Photo credit: Pioneers, inventures

published 1 Jun 2015 by Petya Sabinova in Austria 6 minutes 24 seconds to read

Vienna’s Crystal Ball – Pioneers Festival 2015

A global challenge, an expressive robot on stage, VR skydiving in the hallway, a battle of European supercars and the big winners of this year – Dronamics. It’s all in our recap of the Pioneers Festival 2015.

Pioneers Pioneers Festival

We strongly believe that all future technology will be driven by startups.

Pioneers CEO Andreas Tschas 

Vienna is known for having balls – the Opera Ball, the Life Ball or the chocolate Mozart balls on sale everywhere. For the past four years, it has also been home to a crystal ball of sorts – the Pioneers Festival, offering more than just a glimpse at the future. From purely technical details of advances, through lessons on how to turn dreams into reality, to the personal impact on any given human, the two-day event painted an exiting future to the 2,500 in attendance and over 100,000 tuning in via live-streaming.

“We strongly believe that all future technology will be driven by startups,” the festival’s CEO Andreas Tschas said during the opening, hinting at great things to come. It was the first time the festival received strong political support – both State Secretary Harald Mahrer and Vienna Vice Mayor Renate Brauner appeared on stage to welcome the crowd and commit to making Austria a true startup hotspot.

For a greater impact

A number of big announcements during the festival supported Austria's ambitions, and more than a dozen startups walked away with prizes and funding. The most anticipated award of the event – the "Startup Oscar" – was announced at the grand finale with an impressive acrobatics performance and light show. Bulgaria-based Dronamics beat 1,600 startups from close to 100 countries to win the Pioneers Challenge and a check for 100,000 euros from Speedinvest. Founded by brothers Svilen and Konstantin Rangelov, the company aims to produce cargo drones at a fraction of the cost of airplanes. Oliver Holle of Speedinvest said that the jury appreciated the idea of two brothers disrupting the airplane industry calling them "the new Wright brothers". His seed fund also announced a $55M partnership with New Enterprise Associates, which should open more doors to companies in the region.

Pioneers: not a conference but a festival

The organizers had two big announcement themselves – the launch of Pioneers Ventures, a pre-seed fund to support promising startups, and the expansion of their competition into a Global Impact Challenge across seven verticals. They even pegged the date for the next festival – 23-25 May 2016, when one of the seven winners across the verticals will receive the Biggest Global Impact Award. For more information, read our story on this on Wednesday.

We could see the death of privacy and it may be the ideal outcome.

Tim Chang, Mayfield

The city of Vienna awarded five startups with “welcome packages”, and another four walked away with checks from the POST Startup Award. “It is a great opportunity to develop our business not just in Austria but in all of the German-speaking world,” Mohamed Fakihi, whose eMunicipality won a welcome package, said. Cisco named their cohort of five new companies for the Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) Programme, highlighting the successes of two of their 2014 winners – MammothDB and Mentat Innovations.

It wasn’t all just about the awards, either – two salons showcased exciting products like the Ecocapsule sustainable mobile home, the musical Mash Machine, advanced electricity metering by Energomonitor and a VR skydiving rig by the Technical University of Vienna. Startups also got to pitch in 90-second sessions or get roasted on stage by seasoned investors.

Our Robot Overlords

  • Best quotes of Pioneers 2015 (a selection)
  • "Next year we aim for half-half [gender ratio at Pioneers startups]. As they say, half of the world, half of heaven, half of society" – Vienna Vice Mayor Renate Brauner.
  • "The best success stories begin with pain and failure" – Tim Chang, Mayfield.
  • "I truly believe that appreciation is a currency you pay the universe with." – Steli Efti,
  • "The difference between a business man and an entrepreneur is that the entrpreneur sees something no one else can see."  Soulaima Gourani, CEO
  • "The only obstacles you face are you and you can get over them." – Nicole Glaros, Techstars.

The technology at the festival was mind-boggling and, in some cases, barely believable. With deep dive sessions on AI, robotics and health - and biotech, the power technology may one day yield was an overarching topic. Hermann Hauser warned that AI would be humanity’s biggest challenge, as Tim Chang of Mayfield spoke of the overmind – a network of human consciousness. “We could see the death of privacy and it may be the ideal outcome,” he said. Ben Taylor of Rainbird pointed out that “technology in itself is neutral and it is down to us to use it safely and responsibly.” Jong Lee of Hanson Robotics and his expressive humanoid robot demonstrated the paradox that robots may even “help us be more human.”

A focus on transportation explored breaking frontiers. Ben Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Technologies promised a safe and reliable super-speed train with construction starting in 2016. NASA’s Bobak Ferdowsi talked of a new mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa and broke into a blush when the audience asked what it felt to be the sexiest men in the space agency. Exquisitely moderated by Ralph Simon of Mobilum Global, the Battle of the Supercars, between Mate Rimac’ Concept One and Christian von Koenigsegg’s CCXR brought thundering applause. In the end both cars were deemed equally impressive, but there were two clear winners – two audience members, who got a trip to their favourite supercar’s factory and a lap around a track. 

Tools of the trade

Focused on giving entrepreneurs the skills to impress and manage their clients, investors and teams, the lectures and discussions on the smaller Academy stage often “stole” audience away from the Arena to the lament of moderator Daniel Cronin. In fact, the Academy got so crowded during the 90-second pitch sessions that people were sitting and lying on the floor. 

Perhaps one of the most anticipated talks was that of Steli Efti from, whose lessons on selling and hustling were met with a standing ovation. Back by popular demand for a third year in a row, this time he was also given an Arena speech on how to fire team members – which he once did while dancing to NSYNC. Mayfield’s Tim Chang borrowed a page from Joseph Cambel’s Hero’s Journey, when explaining the importance of story telling in all aspects of business and Nicole Glaros from Techstars taught the audience to visualize success with her jedi tricks, while Fred Destin from Accel Partners explained how to approach investors. 

With six separate festival areas focused on technology, startups, speeches, lessons and pitching competitions, perhaps the only thing sorely missed at the Pioneers Festival this year was the technology or gadget to allow being in many places at once. Maybe next May. is a media partner.