The City of Cologne and SOSA, a global innovation platform headquartered in TLV, will soon be marking an important milestone – five years since they launched their global partnership.

For Cologne, it has been a time of expanding opportunities for their established industries and start-up companies to tap into one of the leading tech ecosystems in the world – Tel-Aviv. For SOSA, the relationship quickly became a blueprint for future collaborations with foreign Governments and Cities. Below, we break down how the City transformed itself into a competitive, global tech ecosystem and the opportunities the partnership offers for Cologne start-ups and corporations. One of the most important issues leaders on the local, national and international levels contend with on a regular basis is that of economic prosperity.  Especially today, Cities and Countries are competing on building top startup ecosystems that could generate jobs and tax revenue. A more advanced challenge is keeping existing industries thriving while encouraging the establishment of new businesses. It is in this spirit that several years ago, the city of Cologne in Germany started looking for ways to keep its economy competitive when it understood that many of its industries were at risk of falling behind technology companies and new entrants disrupting age old business models.

Laying the groundwork for a connected tech-ecosystem

Cologne has been an important center of commerce for centuries. Its strategic location on the Rhine River was vital for trade dating back to the 1200’s. It formed a crucial link to all parts of Europe and was considered a key intersection for traders along several routes. Post-World War Two, the majority of Cologne was rebuilt from the ground up. Its leaders were mindful of the need for a healthy business center in the city. They built an efficient infrastructure for air, sea and land transportation and offered incentives which convinced many large companies to build either headquarters or open key branches there. The city is also a major hub for the automotive, insurance and media industries while developing a large start-up community.

With these new opportunities and challenges at their doorstep, Cologne formed a start-up unit in the Mayor’s office which was designed to play a key role in developing the tech ecosystem for the city. One of its main tasks was to connect local businesses with international tech players and opportunities to strengthen their own innovation capabilities and remain at the forefront of their industries. Today, the Startup Unit Cologne is part of the newly founded KölnBusiness Wirtschaftsförderungs-GmbH.

Already ahead of the curve in understanding the need to promote innovation while seeking partnerships with successful tech ecosystems outside German borders, it was at this stage that the partnership between the Startup Unit Cologne and SOSA was formed, a collaboration which is soon celebrating a fruitful five years. Roland Berger, the former head of the Media and Businesses Unit for the city of Cologne and now the ambassador of the German–Israel Start-up Exchange Program remembers how the collaboration started – “The city began to systematically work towards developing the start-up ecosystem and comprehensive digital transformation of small and medium sized businesses within the framework of the Media and Internet Economy Unit in City Hall. While searching for successful nation and international examples, it became clear that Cologne could exchange a lot of learning and experience from the start-up development in Tel Aviv.”

A partnership is formed

Cologne and Tel Aviv are twin cities but the exchange between the two were mostly youth and cultural. Berger explains “The economy or even Tel Aviv as a startup hotspot was never a part of the cooperation between the two cities up to that point. We spoke to several hubs in Tel Aviv, but it was clear that SOSA was the ideal partner for us. SOSA’s major ties with investors, a large network of multinationals and insights into real world competences are just what our city needs. This is exactly what we were looking for both our young start-up scene and the digital transformation of Cologne as a business hub. “

What’s in it for Corporations & Start-ups from Cologne?

Today through the partnership Cologne offers corporates an opportunity to get immersed in the tech market in Tel Aviv – meet with the most relevant startups disrupting their fields, leading investors and MNCs with open innovation activities, in a week curated by SOSA. Cologne start-ups have the opportunity to land at SOSA, enjoy free workspace and get access to SOSA’s network of 350 multinationals, weekly tech events and get the necessary tools and experience for building global companies.

Berger believes that innovation is the decisive factor to make business models fit for the future and that Cologne’s start-ups, investors and companies have learned a great deal during the city’s partnership with SOSA. One sector that has proven that is the insurance industry which has prospered considerably from the partnership. Cologne is a major hub for German insurance firms which are in need of innovation to keep up with the demands of the digital marketplace. In the last two years alone, there have been over 15 commercial pilots between Israeli start-ups and German companies as a result of SOSA’s partnership with local insurance hubs in Cologne.

What’s next? As part of the ongoing cooperative agreement, SOSA will soon be hosting another delegation of top Cologne corporate representatives who will be meeting with a fresh batch of Israeli start-ups and potential investors. The city will also enjoy the new ties SOSA is developing for its New York offices allowing them to expand their efforts on a larger international scale. But perhaps the strongest sign of success of the Cologne-SOSA collaboration is how others are following suit. Countries such as Australia and Spain have launched similar successful landing pad programs over the past couple of years, proving that strengthening local ecosystems demands a global approach.