I believe in horses. The car is only a temporary phenomenon. Willhelm II, 1905
640KB ought to be enough for everyone. Bill Gates
Everything that can be invented has been invented. Charles H. Duell, commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899
Innovation is crucial for change to occur. The father of entrepreneurship, Joseph Schumpeter, who surprisingly, was a born and raised Austrian theorist called it creative destruction.
How come Austria is not known (yet) for its entrepreneurial spirit though?
And what exactly does a startup do eventually?
As he himself works with relevant stakeholders to improve the Austrian startup ecosystem, Christoph was able to give us valuable insights into entering the field. We asked Christoph to draw an outline of the Austrian startup scene and its current status, and then talked with him about the most common obstacles every startup entrepreneur has to face: Society, bureaucracy, and, ultimately, one’s own fears.
“Imagine it as a bunch of individual actors all over Austria, not only founders, but also institutions such as universities, incubators, mentors, coworking spaces, political frameworks…Eventually, it’s a bunch of stakeholders. Especially coworking spaces, such as sektor5, for mostly IT-oriented projects, or the Impact Hub, known for its support of social entrepreneurship, function as lighthouses by providing guidance and orientation.
What characterizes the Austrian startup scene, with Vienna being its current hotspot, is its rapid professionalization. There is so much potential out there!”
But what drives someone to begin their own business, especially in an emerging, still unstable field? According to Christoph, it is much simpler than expected.
“I have an idea, which might be disruptive or not, and then I’ll try to realize it in an efficient way. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. One can realize their personal dream in that way, and this is what I do. This applies to progressive people in their 20ies but also to older drop-outs, who have a more mature approach to innovation. It is such a fascinating procedure.”
Yet, being mesmerized by the goal is not always helpful when you first have to make your way through the jungle in order to reach the top. Society, bureaucracy and personal fears can become walls which will block your path.
“Vienna lacks in entrepreneurship culture. In comparison to Berlin or other hotspots in the US, being different, experimenting and founding a startup is not perceived that positively by society.”
The reason, you ask?
“Vienna was crowned as the most livable city in the world, seven times in fact. No wonder society wants to maintain this status quo and hesitates when it comes to breakthroughs and wild ideas. The poor, but hungry for innovation are not attracted by such stable circumstances.”
It is also noteworthy that startups tend to thrive in individualistic societies where individual success and bravery are evaluated much more highly by society. Collectivistic societies on the contrary reward values such as tradition, loyalty and in-group related ideals.
Even though Austria tends to be classified as an individualistic society, numerous historical factors have led to a rather stable business- landscape; and an overall societal hesitation in terms of startups.
How to break through this wall:
In fact…you can’t. Since the alteration of societal patterns and infrastructures requires time, startup founders are highly likely to be looked at skewed (schief angeschaut werden) in the future, too. “Nevertheless, things look good for and in Vienna”.
Once you have put up with society’s disbelief in your attempt to follow your dreams, there comes another wall: bureaucracy.
Founding a startup is no subject at school, nor do relevant study fields train you precisely for it. Finding an adequate trade license for your business can be the first wall you will face, especially when you do not have a particular plan in mind right from the start.
“Remuneration is another big issue”, since half of your startup revenue is to be spent on taxes and other duties. Juggling income and expenditures is far more complex for self-employed startup founders than for employees. Third, bureaucracy can often kill you when it comes to entering new markets and working on progressive projects.
The reason is that the Austrian judicial framework often does not serve the needs of such new fields, thus leading to legal complications and open questions.
How to break through this wall:
Get feedback! Not only in terms of the optimal trade license, but it is also helpful to seek advice regarding monetary questions and legal implications. Events organized by networks such as Startuplive are designed to guide young entrepreneurs to their eventual plan using various coaching methods and workshops. For Christoph, this would be the ultimate incubator of the Austrian startup scene. Hence, networking is key; and so is learning from other startups’ experiences on the market.
Finally, it is often nobody else but you who poses a risk to the startup. Accepting rejection and continuous failure is part of the deal, as well as wondering “What will my friends and family think of me?!” The irregular timetable and the peculiar working conditions, combined with the constant fear of risk: Self-employment requires much more energy, time and emotion of you than regular employment.
How to break through this wall:
Excessive risk-taking demands personal strength, which you can only gain by looking ahead and simultaneously reflecting back. “Eventually it’s not about how many times you fall, but about the times you decide to stand up again. If you want to found a startup, you have to be willing to learn from your mistakes.”, Christoph explains.
Therefore, it is important to aim for cooperation and transparency in your team.
Another brick in the wall?
If you are one of those people who discerns a gap in the market and wishes to follow their ambition in an independent way, the Austrian startup scene already awaits you. “Because you either have the entrepreneurial spirit, or you don’t”. In case you perceive self-employment as the best option for your career, any new brick in the wall you’ll face will be “a chance for you, not an obstacle”.
In a world where there is little land left to discover by people, the market has become the Eldorado of the venturesome and the fearless. As Christoph says, following the even path can be tricky, too. However there will always be the first mover, battling his or her way through this crazy jungle the market is, in order to reach the top: This is just what startups do.
Header image made by TJ Photography