The 2015 edition of the pan-European startup contest Idea Challenge sees an increase in variety and internationality. The series of events re…
Europe's success roadmap. Photo credit: Fernanda Nigro.
When matters of the future are discussed, it is best to consult those who will be forging it – the leaders of tomorrow – currently students and young entrepreneurs. This was the idea behind the Young Leaders Dialogue (youLEAD) on issues of key relevance for the future. Looking at five key talking points: Mobility, Sustainable Energy, Entrepreneurial Opportunities, Infrastructure and Growth and the Future of Europe in general, dozens of students and young entrepreneurs spent an afternoon brainstorming in Vienna. At the end of the day, the participants were united around the need for changes in the entrepreneurship environment in Europe addressing both cultural challenges, like the lack of an all-European identity, and administrative ones, such as the lack of access to research facilities. The culture around failure should be redefined, young people need to be coached better on how to find their place in society and investors and inventors should be better connected, the room decided. A number of speeches and discussions under the motto “The future is in our hands, let’s shape it together” reveal where young people and some established experts believe the future lies.
Dianne Welsh trying to draw entrepreneurs from the crowd. Photo credit: Fernanda Nigro
Dianne Welsh, a distinguished professor and book author on the topic of entrepreneurship raises some interesting questions around the definition of entrepreneurship. "[For me,] it is being creative and innovative in anything you do.” Describing her own experience setting up cross-disciplinary entrepreneurship programs in the US, she stresses on the need to teaching students in any academic major how to think like entrepreneurs. The young people in colleges and universities now are expected to change careers seven times, Welsh says. “Not just jobs, careers,” she underlines. “What is important to realise is that we can be innovative, but it is what comes after innovation that counts as entrepreneurship – bringing it to market, really doing something with it,” she adds.
Roland Ambrosch, Managing Director of ProAutomation, stresses some key points everyone needs to be aware of during the five stages of creating a startup - “Ideation, Conception, Commitment, Validation and Scaling.” “Think about financing from day one, know your costs, start your financial controlling,” Ambrosch says, when speaking of what he would have changed in hindsight. Interestingly enough, this is one part he seemed to have managed well, because his industrial automation solutions company has been making a profit from the very beginning. However, looking back he still sees plenty of areas for improvement and advises any future entrepreneurs in the room to prepare for the new market realities by considering the whole marketing mix from the very beginning. Looking at the demand for IT and tech specialists, he advises to focus on HR when it comes to scaling because finding the right employees is important but keeping them, in this market, is even more so.
Some of the questions and ideas on the discussion boards. Photo credit: Fernanda Nigro
Andreas Hajek, Editor in Chief of CIO guide focuses on the future of the workplace and the development of new business models. “You need to have a solid understanding of your business, think out of the box, work in teams,” he says. “Embrace new ways of working, and try to think differently.”
Anita Graser, a scientist at the Mobility department of AIT points out how new technologies help understand and optimise the flow of traffic and sees the future of mobility in big data analysis. Karin Mottl, Managing Director of Energiepark Bruck/Leitha underlines the need for building awareness and educating the society before taking on major projects like theirs: “We always thought about what worked and was possible in our region and tried to educate people to do it in their own region,” she says, “because I think that this is the only way to reach a sustainable energy system in Europe – if it is done in each region with local resources and people.”
Students from Vienna's TU discussing the future. Photo credit: Fernanda Nigro.
While the experts look at their previous experience, the students in the audience spell the future through the questions they raise. The differences between the US and European entrepreneurs and the real need for entrepreneurial education are some of the issues at their top of mind. While Welsh conceded that there are some natural aptitudes that distinguish entrepreneurs, she also said that about 60% - 70% of entrepreneurship could be taught and it is a vital skillset in preparing companies for the 21st century and beyond. An additional change needed to happen in Austria, where people simply look on failure too negatively and where there still aren’t enough big corporations that know how to inspire their workers: “You will only be able to keep the good people if you give them freedom,” she said, underlining that this was true for startups and world-known corporations alike.
Roland Ambrosch talking about what he would have changed. Photo credit: Fernanda Nigro.
Manufacturing complicated automation robots in Vienna, Roland Ambrosch seems to be looking well in the future and one of the hot topics he faces is the disappearance of menial and repetitive labor, which is gradually replaced by robots. “We have to educate employees and give them the possibility to work with the machines,” he explains, echoing Welsh’s statement on employee empowerment. Of course the conversation also gravitates towards 3D printing and the Internet of Things, both capable of disrupting most aspects of life in the near future and all the more reason to consider the effect on the employees.
“We only had about 20 minutes to try and save the world, but that is fine, because we were only trying to save Europe,” the participants joked at the end of the event, but in reality some of the conclusions weren’t too far off the mark. An afternoon of brainstorming may not be enough to save Europe, but it is, at the very least, a start.
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