Studying abroad is awesome! You get to meet new people, know new cultures, learn a new language, explore, experiment and whatnot. Great, but that only happens once you get settled. And to get settled, you need an apartment (ideally with electricity and gas), formal registration with the authorities, a visa, too, perhaps, a bank account, a phone number, an internet provider, you name it. Getting everything done, without the help of a local, is, to say the least, a pain. Which is exactly what Viennese startup FeelsLikeHome aims to soothe, with its recently launched StepbyStep guide.
This interactive relocation platform, which was presented for the first time earlier this week at the Lugner Kino in Vienna, is the brainchild of co-founders Alexander Karakas, Martin Mössmer and Richard Ludmer. “I remember, the first time I was abroad, it took me five weeks to get a bank account,” said Karakas. The team believes that international students face similar difficulties when they move to a new country, and that there needs to be somebody to help them settle in.
First things first
The StepbyStep guide is divided into two main sections – the must do’s and the can do’s, which “follow logical phases”. To illustrate: You must get registered with the authorities, but you can sign up for car2go. Registration is for free, and what’s more, after a simple Q&A form, users get access to their very own personalised profile. Making the platform user-specific seems to have been a good call, as it would help the team avoid requests like, “I need you to help my daughter find an apartment, get an Austrian phone number, a bank account, and… permanent hair removal,” Karakas quoted a customer who once approached him.
What all three co-founders seem to agree on is that although processing requests on an individual basis (i.e. the example above) creates a strong relationship with the students, it is also very time-consuming. How do they know? Well, they’ve had their fair share of making relocation for newcomers easier.
How it all began
FeelsLikeHome was founded all the way back in 2009 as a relocation service targeting students at two of Vienna’s private universities – Webster University Vienna (WUV) and MODUL. “We first went to Dr. Hirsh [the director of WUV] with the following idea: We know that international students tend to turn to their universities when it comes to matters of relocation. Yet, universities rarely have the time and resources to take care of those on top of everything else they do.” The proposal seems to have been a feasible one, as Hirsh, who was invited to the event as a speaker, shared statistics about the background of WUV’s students. “About 20% of students at the Vienna campus come from Austria; the remaining 80% are from abroad.” It was obvious there was a need.
Up until now, FeelsLikeHome have been providing their service by running a website with the most important information about relocating to Vienna, having open hours at the two universities and by organising social events such as ski trips, paintball tournaments and winetastings (you gotta get to know the culture!). From now on, though, international students will have most of their questions answered online, with the possibility to start ahead and arrange appointment withbanks, insurance agents and the like even before they move.
The startup is currently partnering with a number of companies and organisations (hence representatives of Erste Bank and UNIQA were also among the speakers), which provide special packages and, often times, discounts to FeelsLikeHome-affiliated students. The team recently secured an aws Impulse grant, and as they offer their service for free, they are being financed through the cooperation with partners.
From here onward, the team is looking to reach out to the entire international student body in Vienna and beyond. They seem to have made the first step. It’s time to make their second one.