“The Return of the Entrepreneur makes me think about the Return of the Jedi,” were the first thoughts of Stefan Böck, moderator of the first SchumBETA talk that took place last week at the Wirtschaftskammer Wien (WKO).
The talk with a title reminiscent of Star Wars was initiated by Hannes Offenbacher, who recognised the similarities between an entrepreneur and a Jedi. As the founder of mehrblick, he sees how courage, relentlessly fighting on the side of good, and a touch of rebellious spirit are the traits that characterise both an entrepreneur and a defender of the galaxy.
The Return of the Entrepreneur brought together key speakers to share their thoughts on the rediscovery of small and medium enterprises, the role of businesses in the 21st century and the importance of developing a sustainable culture of entrepreneurship. Representing the entrepreneurs were Hannes Offenbacher himself and Stefan Perkmann-Berger, cofounder of FoundersNavigator and WhatAVenture. Bernd Litzka, director of i2 AWS Business Angel Börse and Eberhard Dürrschmid, business angel and founder of Greentube, offered an investor’s perspective, while Hannes Kollar, whose business specialises in consulting SMEs, startups and business angels, used his expertise to bridge the gap between the two views.
The profile of an entrepreneur
With the inspirational motto Change the game. Change the world, the panel discussion painted a picture of the Austrian startup environment. From Kollar’s perspective, the starting base for entrepreneurship is a good, solid idea. After that, it’s long-term perseverance to keep that idea alive until funding is obtained. However, for a financial institution in the position to grant funding, entrepreneurial spirit is not all that counts, said Litzka. “We have many methods to finance entrepreneurs, but we must use a system that requires a certain degree of conformity,” he said. “Even very creative entrepreneurs must go through formalities like writing business plans and lots of emails to investors. But instead of filling out forms, they would rather be focusing on the activities that grow their business, as building relationships to customers and stakeholders. Yet, entrepreneurs need financial support, and for this, some conformity is required.”
How to build entrepreneurial success
When it comes to the recipe for success, there is no perfect combination of ingredients that add up to the perfect entrepreneur. Offenbacher believes that a proper entrepreneur is someone who notices problems in their environment and seeks to build solutions. Kollar, who has consulted many startups, believes that “what everybody needs is a good idea, perseverance, courage and a supportive woman – who doesn’t expect you to pay the rent for a few years.”
Based on his own startup experience, Berger explained the importance of perseverance and flexibility, as entrepreneurship is not a linear process. “You may think that you’re just going to write a business plan and execute it step by step. That’s an illusion. You have to build a prototype, test it, accept the feedback and adapt your prototype, test it again and so on. You make mistakes and change direction. The illusion that everything will work out smoothly is the reason for problems here in Austria.”
On this, Offenbacher took a tough love approach. Yes, the system is complicated, bank procedures are intensive and obtaining financing for capital-intensive firms is difficult, but one cannot let themselves be broken down by banks, financing and taxes.
The role of social networks in the Austrian startup scene
Well, Kollar believes that networking over email is not networking. “If I get an email from someone, I don’t care. I want to get to know them. Even if this takes more time, it’s important to get to understand the person and this can only be accomplished face to face,” he said. Litzka, however, is a believer in the usefulness of social networking sites for his business. “We check people on Facebook and LinkedIn. I’m surprised what valuable contacts I found on social networks and then met in person,” he added.
In regard to funding, Kollar said entrepreneurs should try to acquire their capital through their social network. As for crowdfunding, it may be a method that’s gaining popularity, but in reality its use is quite small. Projects that have a long-term horizon, are technologically complex or information-sensitive are unlikely to attract the confidence of investors over crowdfunding platforms.
For entrepreneurship enthusiasts, the talk provided a view of the Austrian startup environment with some valuable input from the investor’s side, however, from the perspective of a startup founder, it did not seem to bring any newly discovered insights.
SchumBETA will host The Gamechanger Conference later this year.