When you get the chance to attend such a renowned event like TOA, you don’t say no! So as soon as I found out my team and I will be attending representing Tooploox, I was more than thrilled. It was going to be my first time. Basically if you are looking for Tech, Disruption, Artificial Intelligence and all the other buzzwords the world is using right now, this is the place to be. My expectations were pretty clear, a huge event with a lot of high level guest and speakers, great networking activities and LOTS of sales to be done. Little did I know.
What The Heck Is TOA?
If you don’t know what TOA is, you have been living under a rock. Here, let me wiki it for you:
Tech Open Air (often abbreviated as “TOA”) is an annual interdisciplinary technology festival that takes place in Berlin, Germany. It started in 2012 as the very first tech festival organised through crowdfunding. The festival has developed into a well-known tech conference in and out of Europe. The main concept behind Tech Open Air is to bring together the areas of technology, music, art, and science by providing a platform for multi-disciplinary knowledge exchange, collaboration, and development. Tech Open Air is organised every year in July and gathers a number of influential speakers, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, start-ups, and attendees from Germany and 40+ other countries. Also, if you never been to Berlin you need to know that Berlin is not Germany, Berlin has its own soul, its own personality and that was well shown at the TOA event.
To start, the event was held on an old factory located outside the city, with buses helping people to get there. The line to get in was huge! First thing I noticed is that I was the only one wearing a suit and it made me feel that I was 100 years old. In the line, students with mohawks, old ladies with purple hair, people from all ethnicities and genders and, of course, a couple of dogs were getting ready like this was a Black Sabbath concert (yes, I’m that old). As soon as we got in, my first mission was to get a free t-shirt and get rid of my shirt, I wanted to mix with the crowd and feel part of this “new” tech scene! Luckily enough the guys from Typeform were giving away some, now I felt like one of the crowd. There was so much to see and hear that it was hard to figure where to start. We decided to take a look around the Startup Stage where the companies were showing their super powers. It was interesting but nothing that you can say, this is the next UBER or AirBNB. It felt that any idea can become a startup these days, good ones, bad ones and terrible ones. We grabbed a free beer (yes, lots of free beer) and went to listen to the big guys.
Porn, Pot and Microdosing. All About Tech
We had the chance to meet the founder of Opera, the CEO of SoundCloud (who hid pretty well the incoming bankruptcy), Ritchie Hawtin was also there! One of the most influential guys in electronic music, he talked about the future of music and how tech is opening not only new genres but new sounds and instruments that have never been heard before. Finding names and subjects like these and is pretty normal in any tech conference, but we also found ourselves in talks about Porn, Pot and Microdosing. At the microdosing talk there were at least 400 people listening to the benefits of doing a tiny bit of LSD to focus at work and become more productive and happy, the only proof he had was a quote from an anonymous user which it doesn’t help the cause, anyway people clapped and cheered at what The Third Wave was offering. Then, to follow up there was a talk from another startup who wants to distribute marihuana in Berlin…you know, the standard.
Porn directors and producers were trying to explain and teach us how to introduce Porn to our kids…I’ll let that to sink in.They also had a Forest Stage which it was, obviously, in the middle of the forest where you can sit down on the floor under a tent and learn about mindfulness, meditation and every new age initiative that can make you a better person but also a better business man. If you were hungry, you had hundreds of food options from all over the world together with food trucks, all of it accompanied with a live DJ playing some tunes while you enjoy your “Kimchi-honey-soy-organic-gluten free” snack or a good ol’ burger. We tried something called “Legal Highs” from a company called My Nouri who does crazy mixes of legal herbs to give your body a powerful energy boost, make your brain focus and, of course, get you horny.
Overall the two days event felt like the Lollapallooza of the tech events. We learned to leave our expectations at the hotel and let us be surprised with every detail.
Outer Space At The Satellite Events
Now here is where we felt more at home, during the two days that TOA lasts, most companies around Berlin also open their doors and invite smaller crowds to visit their facilities and learn more of what they do, they have bbqs, snacks and…guess what? More free beer. It was a much better way to meet people and do some networking. We attended three different events, Crowdcube, Zalando and T-Mobile. At Crowdcube we met with the awesome Mike Royston, senior equity manager, and learnt how the UK based company is opening new offices around Europe allowing EMEA startups to access 100s of investors and getting better guidance on their business plans and strategy. Their average startup is getting about 1 Million Pounds! And is so much better than one VC trying to control your company, is micro investments from lots of people that act like one big investor. I still think their expansion is part of a master plan to tackle the infamous Brexit.
At Zalando we spend sometime with their Data Science team and met some interesting companies that were looking for inspiration, help and free food. We shared our ideas and projects with them and created new friends and possibly new partnerships. These events are really well organized and they focus a lot on bringing knowledge to the masses, but also they are always looking for fresh talent as Berlin can’t cope with the demand which opens up hope for Polish companies trying to break in the market.
And then it was the “Machine Intelligence” summit where scientist, marketers and engineers were discussing the uses, advantages and disadvantages of AI. We listen to theories about how Data will shape our life and future base on predicting and improving our behaviour all this while hanging out with the real experts. We had a great conversation with THE Prof. Dr. Daniel Cremers , who is developing a groundbreaking computer vision device for autonomous driving, and he promised us a prototype to try on our own self driving initiative
Take me Home
Crazy people, Smart people, Music, food and all the beer you can drink, that’s TOA and much more. We showed up with different expectations but they shaped into a new way to experience a world that is being shaped by tech, not only in business but in people’s lives. Many of the things we saw were not what you would expect from a “tech” experience, in fact, many of the things we saw did not make sense at all! But if there is something we agreed and Barry Lunn from Arralis said it best. “Not everything has to make sense”
Would we return next year? Not sure yet, but that it was a crazy and unique experience, oh yeah it was.