Sonia Khan (c) blogfabrik - Paul Rikeit & Jacob Schickler

Americans in Berlin: Sonia Khan

Google: Mapping Berlin’s Crossroads of Art, Startups and Policy

  • Name: Sonia Khan

  • City of origin: Los Angeles/ CA

  • Branche: Internet

  • Position: Tech Policy Expert

Berlin is known for its art, startups and politics. Sonia Khan, a tech policy expert from L.A. at Google, talks about her work delving into these topics in Germany’s capital. Google is much more than just a search engine. With Gmail, Maps, or YouTube, it is part of our daily lives. What projects are you working on at Google?

What’s fantastic about Google is the variety of projects I work on and I am able to connect with different types of people, parts of Berlin and parts of the world. I’m on the public policy team where my core focus is copyright policy and our engagement with the creative and entrepreneurial ecosystem. I work on Google Arts & Culture – an initiative that partners with over 1,500 cultural institutions like the Berlin Philharmonic, Deutsches Museum or MoMA to digitize their works and make them globally accessible.

Interview with Sonia Khan (c) blogfabrik - Paul Rikeit & Jacob Schickler
“Berlin in three words? Creative, Eclectic, Home.” © Paul Riekeit/ Jacob Schickler

As a tech company pioneering innovation for the last 18 years, how is Google sowing the seeds of growth for the next generation of startups from Berlin?

We started as a small company in a garage, so understanding and fostering entrepreneurship is part of Google’s DNA. I’m currently working on a team opening Campus Berlin, a community hub by Google for Entrepreneurs that brings entrepreneurs together to learn, share ideas and build companies. People from all walks of life and from all over the world come here to work in this thriving startup scene. Berlin is right at the intersection of what I want to pursue.

How can we envision this campus? If I am itching to make my business idea into a reality, how can I get started with Google for Entrepreneurs?

The campus will be an open space where you can go to workshops and access community spaces. You can meet like-minded entrepreneurs with different skillsets to exchange and develop business ideas. You may find an engineer to program your next app or a graphic designer for your website. All of our trainings and workshops are free and many are open access. Anyone can sign up for mentoring; with our growth stage programs, anyone can apply and be selected.

Sonia Khan @ Google (c) blogfabrik - Paul Rikeit & Jacob Schickler
Sonia Khan @ Google (c) blogfabrik - Paul Rikeit & Jacob Schickler

Berliners pride themselves on tolerance and diversity, which Google for Entrepreneurs aims to foster. Why do you think it is essential to have people from different backgrounds in an entrepreneurial setting?

When I got to Berlin, I saw right off the bat that it’s a hotspot for creatives and entrepreneurs looking to take risks and solve big problems, but these solutions need to address diverse challenges from a global population. Google for Entrepreneurs is committed to creating opportunity for entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. I am particularly passionate about supporting women in making their business ideas a reality. For example, there’s Campus for Moms where female entrepreneurs can bring along their kids to Campus creating a family-friendly environment and to lower the barriers for them to pursue their ideas.

How would you say living and working in Berlin distinguishes itself from other cities?

It’s a much more relaxed lifestyle: “Let’s enjoy life a little bit, let’s not take this coffee cup to go, let’s sit down and enjoy our double espresso.” Also, work-life balance is cherished. People talk about their vacation in Italy or having spent a month in Spain instead of bragging about how much vacation they didn’t take.

Sonia Khan @ Google (c) blogfabrik - Paul Rikeit & Jacob Schickler
Sonia Khan @ Google (c) blogfabrik - Paul Rikeit & Jacob Schickler

“There is an innate appreciation in Berlin for being unique, being who you are.”

What is different about you because of Berlin, now that you’ve lived here for 6 years?

Professionally, working with cultural institutions developed my appreciation of the role that culture plays in our lives and how it connects people of different backgrounds. Personally, I’ve come to accept who I am and not feel like I need to fit the mold that’s been prescribed to me by society. There is an innate appreciation in Berlin for being unique, being who you are. It’s inspirational to see people on public transport just being themselves. And I wear comfortable footwear, always.

Google candies (c) blogfabrik - Paul Rikeit & Jacob Schickler
Google candies (c) blogfabrik - Paul Rikeit & Jacob Schickler

Visit www.google.com/culturalinstitute or googleforentrepreneurs.com to learn more about the projects Sonia is involved in at Google

More information about Business in Berlin: businesslocationcenter.de

Photos & Text: blogfabrik - Paul Rikeit & Jacob Schickler