Austria: a country of inventors?
The talk about the role of innovation in Austria has been in the air in the last few weeks, yet the feelings it has left behind are mixed. Based on the recently published Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) country report of Austria, the rate of product innovations has been on a slight downward trend (see our coverage here). This is a sobering finding, not just when considering the country’s history of notable inventors. Still, innovative Austrian inventions are earning international recognition.
Last week, the European Inventor Award of 2013 – the biggest innovation prize in the EU – honoured Austrians Claus Hämmerle, Klaus Brüstle and Bernhard Krammer for their work at Austrian company Blum. The winners in the Industry category have invented a damper system that makes it possible to softly close furniture doors and drawers.
The idea behind Blumotion was born in Vorarlberg, incidentally one of the Austrian regions with the lowest Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity rate, according to the GEM report. It took root a few years back, when Hämmerle, Krammer and Brustle got fed up with slammed doors, and as a result decided to observe the hydraulic systems that dampen the impact of closing heavy car doors. The Blum researchers adapted this system for apartments, and patented their idea in 2005.
The lesson learned? Investing in innovation does seem to pay off. As entrepreneur and investor Oliver Holle pointed out during the presentation of an Austrian Startup ecosystem map back in January, fostering innovation is particularly important for countries with limited internal markets, like Austria. Since implementing the new technology in the production of kitchen furniture, Blum has greatly profited from its investment in research and development. The company crossed the billion sales mark in 2012 and generated 1,26 billion euros already, Brüstle told derStandard.
As with many state-of-the-art innovations (and inventions), the product developed at Blum is a balanced mix of consumer benefit and commercial sustainability. Blum opted not to outsource production, thus completely manufacturing the hinges in Austria. Today, the company employs over 4.000 people, making it the largest employer in Vorarlberg, and bearing testimony to the potential of the spirit of innovation. And that spirit seems to go above and beyond.
Another example of Austrian innovation is Bucinator, which successfully jumped the hurdles of the medical industry to create an ingenious sensor mattress. Bucinator’s product is targeted at the elderly, and employs technology that makes it possible to sense when a sleeping person is about to wake up. As a result, it prevents falls and injuries. (Find out more about medical startups here.)
Innovation in Austria, however, has not limited itself to just a fieldor two. Another interesting example are Elisabeth Frey and Michele Stinco of polychromelab, who combine cutting edge product innovation with extreme sports in their mountain-top laboratory in Tyrol. There, the couple has produced and patented the Alpine 3 Layer Fabric, which is designed for use in two climate zones (read more about this alpine adventure).
In addition to all of the above, and with the goal to further encourage entrepreneurs to pursue their innovative ideas, Vienna recently hosted MIT researchers and international speakers who presented the latest news in the area of research technology (For more information, see our coverage here).