Berlin’s NOAH startup conference overshadowed by escort scandal

At the high-profile startup-focused NOAH conference in Berlin this week a scandal unlike any other took place, and it involved escorts.

Berlin’s NOAH startup conference overshadowed by escort scandal

Yes, you read that correctly – escorts at an event in 2016. While you’re digesting that, Fortune reports that many male attendees were approached by “attractive, glamorously dressed women who were not part of the conference”. These women then began “flirting with them, touching them and handing them their cards”.

This is bad enough, but somehow it gets worse: it appears that some female entrepreneurs were mistaken for escorts. I don’t think I need to explain why that’s bad.

While Noah conference’s organisers deny having any knowledge that this would happen, it turns out the escorts were actually users of the app Ohlala and were invited to attend for free. Ohlala is a platform for “paid dates”, although it claims to be about company rather than prostitution.

noah_ohlalaThe app that started it all

READ ALSO: How can we address the gender imbalance in tech?

Ohlala CEO Pia Poppenreiter stated that “Ohlala wanted to use the NOAH party for a guerilla PR campaign.” While she explained to Fortune that she invited “many of [her] friends” along, it transpires that Ohlala had sent out notifications to app users about the event.

“Grab a drink & mingle with men who crave the finer things in life”, the notification read. “CEOs, executives, investors. Free entry & cocktails starting at 10pm.” Clearly, an invite that draws massive assumptions on the crowd attending NOAH.

Interestingly, Poppenreiter is blissfully unaware of just how unsuitable this “guerrilla PR campaign” was. “Unfortunately, [the NOAH party] seems to have gotten out of hand a bit…I would not have thought that this leads to such waves.”

While there’s nothing wrong with building an app for escorts, nor should the women themselves be to blame, Poppenreiter should have known what a suitable environment to advertise its services is. It’s terrible that in a time where the tech industry is trying hard to encourage more young women into tech – alongside providing greater equality for women in the workplace – that so many men and women can be made to feel uncomfortable due to a clear lack of foresight.

[Image: Reinhard Link – Flickr]

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