Tech Open Air Berlin’s Collaborative Spirit Merges Tech with Culture

Tech Open Air

It has not taken long for Tech Open Air (TOA) to become a big fixture on Europe’s tech events calendar. The show, whose 2016 edition kicks off in Berlin on the July 13, pushes an interdisciplinary message and a chance to connect with people from many different walks of life, all closely or loosely related to tech.

The three-day event, now in its fifth year, will move this term to the German capital’s iconic Funkhaus (‘Radio House’), which became emblematic of the city’s long struggle against division, and for international recognition. For TOA founder Nikolas Woischnik, who recently spoke to Red Herring, finding recognition among tech heavyweights has not been a problem.

“It’s great to see that speakers from all over the world and amongst all disciplines will again find their way to our festival,” Woischnik said. “This year´s TOA  will include some exciting appearances by people such as Kickstarter co-founder/CEO Yancey Strickler, Serkan Piantino, former co-head of Facebook AI, Luis von Ahn, CEO of Duolingo, legendary architect Rem Koolhaas and Daniel Barenboim, general music director at the Berlin State Opera.”

In 2012, Woischnik added, the event drew 20 speakers. This year that figure is closer to 200. Attendance is expected to be around 7,500, indicating the show’s sharp growth. TOA has also announced an expansion into the American market: a festival will take place this November in Los Angeles, California.

The key, Woischnik told us, is to maintain TOA’s interdisciplinary spirit. He said, “We see technology as the common denominator that drives innovation in every angle of society. It is the enabler for knowledge exchange and collaboration.

“By connecting technologists with different disciplines – art, science, music, health, education – we want to help the disrupted better anticipate the future and technologists better understand the world they change,” he added.

60% of attendees come from Germany, but TOA is becoming increasingly international. And with music acts, food and an ever-changing roster of events, it is becoming increasingly emblematic of a city that shows no sign of slowing down in the tech and startup worlds. Little wonder that leaders are calling it one of the year’s most exciting shows.

“It’s a phenomenal event,” said AKQA founder James Hilton, “one of those hidden little gems that have grown over the years.”

“The diversification of verticals and industries in Berlin is surely still a truly unique basis for innovation,” Woischnik said. “And yet, Berlin is much more grown up now. It’s becoming more professional. Bigger global companies and funds are moving in and a lot of great talent is being spun out of the first wave of startups who are now starting new companies.”

A unique, fun and diverse event could be just what Europe’s technology sector ordered, in the wake of Britain’s Brexit vote and increased uncertainty in the eurozone. Berlin-based firms expect the ripples of the U.K.’s referendum to hit them very soon, which Woischnik sees as a sign of its establishment on the continent.

He is keen to see TOA not to be “limited to horizontal diversification,” and has been busy expanding into other markets and making the show’s highlights even more interactive. His charges have helped create a community for “the most accomplished thought leaders” across disciplines, called Open Circle.

That diversification and disruption, as in tech, has been proven to be key in events, too. Which is why this year’s Tech Open Air Berlin promises to be a high point in the summer’s industry calendar.