Go Silicon Valley, an international trade initiative of the Austrian Ministry of Economy, Family and Youth (BMWFJ) and the Federal Economic Chamber (WKO), offers Austrian SMEs a chance to access the U.S.A’s (perhaps the world’s) centre of IT innovation, Silicon Valley, California, and access to its abundant sources of partnership and venture capital. Up to 20 companies will be selected to attend a three-month business accelerator program at the Plug and Play Tech Center (P&PTC).
For the fourth time in as many years, this year’s competition runs at breakneck speed. The application deadline is January 31, so you’d better act soon if you don’t want to miss this opportunity. The shortlist selection will be revealed gradually beginning February 1, followed by: An Info workshop on February 14 (a perfectly geeky way to spend Valentine’s Day), a fine-tuning of contestants’ pitches to an all-American jury of industry and finance experts, and an announcement of the winners at month’s end. The three-month P&PTC workshops are staggered throughout the year, the first of this cycle begins on April 1 (no fooling).
Who May Apply?
Any Austrian SME or spinoff of a large company in the IT field is eligible to apply, if it:
- has at least two people on its staff
- has not previously applied to the programme
- can send one or two people (who are authorised to make decisions on behalf of the company and can conduct business in English) to Sunnyvale, California, for three months (travel and lodging at own expense)
The ideal candidate has a groundbreaking (and preferably patentable) business idea that has already been tested and/or in prototype. The candidate should be focussed on networking with and obtaining feedback from essential industry and financial players in the U.S. market, with the goal of getting venture capital/business angel support for launching or ramping up operations in the U.S.A.
What you get
While you won’t get a private jet, a three-story beach villa with 24/7 servants, a fridge stocked with caviar and Dom Perignon, or a suitcase full of gold, you will get:
- a small office space (read: cubicle) at P&PTC
- briefings on American business conventions; networking with partner companies, VC firms, business angels and consultants; participation in a financing forum (PACT), and
- opportunities to present your idea/business plan directly to VC firms and business angels.
You will also have access to a wide range of support from the Austrian trade centre in Los Angeles.
Winners of this year’s competition will also belong to an “elite” club of 51 previous participants, 36 of whom have found strategic business partners in the U.S., six have established U.S. subsidiaries and three have received VC funding. According to the WKO’s Rafael Rasinger Amilivia, the biggest success story to date is the business-invoicing product epunet (a.k.a., Everbill), created by Blue Monkeys, who have advanced to the next round of funding evaluation from the venture capital firm 500Startups and are in the hunt for up to $1 million in funding this year. A link to Everbill’s pitch from last year can be found here.
xScited’s Josef Schodl cites a German saying, “Der Prophet im eigenen Land ist nichts Wert” (in his native country, the prophet has no worth) in explaining why attending the programme in 2011 was so useful. “Soon after being chosen for GSV, we started getting calls from investors and found our first business angel here in Austria before flying to California.” He feels that his company and perhaps 75% of the others were too green to take full advantage of the program. While it’s “never too early to breathe the Silicon Valley air,” – to take advantage of the coaching opportunities there – “your prototype and presentation should be ready to roll from the moment you step off the airplane.”
Schodl, who will be founding a U.S. company this spring, was pleased with the “Austrian Connection” in Silicon Valley – the dozens of Austrians in and out of the programme whom he met and networked with there. He was not so “xScited” about the free office space at P&PTC (“I didn’t go there to sit at a desk and check my e-mail”) but rather valued the events and networking opportunities. “The biggest challenge isn’t finding a place to work, but a place to live. Rents there have doubled since I first participated. Current applicants to GSV should keep this in mind.”
Thomas Schranz of blossom.io participated from October to December 2012 and found most useful the proximity to potential customers. “We visited small start-ups and big companies like Google, all nearby Sunnyvale.” Already having a beta product with some traction was important for him then, both in terms of customer development and getting a foot in the door of potential investors. He adds, “the participants who go there too early in their development or who expect to have everything placed on their lap by the WKO are the ones who are disappointed by the programme. P&PTC is incredibly well-connected but you have to take the initiative to ask for support and networking leads.”
Taking Time to Digest It All
Back in Austria at the moment, Schranz is going back to the Bay Area in the near future, likely to establish a U.S. company. SunnyBAG’s Stefan Ponsold has already returned after spending some time back home. Even though his product is hardware, he felt the GSV program was well suited to his needs (looking for VC and e-commerce partners). He felt it was important to go back after taking some time to digest all that he learned during GSV and now he feels much better prepared and at ease with his presentation pitches. “The bar in Silicon Valley is really high. If your idea and pitch aren’t really well developed, no one will pay attention. It’s good to train your muscles during the GSV program and then return for the real dealing only when you’re in top shape.” He established SunnyBAG, Inc., in America in January in time for the CES Vegas and will be getting additional assistance from the WKO’s Los Angeles bureau in getting good contacts in the retail world.
GSV Wins International Acclaim
The International TradeCenter, a joint agency of the WTO and the UN, honoured the Go Silicon Valley program in 2012 as the best foreign-trade development programme from a developed country. WKO’s Amilivia says: “This confirms that we are on the right track” in developing Austria’s IT sector.