Meghan Gregonis is the United States Consul General in Munich since July 2018. Previously, she was Deputy Director for Public Diplomacy in the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs where she oversaw, broadened, and resourced Public Diplomacy engagement in Western Europe. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, she developed businesses at a venture capital company in her hometown of Philadelphia.
Munich Startup: Ms. Gregonis, you have been acting as the United States’ top representative in Bavaria since 2018. Have you had the opportunity during this time to get to know the Munich start-up world better?
Meghan Gregonis: Absolutely. Just very recently, I hosted three promising aerospace companies in Bavaria – Isar Aerospace, Mynaric and Quantum-Systems – at a small gathering that the U.S. Commercial Service organized. These are really impressive, and quickly growing, companies. I am excited that all of them are in the process of establishing technology bridges to the United States! And I know there are many more companies like them, across a broad range of sectors.
In fact, with LMU and TUM, Munich offers excellent conditions for young, innovative entrepreneurs. The environment in Munich not only supports spin-offs from the universities themselves, but it also offers talent in the form of highly qualified employees who are just starting out and who are willing to take risks.
“Innovation Bridge” between Bavaria and the United States
We have good contacts at the UnternehmerTUM start-up center and to initiatives here such as MUCSummit so I can say that there are great resources here for young companies. And we have been working to foster a kind of “innovation bridge” between Bavaria and the United States the help reinforce and grow partnership and exchange between American and Bavaria innovators. The transatlantic relationship is strong and deep, and we can extended it further by uniting the young, dynamic, and innovative-thinking generation on both sides of the Atlantic. I see unlimited potential for partnerships here, and both Bavarian and American start-ups have opportunities to expand by working together across the Atlantic.
Munich Startup: How do you assess the startup ecosystem in Munich?
Meghan Gregonis: I know there is an ongoing battle between Munich and Berlin for the title „German start-up capital“. I’m not a judge, but I have to say that I’m really impressed with Munich’s startup ecosystem. I have been particularly impressed by the innovation and technical expertise I have seen here. I may be biased as the U.S. Consul General covering Bavaria, but there is a unique dynamism that adds to the entrepreneurial environment here.
Munich Startup: For many startups from Munich, entering the US market should be interesting. What do startups have to consider in general?
Meghan Gregonis: According to the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute, the United States is the number one country in the world for entrepreneurship. We welcome businesses of all sizes and types. Private incubator and accelerator programs are plentiful across the entire U.S. market and are often industry-specific and geographically based around clusters and hubs of innovation. The blueprint for investment success of course lies in finding the right place to land. The old motto „location, location, location” still rings true.
How companies from Munich can set foot in the United States
Munich Startup: In Germany, there are programs such as the German Accelerator that support start-ups in their expansion into the USA and other countries. Are there US programs that help start-ups gain a foothold in the USA? What do these programs look like?
Meghan Gregonis: Our SelectUSA Tech program is a tremendous resource for startups and tech companies looking for the right location and connections to establish a successful presence in the United States. SelectUSA also hosts educational events, workshops, and networking events for foreign entrepreneurs; some programs are explicitly geared towards Female Founders. We also invite startups and young companies from around the world to our annual SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington D.C., where they can pitch their products or services, connect with investors, and meet multipliers from some of the United States’ most successful tech ecosystems.
Munich Startup: In addition to the US market, many startups are also interested in American investors. Which platforms can be used to attract their attention or to get in touch with them?
Meghan Gregonis: Thanks for asking. The venture capital (VC) industry was born in the United States! And we remain the most attractive VC market in the world. In 2019, venture-backed companies received $136.5 billion in funding from U.S. investment firms and recorded 237 mega-deals, an 11.8 percent gain on 2018.
Alternative private equity funding mechanisms – for example large angel investments by individual or small groups of investors, or crowdfunded small investments – are also attractive options, particularly among smaller innovators based in the United States.
The platform https://www.usa.gov/funding-options lists several U.S. federal government funding sources for small businesses and is a good way to start your research.
Support from the US Consulate
Munich Startup: How can the US Consulate here in Munich help?
Meghan Gregonis: We are fortunate to have a dedicated Commercial Service team here at the U.S. Consulate in Munich. Through the SelectUSA program, our colleagues are ready to assist qualified Bavarian companies. We can also point companies in the right direction or establish connections to relevant networks and multipliers, for example the members of C.A.S.E. – the Council of American States in Europe and its 15 member states. All of them are extremely well connected and closely follow the start-up scene in Bavaria.
Munich Startup: What are the differences in corporate culture between Germany and the USA? Allegedly, Germans like to be very thorough, which is often perceived by Americans as too slow, to name just one frequently cited example. Have you ever experienced something similar yourself?
Meghan Gregonis: The innovation culture in the United States – deeply rooted in collaboration and knowledge-sharing, respect for diversity, adaptability, and flat organizational structures – truly catalyzes opportunities. By encouraging entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and even the risk of failure, our innovation culture offers an added competitive edge to the business community in the United States. I believe that the promises of risk-taking – even if risk-taking encompasses the potential of failure – are sometimes undervalued in Germany.
Munich Startup: Are there any important customs that Munich startups should definitely pay attention to?
Meghan Gregonis: U.S. business culture has evolved over the last few decades. Today it is less formal and less hierarchical, especially for start-ups. Employees often address one another by first name, have greater access to superiors, and exhibit a relaxed approach to dress and communication. We have even adopted some of this culture and approach at the U.S. Consulate in Munich.
“Don’t underestimate the cultural differences”
Munich Startup: Is there an absolute no-go that should be avoided at all costs?
Meghan Gregonis: Don’t underestimate the cultural differences – we are similar and share a number of values yet differences remain.
And we focus on the bigger picture when pitching an innovation, for example by focusing on how the customer can make use of the product and how he can (financially) benefit from a product. We follow up with the technical details rather than leading with these details.
Munich Startup: Do you have a recommendation for German companies to be successful in the USA?
Meghan Gregonis: Successful innovators seeking a presence or partners in the United States need a profound understanding of our legal system, the cultural and social differences, as well as differing business practices.
You can educate yourself regarding the cultural and social differences.
However, the acknowledgement of the different legal systems (civil law versus common law), employing the services of a good lawyer are important to avoid costly mistakes while negotiating contracts and moving around in a business world.