In our article series portraying upcoming global tech centers, Vienna, with its Pioneers Festival and growing startup scene, has long been on the agenda. We had a chance to attend the festival in October of this year, and were struck by how much innovation has sprung up in this city in recent years.
With more than 2,500 participants and 1,000 startups, the Pioneers Festival is one of the biggest gatherings of its kind in Central Europe. The festival brings innovators, hackers, VCs, corporates and startups together to “inspire, be inspired, connect and be connected.” The festival is just one of the examples of how Vienna is becoming the hub for bringing the East and West together the modern way.
Similar to Berlin, Barcelona, or Stockholm, the Vienna innovation scene is now attracting the attention of investors, media, and policy makers beyond the region. Contributing to the attractiveness of Vienna for innovators and startups is the fact that it was voted the most prosperous city in the world in 2012 by the UN’s State Of The World Cities 2012/2013 report and second most livable city in EIU’s Global Livability Ranking 2014.
There is no shortage of examples to demonstrate the city’s growing attraction. A few of the more recent examples we’ve seen include:
- The team around Professor Penninger at Vienna’s Institute for Molecular Biology (IMBA)—one of the top global institutes in molecular science—has demonstrated concrete impact. The team is the first European group to have received the Innovator Award from the US Department of Defense for their achievement in breast cancer research. This is only the beginning. “Many of these breakthrough results are only now possible as technology enabled us to reduce the time of genome dissection from a decade to one day,” says Professor Penninger. No wonder that global pharmaceutical and food companies like Baxter, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Nestle have partnered with the institute.
- Some of Vienna’s startups have attracted significant investor and media attention including: Shpock, an app that lets you “find the most beautiful things in your neighborhood and sell your things quickly to other people around you” in New York people might describe it as “Etsy to Go”; Busuu, the new way to learn languages fast; Wikifolio, the asset management app that sets out to disrupt the industry; or Hitbox, the world’s #2 online live gaming center. Other local leaders include Durchblicker and TourRadar, two sites comparing prices for utilities and group travel tours or Flaviar, the new way to enjoy spirits.
- European startup hubs have traditionally been good at early-stage financing through public finance; Vienna is no exception and its IMBA got started this way. In addition to public support, Vienna hosts more than twenty-five VCs, four corporate accelerators and about twenty co-working spaces. Probably the best overview of the startup ecosystem in Vienna can be found at Austrianstartups.com.
The Austria government has realized the momentum in Vienna and its potential for the region and is increasingly supporting the tech ecosystem. In addition, the government is also addressing challenges to the core of the Austrian economy which come in the form of the more than 300 highly competitive small and medium-sized enterprises that export globally and have been around for generations—hardly to be called startups. Fostering innovation and helping these SME’s to support their convergence of the virtual and physical world, the government will invest 80 billion Euros between now and 2020. The plan is set up innovation transfer centers that enable applied research in topics related to “industry 4.0.”
Even with the rise in startups, the Austrian startup scene is about 1/10th of New York City and Austrian university graduates still prefer stable corporate employment to the risky startup environment. However, Vienna is headed in the right direction and fast becoming the startup hub for the whole region. Entrepreneurs such as Pioneers CEO Andreas Tschas are leading the way. He and the Pioneers team set out to raise a $60 million fund focusing on ideas and ventures from Central and Eastern Europe; meeting those entrepreneurs once a year at the Pioneers Festival. “We want to make startups successful and solve some of the biggest challenges in the world at the same time,” says Tschas. The first flying race car, unveiled at the festival, might be this year’s prime example.