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Berlin becoming international hotbed for internet start-ups

Berlin is hoping to grow as a centre of innovation for internet start-ups . Here a few young companies the city has attracted so far.

ResearchGate, set up in 2008, aims to be the Facebook for scientists. It's a website that enables researchers around the world to share their findings, and it has built up a user base of some 2.3 million scientists so far. Scientists use the site to collaborate on projects, find relevant publications and consult fellow experts. It can help researchers to make breakthroughs that would be more difficult to achieve if they did not communicate with each other, says the co-founder Ijad Madisch, a medical doctor. ResearchGate employs some 100 people in Berlin.

SoundCloud is probably Berlin's best-known internet start-up and one of its fastest-growing. Set up in 2007, it is a platform for sharing audio recordings. It has been likened to a YouTube for sound and has some 38 million registered users, of whom about 5 per cent are paying customers. Its basic service is free but it offers other features to paying subscribers. Its founders, the sound designer Alex Ljung and the artist Eric Wahlforss, won the European Entrepreneurs Award of the Year last month.

Gidsy links up tourists and anyone looking for something interesting to do with local people who can offer fresh experiences in the form of offbeat tours and events. For example, if you are a photographer living in Berlin, you can offer walking trips around the city. Or if you are a cook, you can teach people how to make local dishes. The site was set up in 2011 by the Dutch brothers Edial and Floris Dekker, who had moved from Amsterdam to Berlin. The firm has attracted prominent investors including the actor Ashton Kutcher. Gidsy charges its hosts and organisers a 10 per cent fee and withholds payment until after the activity to encourage accountability.

Carzapp has invented a smartphone application that allows people to rent privately-owned vehicles. A box installed in the car connects its electronic system to the mobile phone network and shows the location of the vehicle. The system incorporates an online calendar to show when the car is available for hire. The user can open the vehicle electronically. "On average a car stands unused for some 23 hours per day," the company writes on its website. "Use this potential and comfortably earn money with your car." Carzapp offers comprehensive insurance and assures car owners they retain control over who they lend their car to, and when. It is currently going through a six-month test phase in Berlin.

Auctionata.com is an auction website for the art world. It features a real-time auction system and has a team of specialists who value items and advise potential buyers and sellers. It also publicises auctions and processes payments.



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