Five years after its “genesis” – at least according to i5invest’s report on the Austrian startup ecosystem – the Austrian startup scene seems to have entered the mainstream. Following increasing coverage of the topic in print and online media, Austrian private TV is now catching up on the trend. As Puls 4 announced last week, the channel, which belongs to the German ProSieben Sat1 Media AG, will release its own “startup show” later this year. So, after pop singers and models, entrepreneurs are now becoming the new idols of reality TV.
It wouldn’t be Austria, though, if the format hadn’t already existed in other countries years before. The concept behind the Dragons’ Den, as the show was known in the UK, originally derives from a Japanese format developed by Sony Pictures – Manē no Tora – “the Tiger of Money“ from 2004, which has been broadcast in more than 20 countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania over the last decade.
Puls 4, however, as their programme director Oliver Svec told inventures.eu, did not purchase the format from Sony. Instead, Svec claims the concept was developed in-house and evolved out SevenVentures Austria’s activities. Since its foundation in 2011, this unit of ProSieben Sat1 Media has been in charge of online investing as well as for the corporation’s media for equity and media for revenue share deals.
Puls 4’s programme director Oliver Svec. Photo credit: Puls 4Just “air for shares” or actual investments?
Puls 4’s TV concept follows the Sony Pictures format in that it will feature startups presenting their projects in front of a “high-profile” jury, who will then decide whether they want to invest in them, and if so – to what extent. The investors will also have the chance to overbid one another. Thus, the goal of the format is to provide the most successful of the startups with an opportunity to accumulate the capital they need to further develop and expand their business. The format is scheduled for release in the second half of 2013 and will kick off with 4-6 episodes of about 45 minutes each. The participating startups will be selected by SevenVentures Austria. Svec said, he does not rule out “overlaps” among the show’s candidates and startups from the ProSieben Sat1 Accelerator.
While getting airtime on nationwide TV may seem like a good way of making your business known, the concept does not evoke particular sympathy among the Austrian startup community, as our informal survey on Facebook showed. Members of the Austrian Startup Pinwall group on Facebook have expressed doubts about the benefits a format like this would bring to startups (also see this article on the US-American format of Shark’s Tank in Forbes magazine). Apart from the fact that the concept might only work for startups with tangible and “crazy” business ideas, as one user noted, there is scepticism as far as the conditions for the participants are concerned.
One commentator questioned whether the aim of the show was more about media for equity or “air for shares”-deals with the startups – similar to what ProSieben Sat1 is already doing with SevenVentures and its Accelerator – rather than enabling them to get actual investments.
“Air for shares is an offer that we make to all startups, also outside of the show through SevenVentures Austria,” Svec told inventures.eu. “Of course, this offer will also be available for all winners and candidates of the show.” According to Svec, there would be actual investments on behalf of the jury, but these would “depend on the individual investors’ assessment of each concept”.
May the Austrian “high profile” investors please stand up
Finding candidates for the “high profile” jury of investors might prove to be a challenge by itself, considering the relative lack of venture capitalists in Austria. Svec stated that Puls 4 were currentlyin contact with different “personalities” from Austria and might also invite an international investor to the panel.
Another question, of course, concerns the quality of the programme. “Casting shows like these are usually a mix of ‘what works as a TV format’ and ‘how do we make money with the winners.’ This leaves little space for dealing with the essence of the subject,” one member of the Austrian Startup Pinwall commented. Christoph Richter, co-founder of Austrian startup zoomsquare, agreed. From what he saw on the shows in other countries, he believes the format encourages “pitching for the TV crowd” and not for the actual investors. Therefore, not the most promising startup but the startup with the best show would win.
Peter Buchroithner, co-founder of troutloud, had similar concerns. “I wouldn’t want to pitch in front of a ‘Saturday Night Fever’ audience,” he commented, referring not to the disco cult film but to an Austrian reality TV format depicting the rather low-brow nightlife activities of Austrian youths. “But if the format is good, it could indeed be a chance to get a big stage for your startup,” he concluded.
It remains to be seen how Puls 4’s startup show will evolve, how it will be perceived and – perhaps more importantly – who will be on it. According to Svec, the application process, for now, is planned to be open until July.
Startups interested in getting their 15 minutes of fame – let’s face it, reality TV’s life cycle usually doesn’t last much longer – can apply to email@example.com
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