The Start-up Center towers above the building on Walcherstraße 11a in the second district of Vienna. Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH (aws) has had its headquarters here for about a month. The new offices of the federal promotion bank were officially opened on Tuesday evening. The theme of the opening event was start-ups, for which aws provides funding of EUR 100 million every year. “Start-ups are a major focus for us,” said aws managing director Bernhard Sagmeister. “They are more innovative and agile than large companies, are a key source of impetus, and drive the growth of the Austrian economy.”
The aws start-up promotion program consists of loans, guarantees, subsidies, participation capital, and coaching services. Key elements include a start-up fund and a business angel fund, as well as the newly opened Start-up Center. There, know-how will be shared with new entrepreneurs and coaching services offered. “We cover the entire business founding process from the initial concept to the marketing of the product,” said aws managing director Edeltraud Stiftinger.
aws managing directors Bernhard Sagmeister and Edeltraud Stiftinger – Photo: Gilbert Novy, Kurier
Austria’s start-ups are particularly strong in the areas of the life sciences, the creative industries, and IT, Stiftinger noted. But Austria still has catching up to do in terms of creating new companies. One reason for this is a certain lack of entrepreneurial spirit: “In Austria, many people still do not see being self-employed as a viable career option.” Stiftinger says that another issue is generating social awareness. Anyone who assumes the risk of opening a business could also fail. It is often said that the “culture of failure” is missing in Austria, and Stiftinger noted: “We still have a long way to go in Austria before people believe that failure can also be a source of valuable experience.”
Start-up fund with initial investments
The start-up fund that the bank launched at the beginning of the year has already made its first investments. These include the Viennese industrial start-up Ressel Antriebstechnik, which develops electric drive systems, and the Styrian company Sunnybag, which manufactures backpacks and courier bags with solar panels. “We support companies with a compelling business model and good growth prospects,” Sagmeister said. “The entrepreneurs have to be good, and they have to have teams we can trust.” A total of 250 project applications have already been submitted to the fund. Three to four percent are generally approved.
The promotion bank also wants to support alternative forms of financing such as crowdfunding and crowd investment in the future. “We want to contribute to developing a functioning market,” Sagmeister explained. aws also wants to provide additional support to companies that assume social responsibility. Social business is about more than just generating profits, it is also about what effects a company has on society, Stiftinger said. She names Specialisterne, a socially-oriented company that finds jobs in the IT industry for autistic people, as one example of social business.
Start-up hub Vienna
Both aws managers see Vienna growing as a site for start-ups. “The city is becoming a start-up hub that is taking advantage of the geopolitical advantages of close ties with Eastern European and Southeastern European cities.” Events such as the Pioneers Festival, which is also supported by aws, are giving the city an international reputation, Sagmeister said. “We can be proud of our achievements. Something remarkable is developing here.”
A focus on start-ups
Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH is a special bank of the federal government that specializes in corporate financing. With the Start-up Center that was opened at its new headquarters in Vienna’s second district on Tuesday, the bank wants to highlight the focus of its promotion activities. Roughly 10 percent of Austria’s start-ups are supported by aws. This represents 2,500 projects per year. “One euro in corporate financing from aws leads to ten euros in private financing,” noted managing director Sagmeister.