© Munich Startup

Bits and Pretzels 2019: “There are Gretas everywhere”

A brilliant beginning to Bits & Pretzels 2019: With Barack Obama as the keynote speaker for this year’s opening ceremony, hosts Andreas Bruckschlögl, Felix Haas and Bernd Storm delighted more than 5,000 people at the Munich festival. — By Helen Duran, Sandra Ohse and Regina Bruckschlögl.

3, 2, 1 — go. Pretty much on time right after 10 am, Munich’s largest startup festival – Bits & Pretzels – began. This year, however, the opening ceremony was not held at the International Congress Center Munich, but rather in a significantly larger hall at the expo. The mood was good and everyone was waiting for Barack Obama, the 44th  President of the United States.

Motto of Bits & Pretzels 2019: Impact

Before getting to that point, the three hosts, Andreas Bruckschlögl, Felix Haas und Bernd Storm, greeted the audience first. The motto of this year’s Bits: “Impact.” Felix Haas feels certain that every individual can make a difference. The best example: Greta Thunberg.

“We want to follow the spirit of Fridays for Future and build Founders for Future.”

The Bits & Pretzels team also came together with the former editor-in-chief of Stern and SZ-Magazin, Dominik Wichmann, to announce a new media portal known as “The Maker Mountains.”

A welcome from the Bavarian State Minister of Economic Affairs, Hubert Aiwanger, was followed by Dan Ram, who was the MC of Bits once again this year. He got three inspiring female founders on the stage who have already made a real impact. One of them was Zarah Bruhn, founder and CEO of the Munich startup Social Bee. In our short talk after her appearance, she said:

“Greta Thunberg is always accused of not offering solutions. But she’s opening the door for us as social entrepreneurs to make an issue out of impact.”

Someone who also knows how to get participants excited is Reid Hoffmann, co-founder of Linkedin. He gave tips about “blitzscaling” in different startup stages. The role played by science fiction in technology was also briefly touched upon. Hoffmann said:

“Storytellers influence the way we live. We need stories that are for hope and for solutions.”

Standing ovation for Barack Obama

And finally: Barack Obama. Before he was greeted with a standing ovation and plenty of applause, the three hosts briefly explained how their efforts to contact Obama began as long as two years ago. After their personal invitation video didn’t receive much of a response, the three then finally received the good news in early July. Their reaction: F#*K, do we even have the budget for that?

In the moderated talk with Britta Weddeling, Bits & Pretzels’ Editor-in-Chief, Obama got right into deep issues. He sees diversity — the Bits motto from 2018 — as an opportunity. The more different perspectives you bring together, the greater it benefits an organization or company. An open-minded culture that gives women a stronger voice was also a topic:

And why is it also important for companies in Silicon Valley — that he doesn’t want to mention by name — to pay taxes? Because the nation can pay for important things like education with those taxes, which is the basis for a successful ecosystem.

“Entrepreneurial culture starts with societies who invest in their children.”

Barack Obama

He also commented on climate activist Greta Thunberg. In his opinion, she carries a burden that no 16-year old should have to bear. She shows that adults clearly haven’t done their duty. And he also pointed out that there are Gretas all over the world — young people who are making a real impact. With the Obama Foundation, it’s exactly those changemakers that he’s looking for.

“We are not gonna solve our problems without some sort of collective action!”

As the last question, Britta Weddeling wanted to know how Obama manages to remain optimistic. His answer: When your name is Barack Hussein Obama and you’ve been in the White House, then you have to be an optimist.