Soundcloud’s founders to choose Berlin for the company’s global headquarters. Now, a decade later, Berlin is so obviously the right place to be that Samsung NEXT has chosen it as its HQ in Europe too. So what is it that makes Berlin a special place?
“Berlin has always been different — a town on the edge. The energy and the culture here means that there is freedom to create, both physically and intellectually. You can’t replicate ‘Berlin’ somewhere else. Berlin is becoming the ‘platform for Europe.’ Berlin was an obvious starting point for us.”
This isn’t some generic tech-scene buzz. Berlin’s cultural and political history, explains Felix, makes it uniquely suited to be a tech hub.
“When the wall came down, the city itself was a startup! A lot of big corporations had moved elsewhere in Germany. So Berlin had to find its own niche, and the city’s USP was the creative industries and its cultural openness. Now people from abroad instantly feel that it is different and want to be here.”
“Now, you can make a living being creative! There are tens of thousands of tech-based jobs here and 40% of people who work in Berlin startups are from overseas. You can fundraise from here, build a product here – you can do it all. Berlin is the sweet spot of the European tech scene.”
A huge shift may be coming.
“I’m really, really bullish on Europe. And right now, Europe has a very interesting advantage over the rest of the world. We’re living in exponential times — it would not be surprising if there was a huge shift to European influence in the next few years. In Lisbon, no one is building solely for the Portuguese market — they’re building globally.”
“Because Europe has so many countries, cultures and languages, if you launch a company in Europe, you have to think globally from day one — especially if you are from a small domestic market. In Lisbon, for instance, no one is building solely for the Portuguese market — they’re building globally.”
Europe’s deep technical talent and the strength of its traditional industries — readied for automation — means exciting times are ahead. And Samsung NEXT aims to become the dedicated partner for European entrepreneurs to build, grow and scale their startups.