The focus of the IBM SmartCamp European final, which was held on 8 November at Palais Auersperg in Vienna, were the presentations of the seven competing start-ups. The event series, which is part of the IBM Global Entrepreneur programme, also centres around the start-up ecosystem.
Support for start-ups
“IBM created the Global Entrepreneur programme in order to support start-ups all over the world in turning good ideas based on smart software into a sustainably successful business model,” explained Alessandro la Volpe, IBM Director for Ecosystem Development, at the press conference. IBM is currently working with around 1,600 start-ups as part of the Global Entrepreneur Initiative. However, these collaborations are not about helping the young entrepreneurs to find ideas, but about providing assistance for solutions that are already in the implementation phase.
Because as Karin Maurer, Software Manager at IBM Austria, observed in a discussion with futurezone, it is no longer enough to simply have a good idea these days. Access to innovative, software-based solutions, capital, business consulting and international expertise are just as important.
This is where the IBM Global Entrepreneur programme comes in, as Wieland Köbler, Director of ISV and Developer Relations at IBM explained: “Start-ups don’t buy infrastructure. They expect a provider to give them access to infrastructure, because there is virtually no start-up that considers setting up its own data centre these days.” Maurer then added, “This is exactly where IBM comes into play as a solutions provider, for example, by offering processing power or cloud services.”
IBM offers technical support in the development of products, establishes contact with investors, provides access to exclusive networking and mentoring events and gives young entrepreneurs a certain level of publicity in order to facilitate a successful market entry. In recent years, this has enabled the IBM SmartCamp finalists to raise a total of over USD 115 million in venture capital.
“The Global Entrepreneur programme is a win-win situation: The start-ups get support from IBM in all sorts of different areas. IBM, in turn, gets introduced to smart ideas and interesting people, thus allowing it to expand its distribution channels,” explains Rita Jackson, who is responsible for the Global Entrepreneur programme at IBM.
It takes an attractive environment in order to allow a start-up ecosystem to prosper in the first place. “The local policymakers have to put the framework conditions into place. Infrastructure and funding are just as important as optimally equipped universities and educational facilities,” said Rita Jackson. However, it is not all that important where the young entrepreneurs come from, because according to Jackson, “Silicon Valley is everywhere. The entrepreneurial spirit people associate with Silicon Valley can be found all over the world: It’s here in Vienna, in London, Berlin, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Mexico City – everywhere. Hubs for start-ups are spread out over virtually the entire world.”
Therefore, it is important for start-ups to have a high level of flexibility: “The entrepreneurs have to go where the conditions for the realisation of their specific ideas are the most promising,” explained Alessandro la Volpe, referring to the 42 IBM Innovation Centres, which bring investors, business representatives, mentors, developers and start-ups together and provide infrastructure in 37 countries.
Vienna wants to compete with Berlin
People in Austria have also recognised the potential that young companies offer for the economy and the fact that innovative strength has to be encouraged. “Vienna is an innovation-oriented business location that meets the highest international standards,” stressed Barbara Novak, Vienna City Councilwoman and Spokeswoman for Information and Communication Technology, at the press conference. Novak sees it as a public responsibility to provide an intermediary between start-ups, angel investors, the scientific community and policymakers: “We not only want to fund ideas, but also implement them.”
Big data is big
“Mobility, smarter cities, social business, big data and analytics, security and the ubiquitous cloud are some of the areas that are being advanced through the innovations of start-ups. Big data is considered to be the most promising opportunity for start-ups,” said Alessandro la Volpe. He believes that young entrepreneurs are clearly at an advantage here, “because established companies are often rather hesitant to take on this topic. It’s often easier to create something completely new than to change something old.”
Karin Maurer believes that the challenges in big data are on the application side rather than in the area of technology: “The problem is taking the tremendous variety of solutions that already exist and implementing them in specific use cases in a way that makes the customer say, ‘I need this!’”
“Never give up”
The requirements placed on future talents in the IT field have changed dramatically in recent years – the technologies are now very mature and are available virtually everywhere thanks to the cloud. “IT as an end in itself is something we saw 15 years ago,” explained Wieland Köbler, adding, “These days, it is very important to gain experience outside of IT if you want to be successful.”
Based on his many years of practical experience working with start-ups, Alessandro la Volpe believes it is essential for young entrepreneurs to clearly define their expectations: “The expectations are often too high and this makes it easy to get disappointed when these goals can’t be achieved.” Finally, Rita Jackson had a few encouraging words to share with young entrepreneurs: “Never give up!”