TwinEntrepreneurs—a cross-border cooperative initiative of the Vienna Business Agency, Slovakia’s National Agency for Development of Small and Medium Enterprises, and the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Slovakia—seeks to empower startups in the Twin City (Vienna and Bratislava) region, and particularly those “that are pursuing clear goals for growth and internationalisation.”
The focal point of the initiative is a series of four workshops enabling the selected participants to share and refine their growth plans with their regional neighbours and mentors from various fields. (For more information, see our previous coverage here). A pool of 30 participants has already been selected (though applications are still being accepted), many of whom will participate in the entire series of workshops and webinars over a six-week period.
The first workshop, entitled “Idea Enrichment on how to expand your business,” was held on Tuesday, 27 May, in Vienna. Some 18 participants attended, the majority were entrepreneurs from Slovakia, and there was a better-than-average, if not absolutely balanced, ratio of female to male entrepreneurs.
The workshop’s chosen location—at AspernIQ—was quite appropriate for the theme of expansion. This recently opened building is the first, visible milestone in one of the region’s largest urban development projects, the Aspern Seestadt. Though the area lies within Vienna’s 22nd district, to a Viennese urbanite it may seem closer to Bratislava than to Vienna’s centre. Located east of the Danube in a vast, flat treeless landscape comprised of land cleared for future construction, AspernIQ stands out like some sci-fi base colony on the moon. It’s currently hard to imagine that over the next four years this remote, unpopulated area is supposed to become a “city within a city,” hosting some 20,000 residents and as many jobs, particularly in the technology sector. But right now, Mingo, the startup initiative of the Vienna Business Agency, offers 12 Mingo office spaces to pioneering technology-oriented startups at this state-of-the-art, eco-friendly building.
Mingo’s Project Manager, Alexander Diesenreiter (who moonlights as a member of the Austrian indie-rock band M185), co-organised the workshop series and introduced the workshop leaders, Mark Tuttle and Margherita Jammer. Tuttle, an American citizen residing in Austria, is a startup entrepreneur himself (“few successes, many failures,” he admits) and travels around Europe offering his mentorship and consultancy to other startup entrepreneurs. Jammer, who often partners with Tuttle, is a Technology Consultant for ZIT, the technology agency of the city of Vienna.
Photo credit: Tomas HusarNearly the entire morning session of the workshop was taken up by the inevitable round of self-introductions by the participants. Their projects were diverse in scope and sector – from street-fashion apparel to co-working spaces to beanbag chairs. Each participant was given some initial positive feedback from Tuttle, who then rushed through his own presentation on “clever” planning for expansion, and dispensed some nuggets of his wisdom, such as “don’t build what you can buy,” and “hire slowly, fire quickly.” A few more words of advice from him included: test and validate the market, address competition, measure awareness of market need, determine product’s patentability, etc.
Jammer then cleverly paired Austrians with Slovaks together for a working lunch session, where the goal was to identify something innovative in the partner’s growth plan. The group then reassembled and each participant pitched his/her idea and/or business plan in greater detail than during the morning’s intro round. Tuttle and the other participants gave positive encouragement, while not sparing the critical feedback.
The workshop was scheduled to end at 3:30pm, but by this time, fewer than half of the participants had been able to pitch. Almost all the participants agreed to extend the session so that they finish this up. Diesenreiter believes that “each participant gained a lot not only from the direct feedback but also by listening to the feedback given to the other participants.” The workshop ended at 6:30pm, but several participants continued their discussions into the evening at a restaurant in Aspern.
In addition to the altogether four workshops, which will feature, among others, Thomas Funke, Selma Prodanovic, and business angel Oliver Holle, two webinars will be held on June 10th and 18th. Starting this fall, TwinEntrepreneurs will offer individualised one-on-one coaching for the workshop participants. Diesenreiter says that TwinEntrepreneurs differs from other business-plan development programmes in that “it lasts over six weeks instead of just one weekend, enabling the participants and mentors to form closer bonds and provide continuous feedback.”
According to Diesenreiter, three more TwinEntrepreneurs workshop series will be held over the next year. The next series is planned for the end of September/beginning of October.