GIE Europe: 2 Weeks Out, 20 Companies In!

We’re down to the final week of GIE. It’s been about two weeks since I took my first plane ride, but with everything that’s happened since then, it feels more like months. That first flight carried me from Baltimore all the way to Stockholm, and since then we’ve traveled to Berlin, Leipzig, Prague, Kamenický Šenov, and Bratislava. In just a few days, we’ll be off to Barcelona. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first experience abroad, but the lineup that Professor Harris and the global studies team at McIntire have arranged for us has been absolutely stellar. We’re getting to know an entire network of European business leaders while learning the ins and outs of their companies, their careers, and the important issues facing their regions of the continent. There’s no way I can recount all that’s happened so far, but I’ll report as best I can on the surprises and the inspiration we’ve found here.

Start-ups are thriving in Europe

Our circuit has focused particularly on startups and entrepreneurs who have seen and worked through important changes in Europe’s recent history. In Stockholm, we heard from nearly a dozen young companies in every business from geolocation social media to high-end speedboat sharing, in addition to touring some of the infrastructure in place for young European businesses to grow and network with one another. At Epicenter, we met a former curator for the Nobel Museum, saw office spaces for everyone from Google to Mackmyra Whiskey, and learned, among other things, that there are a few hundred thousand different ways to build a duck out of the same eight Lego blocks. Our presenter also happened to have an RFID chip embedded in his hand that he was using to store gym membership, building IDs, and bitcoin. Professor Harris explained that the technology and start-up focus is intentional, as it allows us to experience the newest frontiers of business in Europe as they are forming. As a Business Analytics student, I’ve particularly enjoyed exploring such a wide breadth of tech companies and getting to meet a number of highly tech-focused business people.

We got to visit another startup in Berlin called Unu that develops innovative electric scooters. A McIntire alum who’s been running their finances helped us understand the work that goes into securing startup funding in both the European and global context (then he let us test-drive the product)! We got to see a lot of the city in our free time, and the diversity of the people in Berlin and the businesses that they’ve created was thrilling.

Testing out Unu’s electric scooter in the name of MS Comm.

Of course, we had to incorporate a bit of Germany’s historical industries, so we also had a comprehensive beer tour of the city. In the Czech Republic, heard from founders of Socialbakers, Represent, and Avast, and then we heard from another alum who helped develop Central Europe’s first venture capital firm. The general sentiment throughout our journey has been one of excitement and inspiration for newcomers to the European market. It’s been interesting to see the differences between the level of capital flowing into Stockholm and Berlin compared to Prague and Bratislava; even then, Prague and Bratislava have proven vastly different cities considering that they were part of the same nation until the ’90s.

The startup spirit is alive and well in the Czech Republic at companies like Socialbakers.

The big hitters continue to innovate

Of course, we’ve also visited a few big players that have been around much longer. In Leipzig, we toured BMW’s newest factory, and in Stockholm we visited both Ericsson’s headquarters and the architecture firm that designed their building. In Kamenický Šenov, outside of Prague, we toured a centuries-old glass-making company called Preciosa and enjoyed seeing the production of both classical chandeliers and high-tech LED installations. We are also getting a first-hand account of the political challenges facing Europe. In Germany especially, we also got to know their governmental operations quite well, touring one of the Bundestag’s buildings with a sitting MP and then the Reichstag Building with the Speaker for the CDU, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party. In Bratislava, we even had to opportunity to tour President Andrej Kiska’s palace after meeting his son, another McIntire alum turned entrepreneur who now works in central European venture capital investment.

Taking in the timeless Czech craftsmanship at Preciosa Lighting.

Our exposure to so much creative energy and innovation in such a short period of time has been both bewildering and inspiring. This has been my first journey abroad, but I think it’s safe to say now that it will be just one of many; my only regret so far is that I haven’t been taking more pictures!

-Written by Mariah Huffman

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