Austrianstartups – the common voice of the startup community?
“We are all Austrian startups” – with these words Daniel Cronin, founding board member of Austrianstartups, opened the association’s first meet-up – the so-called Stammtisch – at the Viennese co-working space Sektor5 last night. Austrianstartups is a non-profit association (Verein) with the aim to provide a neutral platform to strengthen and promote the Austrian startup ecosystem. One of the main goals is to represent the interests of startups and investors at the political level.
So far, Austrianstartups has mainly been known for its Facebook page. Originally started by Jürgen Höbarth, co-founder of RealLifeConnect, the page has grown to 2500 likes and counts around 80 administrators. At the beginning of this year, Vlad Gozman, founder of TEDxVienna and associate at i5invest got interested in the online community. Working on the Austrian startup ecosystem map with i5invest he realised that startups in Austria lack a collective voice and an effective online forum to connect, he said. Together with Adiam Emnay (SpeedInvest), Can Ertugrul (formerly i5invest and Pioneers/STARTeurope), Daniel Cronin and Patrick Manhardt, he founded the non-profit association Austrianstartups, brought on board Christoph Jeschke as chairman or general manager, and started to expand services beyond the initial Facebook page.
Survey on political demands of startups
As Cronin, who like Ertugrul is known within the scene for moderating startup events such as the Pioneers Festival 2012, explains at the well-attended meet-up: there are thousands of startups with common interests, but they are not connected or organised. Austrianstartups wants to “connect the dots” and become a voice for startups, agencies, investors, co-working spaces, and other enabling players. As such, it intends to become a national representative body of the startup ecosystem.
Spurred by the upcoming general elections, Austrianstartups plans to put together concrete political demands stemming from the community. Based on feedback of 90 stakeholders, the board has developed a survey that will go live this week. The goal is to collect input from Austrian startup founders, and to develop a set of concrete political demands.
Gozman admits that there is currently no effective legitimisation by the community that acknowledges Austrianstartups as a representative body. Through connecting stakeholders, increasing visibility, and collecting demands from the community, Austrianstartups hopes to build up this legitimisation over the next year.
Is it really neutral?
While Gozman conveys the image of a democratic and community-driven platform, it remains unclear how members of the association can be involved, what rights and duties a membership entails, and how a concrete process for decision-making will look like – even to the founding board members themselves.
Moreover, although the platform claims to be neutral, the fact that membership is free, money will be coming from a few sponsors and most of the board members are associated with i5invest and SpeedInvest, one must wonder about how the association intends to maintain its neutrality.
A further aspect that left us puzzled was the abscence of Pioneers representatives Jürgen Furian and Andreas Tschas. Although the founding members of Austrianstartups claimed not to see themselves as competition the organisation, that is one of the most visible players in representing the Austrian startup scene, their abscence from the association left us wondering about the relationship between the two.
General manager Christoph Jeschke shaking hands. Photo credit: Floor DreesOpinions from the attendants
While the general feedback was positive, some attendants criticised the appointment of a general manager rather than a chairman as undermining the non-profit structure. Another point raised was the fact that startups already have a representation of interests through the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, WKO.
Jeschke highlighted that they do not intend to substitute WKO but want to offer specific additional services and give a dedicated voice to the interests of startups. Although he wants to wait for the results of the survey, Jeschke can imagine demands like the promotion of entrepreneurship within the educational system, tax and labour cost reductions for startups, as well as tax incentives for investors.
It will be interesting to see how Austrianstartups willdifferentiate themselves from this existing organisation, particularly, when considering that WKO and its suborganisation Junge Wirtschaft actually have the leverage to put forward a bill to the Austrian government, which is currently happening with the case of crowdfunding (see our previous report).
For now, the main value of the Austrianstartups association seems to lie in networking and connecting the community. It remains to be seen how many founders will actively engage in the structure of the association. Critical voices point at the fine line between representation of interest and lobbying, and are curious about the future sponsors of Austrianstartups and how the association will live up to its non-profit and community-driven structure.
In order to enhance the external visibility of the startup ecoysystem further, the team wants to organise Startup Awards together with a foundation that plans to contribute prize money between 50.000 and 100.000 euros in 2014 and continue to hold regular meetings.
We are curious to hear your opinions on the new association!