Andreas Gebhard was born on 24 May 1975 in Cologne-Ehrenfeld. At the age of one, his family moved to a suburb of the Rhine metropolis. He gained his first experiences in front of an audience at the age of nine, as the children’s carnival prince in the Cologne carnival. In this role, Andreas was tasked with hundreds of appearances featuring speeches and songs. Armed with this experience, he was not only class, grade and student representative during the entirety of his school career – he was also up for most shenanigans, which landed him occasional stints in school detention.
In 1991, he finished his secondary education in Rösrath and switched the Thusneldastraße Gynmnasium grammar school to pursue the Abitur exit exam. He graduated with the Abitur in 1994, majoring in English and Social Science.
Immediately following graduation and attaining legal age, he began his 18 month civilian service at a mobile care service and helped in taking care of the elderly and people in need. During the same time, Andreas was elected to Rösrath’s local council and kept his mandate during the legislative period up until 1999. He made headlines with his proposals to cultivate industrial hemp in the municipality and by organising public actions against the RWE utility company. It was during this time that he also began to gain first experiences at the national political level. In 1994, he took part in the founding of the Green Youth (the youth organisation linked to the German green political party the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen – Alliance 90/The Greens) and in 1995 became the North Rhine-Westphalia State Youth Coordinator for Alliance 90/The Greens. The focal points of his political engagement were climate change policy, anti-racism and technology policy.
Following his civilian service, Andreas enrolled in the University of Cologne to read political science and became active in the green party’s student organisation. Next, he worked as a public relations consultant for the University of Cologne’s General Students’ Committee and produced the weekly magazine Rückmeldung for several years. Although he did not graduate with a degree, it is here that he gained valuable professional and journalistic experience. During this time he lived in the centrally located and now demolished “Bierhaus” in the centre of Rösrath and later in Bahnhof Hoffnungsthal. By the end of the 1990s and together with fellow campaigners, he established the self-run youth centre Trainspotting in Rösrath’s train station and was already engaged in organising “Linux Courses” for political activities.
In 1997, Andreas unsuccessfully ran for speaker of the Green Youth federal association. One year later, however, he was elected to the head of the association and in this position (as the quasi-speaker of the Green Youth) shadowed the 1998 German national election campaign and the formation of the first red-green coalition at the national level. He was actively engaged in the protests against German participation in the NATO mission against Serbia and the air strikes on Belgrade. He organised near daily events parallel to the Greens party congress, campaigning for a No vote on this issue. He also held a noted speech at the Bielefeld party congress, which ultimately did not sway opinion in its favour. The end of 1998 to May 1999 were the most intense and defining months of his political life and lead to a continuing estrangement from the Greens.
Parallel to this, Andreas and many others organised the Green Youth Campaign for the 1999 European election. During this time he became acquainted with the future European Member of Parliament for the Greens Ilka Schröder and for the next year became her assistant in the parliamentary office in Brussels. Andreas ended his active political work for the Greens following this and began looking for content and issues, which would not be corrupted through individual politician’s personal interests. He found what he was looking for in the world of free and open software.
At the time, Andreas was working on establishing a weekly culture magazine named Beat Cologne, but in the process ran into financial difficulties and had to end this venture. For several months in 2000/2001 he had the opportunity to work in a Cologne-based start-up as a knowledge designer. However, the company, owned by the current head of the FDP party Christian Lindner, soon had to halt the production of virtual avatars when its venture capital was depleted. It was a crazy time amidst the liberal party and the dot-com bubble.
Following this series of setbacks and failures, Andreas moved to Berlin in the summer of 2001 to begin new projects there. He started at the werk21 agency and worked in the sales department of the “Schulplaner” publication. He also took to the streets to campaign amongst the public for environmental organisation and it was here where he learned the ins-and-outs of direct sales of products – an invaluable experience, which he still applies today when dealing with partners, clients and the press.
In 2002, together with Markus Beckedahl, whom he met through the Green party affiliated “Neue Medien” network, Andreas started a business for press and public relations work and whose first customers included the LinuxTag – at that time the most important open source and free software event in Germany.
newthinking was born , although the name would come later.
The first location of the newthinking office was in Reichenbergerstraße in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Here, the small team worked for one year under the roof of the now defunct firm Lieblinx.net. At the same time and with a different group of people, Andreas developed the concept for a LinuxTrendStore – a place where products from the world of free software could be presented and sold in an “aesthetic and non-technical atmosphere”. This idea was realised in 2004 in Berlin’s Tucholskystraße and was able to continue up until 2010 through the support of an angel investor. Intermittently during this time, the newthinking store had branches in Berlin-Kreuzberg and Cologne. After several years, however, it became clear that not enough products were available to customers, making the business model untenable in the long run. Nevertheless, the final years of the newthinking store were very successful: It not only hosted dozens of “Webmontag” events, where the most current, exciting and soon-to-be-launched internet projects were presented (including Soundcloud, StudiVZ, Plazes, Barcoo) – the newthinking store quickly developed into a focal point for open source and the digital scene in Berlin: amongst other things, the very first Creative Commons Germany set up its headquarters there.
The Store also became home to the open source agency – now named newthinking communications. Supported through further associates, the agency soon found its place at the interface of the digital world, open source and civil society, and published the still leading blog netzpolitik.org, with Markus Beckedahl as Editor-in-Chief.
In the years between 2006 and 2010, Andreas tried his hand at (co)founding further businesses. These included the crowd funding platform Unser-FussballClub – Our Football Club (this venture entered the market before its time and with the wrong team) and DeepaMehta, a knowledge management software, which was intended to play a role in a scientific context rather than function simply as a business. These venture failures helped to sharpen his understanding for team building, product design and business model development.
newthinking communications continued to grow, leading to the establishment of a new office in Berlin’s Schönhauser Allee in 2007, which continues to be the business’s location to date. In the same year, newthinking and Spreeblick KG founded the re:publica conference and Andreas functions as its CEO. The event grew from a blogger meet-up with 700 participants in its first year to a leading event for the digital society, with over 5,000 attendees.
newthinking store GmbH closed in 2011 and some of its associates were integrated into newthinking communications GmbH, which was soon re-named newthinking. Andreas was its CEO since its founding in 2003 and remained in this position until the end of 2013.
During the past years, Andreas was a speaker, member and moderator of and for various events. He was a lecturer at the Popakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg – University of Popular Music and Music Business in Mannheim, member of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce’s committee on creative industries, jury member of the media.net BerlinBrandenburg Investors Dinner, board and supervisory board member at Tennis Borussia Berlin, treasurer of netzpolitik e. V. as well as a founding member of the association Digitale Gesellschaft. He was also a think tank organiser and wrote numerous articles publications and online media.
As a passionate user and promoter of free and open source software he has today become one of Berlin’s defining digital entrepreneurs. Armed with his knowledge and experience, he supports business and associations as an advisor and coach, and remains dedicated to the goal of an emancipated knowledge and information society.