Photo: S. Tischer - Munich Startup

Bits & Pretzels Under the Banner of #metoo and Diversity

The startup festival Bits & Pretzels began with an opening talk from the American civil rights activist Tarana Burke. Everything is characterized by diversity this year.

Bits & Pretzels visitors are welcomed by a rainbow flag over the entrance to the International Congress Center (ICM) of Messe München: This year’s startup festival is being held under the motto “Diversity.”

To bring the topic to life, the three hosts Andreas Bruckschlögl, Bernd Storm and Felix Haas abstained from giving their usual opening talk and gave the ladies the floor instead: Kuchentratsch founder Katharina Mayer and her cake baker “Grandma Anni” talked about how diversity enriches their company. Leila Janah, founder of the social enterprise Samasource, then took the stage. All the while, the three hosts stood at the side of the stage.

Leila Janah, Katharina Mayer, Grandma Anni, Andreas Bruckschlögl, Felix Haas and Bernd Storm on the Bits & Pretzels stage. (from the left, photo: S. Tischer – Munich Startup)
Leila Janah, Katharina Mayer, Grandma Anni, Andreas Bruckschlögl, Felix Haas and Bernd Storm on the Bits & Pretzels stage. (from the left, photo: S. Tischer – Munich Startup)

After a brief word of welcome from Bavarian Minister of Economic Affairs Franz Josef Pschierer, the host trio and Klaus Dittrich, Chairman of the board of Messe München, made a joint announcement that Messe München will be joining the founder festival by taking over 10 percent of the shares. The Munich city council still has to approve the deal. Klaus Dittrich said:

“Both startups and conferences stand for innovation. Visitors regularly encounter new products and technologies here. That’s why we have always promoted startups by providing different concepts at our events. Bits & Pretzels increases our involvement and adds value to Munich as a hub for the international startup scene.”

Me too: just two words?

The key note of the morning was then delivered by civil rights activist Tarana Burke. The New York local is considered one of the founders of the #metoo movement and is the person who gave it its name. Burke had already used the term back in 2006 to give victims of sexual assault an opportunity to express themselves and in turn overcome the trauma caused by the abuse they suffered. Her target group included African American women and girls. She was also already using social media with the aim to reach as many people as possible. But the platform back then wasn’t Facebook or Twitter, it was Myspace. Ten years later, the hashtag #metoo has turned into a global phenomenon. Me too condenses decades of Burke’s civil rights work:

“They were just two words that expressed what these people were feeling. It made them feel seen, heard and understood.”

Tarana Burke (Photo: Andreas Gebert)
Tarana Burke (Photo: Andreas Gebert)

Burke established the connection between herself and the more tech-oriented startup festival on her own: As a black woman, she dually embodies the topic of diversity. With her civil rights work, she has also demonstrated how lasting commitment can turn an idea into something big — a classic startup topic.

The battle for the Munich Startup Award begins

Many other sessions at Bits & Pretzels have a more obvious connection to startups. On a total of seven stages, founders learn fundamental skills, in-depth knowledge and new ideas. A matchmaking area provides an opportunity to establish new contacts. Startups present themselves in their very own exhibition area.

A special feeling of suspense over the three days of the festival is created by the pitch stage: For two days, startups battle against each other in front of a jury. Then on Monday evening, a grand finale is held to determine the winning team.

The real highlight from a Munich-based perspective follows on Tuesday: The local team that comes in first place in the pitch competition is presented the Munich Startup Award, which includes a 5,000 euro prize, by Mayor Josef Schmid on the stage of the Schottenhamel Tent in front of 5,000 guests.

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