ABA’s CEE Director: “Founders Decide Between London, Berlin, Vienna”

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ABA - Invest in Austria is the national investment promotion company and the first point of contact for foreign companies aiming to establish their business in Austria. We spoke to Birgit Reiter-Braunwieser, Director for CEE and Startups, about foreign founders and opportunities.

The service is owned and operated by the Republic of Austria and directly reports to the Austrian Ministry of Science, Research and Economy. ABA – Invest in Austria offers information, personal consulting and tailor-made services to international founders and investors aiming at establishing business operations in Austria.

Birgit Reiter-Braunwieser focuses on advising companies from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) wishing to start or expand their businesses. If you are not sure where exactly you would like to set up your company or which location is the best according to your needs – this interview will provide some answers.

Who are the founders reaching out to you? Where do they come from?

The founders contacting us are very international, in general. Due to Austria’s location in the heart of Europe, however, we see increased inquiries from neighboring foreign countries, especially Germany and the CEE region, as well as the USA, China, and Syria.

Moreover, the recently established Global Incubator Network (GIN) aims to connect Austrian and Asian entrepreneurs, investors, and incubators. The program was initiated by the Austrian government and since its launch, we also experience more requests from these areas.

The latest Startup Heatmap Europe report revealed that London respectively Berlin are home to 54% and 44% foreign-born entrepreneurs. Can Austria keep up with these numbers?

Founders looking for a location in Europe are deciding between London, Berlin, and Vienna. However, we will have to wait and see how London’s standing changes with Brexit getting closer by the day.

Of course, we are interested in bringing as many founders to Austria as possible. We achieve this through our various services, which are competently and free of charge. Our most used service is definitely the tailor-made consulting, either face-to-face or virtually. From technologies and market developments as well as business conditions such as labor and tax regulations, coworking spaces, incubators, and accelerators – we help our founders with various challenges they might face along the road.

In terms of numbers, we’re currently in touch with more than 100 startups – supporting them in different stages of their business. This year alone, we helped founders from 18 countries to establish or expand their business to Austria.

Could you share one of the more recent success stories you supported?

One that immediately comes to mind is the smart healthcare startup Medicus. The company was founded by Baher Al Hakim, a Syrian in Austria. We supported him in terms of residence and working permit. The Vienna Business Agency provided Medicus with the Vienna Welcome Package, which helped immensely to identify key location partners and determine what Vienna offers to founders. Additionally, we assisted Baher to explore possibilities for grants which, in turn, helped grow the startup to 27 employees within just two years.

As you offer face-to-face and virtual consulting sessions – how do you make sure the founders get exactly what they need?

We make sure to listen to the founders. What stage are they in? Do they already have prior information on Austria as a business location? What are their current needs? These are some of the questions our team of 25 experienced investment consultants will ask in order to advise founders. This process is non-bureaucratic to quickly provide support.

Our consulting sessions are tailor-made, depending on the phase the startup is in, how much experience the founders have and so on. And, of course, the more questions we answer in detail, the more likely it will be for foreign founders to found or expand to Austria as all benefits have been laid out clearly.

ABA’s CEE Director: “Founders Decide Between London, Berlin, Vienna”Austria is already home to very successful startups founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs such as Tourradar or Robo Wunderkind. What are the factors that come into play when deciding on a location?

Soft factors are definitely important when founders choose a location. Whether they visited Austria before, studied here or already know someone who established their business here – these points of contact all matter.

From a more formal perspective, the extensive grant and funding system is a key factor. Austria has a relatively high rate of taxes in international comparison, however, tax money is partly used to maintain a comprehensive funding system and support measures for startups and innovation projects. The offering of such funding is very diverse and well received by the community.

The access to clients and corporates is another factor. In recent years, more and more corporates opened up to actively work with startups in terms of accelerator and incubator programs. For example, the aws Industry-Startup.net is one such program that connects startups with established corporates to open new distribution channels and accelerate market access among other benefits.

One big incentive is certainly also the new startup visa as part of the Red-White-Red Card, which allows applicants to get a residence and work permit for self-employed work for two years. An extension is possible and linked to the creation of jobs, specified annual revenues or further financing.

Austria has been described as a rising hub in the European startup landscape. From your perspective, in what ways has it developed? Where is it headed?

The nature of startups, as well as the number of investors, has improved significantly. As I mentioned, corporates are also eager to work with startups and the environment in which they operate has grown substantially, fostering a mutually beneficent atmosphere. This shows that Austria as a location has advanced to a recognized innovation hub that has a lot to offer, especially in the fields of information technology, new media, life sciences as well as creative industries.

An increasing number of business angels with practical experience support young founders with their know-how and financial resources to make startups successful and build a breeding ground for innovation. To further foster this development, we proactively target potential investors, which is also how we established a broad pool of contacts including investors, accelerators, and incubators – and this pool is ready for startups and founders to jump into.

For startups interested in your services – what’s the best way to get in touch?

It is simple, really. A phone call or an email and we are ready to make an appointment and support founders. Another option is the Office Hours for which we collaborate with AustrianStartups and weXelerate. Startups and founders can reserve a 20 minutes time slot with our experts and meet them at the booked time, either personally or via Skype. In these 20 minutes, we answer the most pressing questions such as growth strategies, financial modeling, and industry best practices to resolve specific business problems.

Editor’s note: The next Office Hours with Birgit Reiter-Braunwieser will take place on December 14 at weXelerate – interested startups and founders should definitely stop by!


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