How to move a high-tech startup to Berlin
From Israel to Berlin: OrelTech
OrelTech is a high-tech startup originally from Rehovot, Israel producing conductive inks for printed electronics and catalysis. The team was comprised of three members, Zvi Shteingart (CEO at the time), Natalia Zamoshchik (CTO) and Konstantin Livanov (Head of R&D). They participated in INAM’s acceleration program Advanced Materials Competition (AdMaCom) in 2017 and won the grand prize. This was the start of a new personal and professional experience. They decided to move to Berlin and one year later, they have finally settled in the city. Berlin Partner and INAM supported them from the beginning and arranged access to laboratory space and test infrastructure at Humboldt University.
As an international high-tech startup, OrelTech has faced some challenges before succeeding in Berlin. The following interview was conducted with Natalia Zamoshchik, CEO of OrelTech GmbH.
Let's start from the beginning. How did you hear about AdMaCom & INAM?
We participated in a HighTechXL program in the Netherlands, and it was there our CEO heard about AdMaCom as an alternative program. The two programs were taking place at the same time, so we had to choose one. We chose AdMaCom because it seemed compact and effective. It also had a specific focus in the field of advanced materials so it seemed tailored to our needs as a small tech startup.
Watch this video about AdMaCom 2017:
Was moving to Germany always an option for you?
The move from Israel was always on the table for us, since Israeli markets for advanced materials are not too large. Germany was always an option, but it, and specifically, Berlin, definitely became a number one candidate for relocation after AdMaCom. After the competition, we got a lot of traction and name recognition. INAM provided us with access to local infrastructures and institutions, such as research facilities and funding agents. Several INAM members took interest in our company and technology and approached us with business propositions. Most importantly, maybe for the first time, we felt that our technology was not just an “interesting idea” but a solid and promising business.
Why did you choose Berlin and was it a difficult decision?
It was both a business decision, and a personal one. We saw more business potential in the Berlin startup scene. A move is always a difficult decision but we were prepared for it, largely thanks to all the help from Berlin Partner that we got in the past year.
What was your strategy?
What were your personal, professional, legal, bureaucratic challenges?
We had plenty. One of the biggest was our nonexistent German language. Communication is incredibly important to get through this process and unfortunately, every form and every conversation had to be in German. This made it difficult for us and was also the reason why the process was so time consuming.
Another issue was that our visas took way more time than we hoped for, cost us a few trips back to Israel as well. On the business side, we had some bureaucratic problems, mostly to do with our visas, since everything depends on them. A delay here resulted in an overall delay, so a planned 2-month move turned into something like a 3.5-month process. In general, company transfer requires finding a large contact network from the beginning. Accountants, notaries, materials suppliers, lab equipment - everything has to be found from scratch. In addition, all the paperwork has to be in German, and that was a time and money consuming issue.
The other important issue was the IP (Intellectual Property). Our current patents are owned by the Israeli company, and in order for the German company to use them, we had to find a solution that did not involve a “tax event” - two of the scariest words in the English language.
This would be our advice - do not save money on an IP attorney, and if you are planning a move, find one that specializes in IP and taxation. Each country might have special regulations concerning IP transfer.
How were they solved?
Two of the most important qualities here are patience and assertiveness. Luckily, an academic background can help with both - if you’ve spent 4-5 years of your life on a research project, you’ve surely encountered enough red tape and heel-dragging and learned that you have to know exactly what you want in order to eventually get it.
And, of course, Berlin Partner and INAM were a great help for both solving the bureaucratic blunders and providing with some crucial connections. Most of the personal stuff is difficult because it is nerve-wracking. It all sorts out in the end, but it may take some time. The wait is usually the hardest part.
Looking back today, would you move again?
It’s still a bit early to tell, I think - but as of now, definitely, yes. All the signs tell us that it was the right business decision. And, personally, we enjoy Berlin so much!
Any last remarks?
All in all, moving to Berlin as a high-tech international startup has been quite a demanding experience. Nonetheless, all the support, adaptability, stamina and friendliness of all the involved actors made all the difference for us and made the OrelTech story a successful one.
We believe that our experience serves as an inspiration and as a clear example that with motivation, the right networks and resources, anything is possible. Considering the adaptability of everyone involved, we believe that the different services and offices are on the right track in making a change to facilitate the process for a soft landing of high-tech startups in Berlin. We are thankful to everyone involved for making our journey less bumpy!
Header Image: INAM