I’m not gonna lie – when putting up my first post in the private AustrianStartups Facebook group in late 2012, I had no idea where this community initiative would end up. And frankly, I still don’t ? But that’s a good thing! Because AustrianStartups has and always will be what the startup ecosystem at a certain point in time needs it to be ?
Let me back up for a minute and fill you in on our short but eventful history. See, back in 2012 I had joined forces with Markus Wagner at i5invest, when it was still a startup factory, and in a flash, the whole startup ecosystem opened up right before me. Though calling it ecosystem seems now out of place when thinking of the scene’s infancy.
You see, startups were still a relatively rare breed, mingling on pretty much the same grounds. It was around that time that I got to know RealLife Connect, a young Viennese startup who’s co-founder Jürgen was running this Facebook page coined AustrianStartups. He started it as an open space for exchange among entrepreneurs and had grown it well into over a hundred followers.
Back then he was leading the charge on expanding his business overseas and, while he didn’t have time to run it, he also didn’t want to let his side project fade away. So in a fit of youthful naiveté I rose to the challenge, got an admin role and started to play around with the community in a grassroots fashion. ?
I started by connecting with other local up-and-coming communities like Pioneers and TEDxVienna, while posting startup relevant stories from and about founders.
While the community and interaction within grew, I soon found others who shared the passion of bringing startupers together to learn from each other, and Can, Daniel, Adiam, Patrick and Christoph emerged as the most devoted partners I could’ve wished for ? Soon we hacked together the Start VIE interactive map on austrianstartups.com with the first searchable crowdsourced startup database for Austria and started hosting regular informal meetups we later called Stammtisch.
AustrianStartups had quickly become more than a digital community. It was the common voice of a scene, a physical space of confluence and a repository of knowledge & ressources. ? Something that didn’t belong to anyone in particular, but to all simultaneously. A common good of sorts. So we formalized it as such, forming a non-partisan, non-profit initiative by, for, and of the Austrian startup community with the aim to increase its visibility and strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Once set into motion, AustrianStartups proved a force to be reckoned with: sporadic gatherings turned into regular monthly Stammtisch events, the crowdsourced database served as groundwork for mapping the whole Austrian startup ecosystem and aggregating & coordinating information set the foundation for publications such as Visions for Startups in Austria (2013), The Startup Agenda (2017) and The Austrian Startup Monitor (2018).
As the startup environment in Austria changed over the last years, AustrianStartups did so as well, simultaneously influencing that transition and adjusting to it, to better cater for newly arising needs. Perhaps this is best reflected in the constant flux of talented and dedicated people ?♀️?♂️ involved at all ranks – from volunteer helpers to operative management and finally to its board, which I have been a part of ever since signing the organization into existence.
So I’ve been privileged enough to see a generational change and the extremely positive impact it could have on the evolution of the non-profit. With the very skilled Markus following in Christoph’s footsteps at the helm and visionary individuals like Maggie and Daniel enriching the board, I’ve witnessed first hand the transformational power of maintaining a constant influx of new people in all layers of AustrianStartups.
Today, the vision of this organization is clearer than blue skies over Alpine slopes as it aims to make entrepreneurship as commonplace in Austria as skiing is. ⛷️
And while over the last 6 years I have left my mark on AustrianStartups as much as it has on me, the best way to support its current vision and assure its continued growth is to clear the path for the next generation. So I’m extremely proud to announce that I have found an incredibly talented, intelligent and motivated successor in fellow startup founder Katharina Unger, to whom I’m entrusting my board seat, effective immediately.
But as I can’t really stop applying myself, I tend to stick around. Therefore I will be joining the AustrianStartups Advisory Board alongside many of the startup ecosystem elders, continuously supporting with bits of wisdom from the sidelines. Change is the only constant and talking about the future of the ecosystem is definitely a tense conversation (pun intended), but certainly also one that involves AustrianStartups. ✨
When I left Austria, there were two things that were quite definitely not on my list: founding a startup and coming back to Austria anytime soon.
When I did end up founding a startup only 2 years later, in Hong Kong, Austria was still not on the map for me and my concerns couldn´t be more prejudiced against my own home country. “Notary public? Too much hassle” I thought. Some superficial research into the bureaucracy of raising grant fundings or setting up employee stock options confirmed my bias: we felt we had no time for an Austrian “between a melange and the spritzer kind of” pace of doing things. We had a few months between building an MVP, founding a company, raising funds, building a team and launching our first Kickstarter campaign. And we were convinced this was only possible in two places: the US and China.
But then I had a change of mind: In 2016, on a trip back home, I stumbled into an AustrianStartups Stammtisch in Sektor5. Wait what? International vibes, energy, cool people – something good was going on here! AustrianStartups came across as young and spirited but also professional and trustworthy. I had known similar organizations on government level from Hong Kong or Singapore but an independent group standing in for national startup matters, represented not by the government but by the ecosystem itself is a truckload more power behind the wheel. I was impressed!
Another 3 years later, I am humbled to be invited onto the board of this cool gang. Since our startup is, as of not too long ago, not only a Hong Kong but also an Austrian Startup, I am now sharing the mission with AustrianStartups to build a better ecosystem for everyone. And let me be clear: many of my prejudices in founding a startup in Austria later proved to be wrong or at least not as annoying or difficult as imagined in the first place. But we definitely have a lot more work ahead to make it accessible and easier for everyone!
The topics where I hope to contribute value as a sparring partner in my time on the board are particularly: International Matters (particularly Asia) and Hardware. I have lived abroad for a long time (US+Asia) and still splitting my time between Asia and Europe. In our startup, we have bootstrapped our way from prototyping to manufacturing in Hong Kong and China. Of course, I am also happy to share my experiences as a female founder and public speaker.
One of the topics close to my heart are the creative industries: as an industrial designer myself, I know how challenging it is as a creative professional to dare the jump to become larger than a one (wo-)man show. We could do better to help creatives to start-up and also make better use of creative skill sets in startups in general. The other topic is agritech/food startups: this sector is growing worldwide with more venture capital flowing into alternatives to meat, improvement of crops and digitalization in agriculture. Austria has a variety of landscapes and climates and a very open-minded and sustainability-oriented audience when it comes to food and agriculture. It therefore offers good prerequisites for prototyping and testing agtech.
We have a lot to do. Wherever we can though, we should together use Austria´s benefits to inspire more diversity, more fearless super(wo-)man action and more optimism! Let´s do this, Austrian Startups ?