Crysler Building; Photo credit: Austrian Startups; http://on.fb.me/1C2Pwm3

published 23 Mar 2015 in Austria 5 minutes 16 seconds to read

Lessons learnt on the road

In February, Alexa Wesner, US Ambassador in Vienna, invited a delegation of business representatives and enthusiasts on a trip to New York City. Christoph Jeschke (AustrianStartups) told us about discovering how Austria's startup scene can learn and benefit from NYC's ecosystem.

Can you decline an offer that takes you to the city of innovation and finance? Not if you want to learn more about one of the world's most active ecosystems. I received the invitation from Ambassador Wesner shortly before Christmas but it took me some time to realise what an opportunity this could be. As it was my first trip to the USA, I just wanted to get inspired by the startup culture of New York and learn as much as possible for our ecosystem in Austria.

The Big (and busy) Apple

Participants
Martin Bittner, Cisco, Director Business Dev.
Sabine Ohler, Vienna Business Agency, Head of International Services
Karin Zeltner, Vienna Business Agency, International Services
Rudolf Dömötör, WU Wien
Christoph Jeschke, Managing Director AustrianStartups

When we arrived there, I was not only inspired by the beautiful surroundings but even more by the ambition and drive of the people we met. From 5-24 February I stayed in two different hotels. While the one on the Hudson River was comfortable, the hotel at Rockefeller Center, with its amazing view of Rockefeller Plaza and St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue, was quite an experience.

But of course, I didn’t come to New York just to enjoy a panoramic view from my hotel, even though this might have been worth it in its own right. In general, we had two to three meetings a day and because we asked as many questions as we could, most of them lasted over an hour. The people we met often replied, “I will help you where I can” and I was impressed by their friendliness and willingness to support emerging projects.

One meeting followed the other – right after visiting the European-American Business Organisation, we had a chat with three professors at the Baruch College (a business school for entrepreneurship) about the driving forces of the NYC ecosystem and how Austria could further develop its own startup scene. One of the highlights of the tour came the next day with an appointment at Techstars.

The VP personally showed us around and I used the chance to squeeze out every bit of info I possibly could. Even though he must have had much more work to do, he took the time to answer every question as well as help us understand the NYC scene, Techstars and the overall entrepreneurial spirit in the US.

Making the most of it

While all of us wanted to learn how to import some of the US startup enthusiasm into the Austrian culture, every one of us had a slightly different focus and ulterior motives for the trip. While I was interested in getting closer insights into the US ecosystem and maybe find some role models for the Austrian startup culture, Rudolf Dömötör (Vienna University of Economics and Business), for example, rather made contact with University-based entrepreneurship programmes.

“I was particularly interested in connecting with the entrepreneurship centres at Columbia University and the City University of New York (CUNY). Both universities rank among the top ten entrepreneurship programmes in the States. So, exchanging ideas with them, finding out how they are approaching and fostering student entrepreneurship and how they interact with the other players in the ecosystem, was quite an event!” recalled Dömötör.

In talking to different people at these universities, he grew aware of the similarities and differences between the Viennese and New York programmes. “We are working on similar challenges, like: how can you best get knowledge on entrepreneurship out of the business schools and connect different disciplines? Or: what kind of support and space can and should universities offer to students aspiring to entrepreneurship?” said Rudolf.

NY, NY: A helluva town

Given the tight schedule of meetings and appointments, there was not much free time. Whenever I got a spare minute, I tried to squeeze in as many tourist attractions as I could. On the first morning, I woke up quite early and braved the bitterly cold temperature to watch the wonderful sunrise from the bank of the East River.

After that, I roamed around with a hot cup of coffee and experienced a typical morning in NYC, taking in its skyscrapers, Central Park and the bakeries. I used my free time to do some sightseeing, check out good places to eat and shop and, in the evening, we even had time to see musicals, visit roof tops, dine in good restaurants or just watch some typical American TV shows.

Lessons learnt

What we need are ambassadors for the Austrian ecosystem to show the world that there is a lively startup scene here too.

If you want to actively develop a startup scene, it is important to be open to other ideas and benefit from best practice examples. I got inspired by the trip not necessarily to replicate Silicon Valley here in Austria, but rather to think and dream big. In Austria, we might lack international exposure but we do have well-known names such as Runtastic, Speedinvest, Pioneers or Mobfoy. What we need, however, are ambassadors for the Austrian ecosystem to show the world that there is a lively startup scene here too.

Making the most of trips like ours means keeping a tight schedule of countless meetings with companies and institutions. This gives you the chance to broaden your own network and get encouragement for improving your domestic ecosystem.

“When it comes to recognising the importance of entrepreneurship among students, faculty and university leadership, I’d say we’ve still got quite a way to go in Austria. But I’m positive that we are currently headed in the right direction,” said Rudolf, in summing up his New York takeaway.

Before I went to NYC, I wasn’t sure whether such trips could have an impact on people working on startup ecosystems, but now I understand that they’re definitely crucial.

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