Attendees at the NOAH technology conference in Berlin have accused an on-demand dating app of inviting escorts to attend a sponsored party at the event this week.
Multiple attendees at a NOAH party sponsored by the German publishing group Axel Springer* on Wednesday night suspected a number of the women there were escorts, according to the German technology news site Deutsche Startups.
Two attendees who work in venture capital, and several founders and CEOs, told Business Insider that conference guests at the party were perturbed by the appearance of a disproportionate number of young women in high heels and short skirts, some carrying credit-card readers, and none of whom were recognised as investors or startup founders who had been at the conference earlier in the day.
The women caused a debate on Twitter, with attendees discussing the event using the #escortgate hashtag.
The CEO of the company accused of inviting the women denies that the women were sex workers, however. The party was attended by hundreds of people, and only a small portion of them were suspected of being escorts.
Marco Rodzynek, CEO of Noah Advisors, the company that organised the conference, declined to comment on the Deutsche Startups report when Business Insider asked him about it on Thursday. We have since contacted Noah Advisors via email and are waiting to hear back.
Darja Gutnick, founder and CEO of 12grapes, a Berlin startup that has developed a piece of software to help companies assess the performance of their staff, said she left the party early at 11pm because she wasn’t comfortable with the situation. In an email to Business Insider, she wrote:
I was surprised to see numerous girls in short skirts and high heels. I live in Berlin since 3 years and being a founder myself it was obvious to me that those were not founder, nor investors but were girls that were invited for entertainment purposes. I decided to hang out a bit and observe the situation, although feeling more and more uncomfortable, since clearly the only 2 categories of females that were present were girls in short skirt and high heels or wifes of investors walking hand in hand into the tempodrom. I spend about 30 min in front of the entry seeing more and more girls buzzing around. After 30 min or so I decided that I am not exactly comfortable in this situation, and knowing that I’ve got a lot on my plate today, I headed home at 11 pm. Today I spoke to multiple women that attended the party that all left early (after 1 hour or less) since they either felt uncomfortable or their partners were directly approached by girls, which was extremely awkward.
Other attendees talked about the party on Twitter using the hashtag #escortgate. Their tweets were mostly in German but there are one or two in English:
It’s worth noting that prostitution is legal in Germany. And that this isn’t the first time that escorts have been linked to technology conferences. The annual held Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona has a reputation for attracting large numbers of escorts each year, as Business Insider highlighted in this post from 2015.
Deutsche Startups tweeted a photo of what appears to be a flier from the dating app Ohlala inviting women to come and mingle with CEOs, investors, and executives at the Noah party.
Ohlala CEO Pia Poppenreiter denied that the women who attended the party were prostitutes. She said that they were “just friends and people I know,” adding that she wanted to use the conference as a guerrilla PR campaign.
Poppenreiter also claims the women weren’t paid to attend but we heard from an attendee that some of the women carried credit card readers on them so they could accept payments. Poppenreiter has yet to respond to Business Insider on this particular point.
Founded in 2015, Ohlala describes itself on its website as “an instant paid dating app connecting people to date on demand.”
However, the app — also available in Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart, and Cologne — has been described by several media outlets, including Business Insider, as an “Uber for escorts.”
Here’s the full statement from Ohlala about the party:
Ohlala wanted to use the NOAH Party for a guerrilla PR campaign. For that I have many of my friends turned to go to the NOAH Party. Unfortunately, it seems to has gotten out of hand a bit. That I’m personally very sorry. I would not have thought that this leads to such waves. I hope that the event has taken no harm and I apologise one more time to all organisers and participants that I have brought in an awkward position.
An Axel Springer spokesperson emailed Business Insider the following statement:
We didn’t know anything about that and are irritated as well. We are strictly against such activities and we will commit ourselves that this remains a one-time incident.
Gutnick questioned whether Axel Springer had knowledge of the women at the party in a post she published Facebook. However, a company spokesperson said that Axel Springer did not organise the event, and was only involved in arranging the conference program.
*Disclosure: Axel Springer, the lead sponsor for the conference, is the owner of Business Insider.