Silicon Valley seems to be the ultimate destination for many Austrian entrepreneurs, with startups like Everbill and blossom.io heading west. Now, there is also an organisation that aims to support startup founders to do so.
The Austrian Innovation Center Silicon Valley (AICSV) was initiated by Mario Herger in the fall of last year. Vienna-native Herger relocated to the Bay Area in 2001 for his employer SAP, and has observed an increased interest in the region in recent years. While the Austrian Chamber of Commerce (WKO) has already established a programme to bring companies to Silicon Valley, Herger believes in a more focussed model: “We don’t see ourselves as competitors, but I think companies that choose to do business here need more support and assistance.”
The “Go Silicon Valley” initiative by the WKO provides a three-month stay at the Plug and Play Tech Center in Mountain View. The centre is an accelerator, which hosts startups from all around the world, however, some insiders have complained that it is not providing much more than a desk in Mountain View. Herger points out some other issues that “Go Silicon Valley“ participants are dealing with: “Three months are a short time. The first month you are usually busy getting settled and started. Also, it’s expensive to send one or two employees out of country for so long.” He says that two of the selected companies for the current cycle bailed out because they couldn’t afford it.
Mario Herger, co-founder of AICSV Photo Credit: AICSVThese are precisely the itches that the AICSV is looking to scratch. “We want to give Austrian startups the chance to enter the US market, but we want them to be prepared before they get there.” More specifically, startup founders will be able to apply for the programme. If they are chosen, they will have to take part in a one-month “runway” programme in Vienna that is supposed to help them make all the necessary arrangements before arriving in Silicon Valley. The “runway” will be led by Niki Ernst, founding member of the AICSV and CEO of planetsisa, a Vienna- and Salzburg-based marketing agency. After their one-month-long orientation, Herger promises the AICSV apprentices major support and a tight schedule for three months in the San Francisco Bay Area. In contrast to “Go Silicon Valley”, the AICSV is planning to offer participants cash and housing.
The AICSV held its official kick-off at the beginning of March, and is now working to secure funding for its programme. “We have finished our business plan and are looking for investors in the next two months,” Herger says. The team is planning to raise 2-3 million euros mostly from private investors in Austria and the US in order to secure the programme for the first two years. The money will go into a fund that shares of five to eight percent on the startup. Herger cites YCombinator as a similar accelerator business model.
The concept behindthe AICSV is also not entirely new. Herger cites the UpWest Labs as an inspiration for the initiative. UpWest is a Tel Aviv-based accelerator that helps Israeli entrepreneurs to transfer to Silicon Valley. If all works out well, the first batch of AICSV startups will arrive in California this coming fall. One of the criteria is clear: “We want people who are serious about their business, and not looking for a nice vacation.”
In the long run, the AICSV wants to not only help entrepreneurs do business in Silicon Valley. “I’m sure that Austrian trainees in technical industries could highly profit from an internship here,” Herger says and refers to the TechShops, a new kind of open workshops that has arisen from the recent maker movement.
With programmes like “Go Silicon Valley” and now the AICSV, startups with an interest in expanding globally are bound to recognise the US as a relevant market. With people like Herger literally pushing the boundaries, making the move is becoming easier than ever.