Being an open minded person who travelled quite a lot around the world, it was kind of hard to move back to my birthplace in the south of Austria. Carinthia is quite a unique place with a lot of potential but due to the mentality, historical events, politics and also a fear of new ideas, this potential has not been tapped into.
The region I live in was open for thousands of years and only after the First World War borders and walls were built, especially in people’s minds. After returning to the place where I spent most of my childhood, I was amazed how fast things can change. I met a lot of people here who also want to make a difference and work on a bright future.
After participating in the enpact program I am more than ever convinced, that the vision of a trilateral entrepreneurial ecosystem can come true. To see Entrepreneurs from various backgrounds, cultures, mentalities and languages working so intense together and having the same mind-set makes me confident about the cross-border cooperations of startups. However, before anything else, I have to go into detail on what happened in the last years.
Maybe some of you already know that our state secretary wants Austria to become the number one country for startups in Europe.
This is a really ambitious goal and there is still a long way to go. Unfortunately, the startup community is based mostly in Vienna and there are only some smaller groups in the other cities. Carinthia, where I come from, is a border region struggling with one of the lowest economic growth rate in Austria and massive brain drain. Not the best circumstances to build up a booming startup ecosystem.
So what to do when you live in a more remote area? You surround yourself with friends, helpers, supporters and like-minded people and start to think big. Make yourself the centre. Of course I am not talking about myself as a person or about Carinthia as a state but referring to the whole region – Austria, Slovenia and Italy.
Slovenia has a booming startup ecosystem, but it is also too small for global recognition. The same situation applies to North-Italy where policy-makers are now starting to support startup companies.
The idea of a trilateral ecosystem came up during a discussion about the USP of this region. What do we offer that startup hubs like Berlin, London or Silicon Valley cannot provide? It is the possibility to conquer the European market. If you are a startup from outside the EU with the goal to start selling your products or services in Europe you first have to decide where to start. And we aim to be this landing point.
The trilateral entrepreneurial ecosystem is situated in the heart of Europe.
The union of the north Adriatic harbours (Napa) enables you to bring goods to Europe and distribute them in a really short time. The living standard is among the highest in the world, the healthcare system is one of the best and the living costs are quite low compared to the big cities. We have the entire infrastructure you need: harbours, airports, universities, highways, high-speed internet, multilingual people, great nature and many possibilities to spend your leisure time. When you set up a team of motivated and highly skilled people from all three countries your reach on the European market is far bigger, compared to a team from just one region. With the Austrian team members, you can conquer the DACH region, with the Slovenian team members you will be able to enter the Balkans and with the Italian colleagues you’ll have a gateway to France and Spain.
But where to recruit your team? We already set up so called “lighthouse events”, and there are more to come. These events focus on entrepreneurship, take place all around the region and are being held in English, so everyone can understand and communicate. Some examples are TEDx Conferences, Startup Weekends, Startup Conferences like PODIM, Barcamps, Mashup-Events, and many more. The next goal is to set up an intercultural team to coordinate all the initiatives in the three countries, to set up a brand name and to promote it globally.
Where is the connection to the MENA region?
It´s the Mediterranean Sea and the Adriatic Sea as the gateway to Europe. In Austria, entrepreneurs are more interested in the neighbouring countries and mostly central-eastern Europe. But if you think bigger, the MENA region is such a vibrant region with a huge potential. Why not connect the startup ecosystems of our two regions? For me personally the MENA region is the place to expand to in the near future. It´s not far to travel, it´s easy to ship goods between countries and through enpact I made really good friends there.
For me the enpact program was a mind-blowing experience that definitely not only helped me with my start-up but also changed me as a person and how I see the world. For us all it is still a long way to go but we are taking baby steps towards an awesome future. Hope my trip to the RiseUp summit in Cairo is one small step to bring us closer together and to deepen my bonds with the MENA region.