New start-up companies shine forth in old West Berlin light-bulb plant

The huge brick building housing the Berlin Innovation Center -- BIG -- doesn't have the shiny-bright, newer-than-new look that characterizes most such projects. But in its way it is particularly well suited to its purpose. It was built in 1887, during the Gr"underzeit (``the time of founders''), a period of great industrialization in Europe. The factory, owned by AEG, the German electrical concern, produced the first electric light bulbs in Europe, according to BIG officials.

In their efforts to encourage new businesses, European officials like to think they are in the midst of a second Gr"underzeit.

Hans Stiehl, one of BIG's tenants, is a bit more philosophical. He is the founder of Sorbios, which produces a range of environmental control devices, used for such things as waste treatment and sterile-packaging operations.

``Oh, it's a great movement, this wave of entrepreneurs,'' he says, ``but one can be a little skeptical.'' There is still lots of red tape holding up would-be ``founders,'' and the same regulatory authorities that ensure high quality in existing products can make it difficult to introduce new products.

But he also notes, ``Things have loosened up a bit. The government has made it easier to start new businesses. The political climate is good. And there are some nice programs available.''

If you're tired of reading about young high-tech millionaires, take heart in the fact that Dr. Stiehl is definitely in his middle years. After 14 years at an environmental technology company, he concluded, ``I didn't like being in a large firm. And if you don't want to work for anyone else, you have to found your own firm.''

The decision to take the plunge came quickly, when a renovated suite at BIG became available because of another tenant's cancellation. Within four weeks, Stiehl made up his mind to go ahead.

``It's an individual decision to go into business for yourself, just as it's always been.''

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