Vienna is known worldwide for its historical contribution to the arts, for the unparalleled beauty of its cityscape, and for cuisine that would make the Michelin brothers shed tears of joy. But it’s also seen as a little “establishment”, and perhaps not a city where you might expect a thriving startup scene.
In recent years however, that all changed and Vienna is now home to a burgeoning tech, entrepreneurship and co-working scene to rival other European hubs. Given that it’s a little off the beaten track in startup terms, we decided that we needed to find out more about what’s bubbling in the Austrian capital.
Floor Drees, MD of sektor5 – a co-working space and community that calls the city home – very kindly took the time to answer some questions about what’s bubbling in Vienna.
When people think about entrepreneurship communities, Vienna may not be the first place that comes to mind. How would you characterise the scene there for people who have never experienced it? What makes Vienna unique?
I think the Viennese ‘scene’ (for a lack of a better word) was rather small when I moved here in 2011. These days when I go to startup events there are loads of people I don’t know (yet), which I think is a great development!
You’re originally from the Netherlands. What made you decide to move to Austria?
I moved to Vienna for … a job at a startup. At the time I was freelancing and I debating my next steps. I always wanted to live and work abroad, so the offer came at the right time.
You’ve been credited with building up the local meetup scene and co-working community basically from scratch. Can you tell us a little about what made you start? How has it developed and changed since then?
Well, I wouldn’t want to claim building the co-working community in Vienna. I think the guys from Schraubenfabrik and Rochuspark, and then Yves (founder of sektor5) did a stellar job there. I have been credited with lifting the developer meetup culture to another level here. It was at a time that I was learning programming and found that I needed to surround myself with people to get inspired and keep going. Learning programming all by yourself can get a bit lonely and frustrating. The ‘problem’ was that I was interested in a lot of different programming languages and thus involved in multiple communities, securing sponsorship and trying to make them more inclusive for beginners and diversities.
Can you give readers a taste of what it’s like to live and work in Vienna? What are the pros and cons of the city? What’s the work ethic like?
The tempo in Vienna is a bit slower than what I am used to from living in the Netherlands or Germany. That can get frustrating working in a fast-moving business (e.g. working with startups).
Vienna does have a state-of-the-art public funding body that’s very approachable for startup consulting.
What are the benefits and disadvantages of setting up a company in Vienna? Is it more difficult to access capital?
There is risk capital in Vienna, but only for startups in later stages. For early-stage startups it’s a real struggle. In order to stay afloat they’ll take a job, hampering the tempo in which they can move forward with their product. There is so much talent graduating from Austria’s technical universities every year, and I see a lot of potential never blossoming because they don’t get the support they need in the start-phase.
Can you spot any major trends happening in the Viennese scene right now?
Government funding bodies have discovered the effect that startup programs (incubators, accelerators) have on the success rate of startups, and increasingly support these programs.
There is more political interest in entrepreneurship and startups as well, which – regardless of motivation and actual effect – is a good thing.
Why do you think co-working has become such a cornerstone of global entrepreneurship?
I don’t know if it has, but it does make for a fertile ground for new companies. We’ve seen companies form and grow at sektor5, by the serendipity of meeting like-minded people. We frequently have ‘alumni’ members coming back to the space – sometimes to mentor the startups that are in our incubator, sometimes to just be in a dynamic environment.
Do you think there’s a specific type of person that’s drawn to co-working? What do you see as its main appeal?
Some people do just fine working from home. I am not one of those people. I need sound around me and I need people to talk to during my breaks. I need this being around people that are also working on something new, big, different. Else I’d be doing laundry all day.
I love peeking into our internal messenger Slack. Our members are exchanging links, our chefs share tomorrow’s menus, people are asking for (and finding) spare chargers, support each-other when a gig is tough… that’s the kind of colleague-y support freelancers and entrepreneurs usually lack.
What would you say to someone who was considering Vienna as a potential relocation destination? What’s the atmosphere like?
Everything is a bit more… slow. If you want something done, you’ll likely need to hunt it down yourself.
That being said, this laid-back mentality (some would say Austrians are stress-befreit) is enjoyable when you have time off.
Vienna is of course a beautiful city with loads to offer to people that are into the arts. That’s what attracted me to Vienna in the first place. Lifestyle magazine Vienna Würstelstand is based at sektor5 and founded by an expat, in case you want to get a feel for the city, that’s your starting point.
Do you have any advice for someone who’s considering moving to Vienna to work? Is the city a good location for internationals?
What I wish I had known earlier: Wirtschaftsagentur Wien’s Expat Center. The people there are so supportive and can help you out finding your way around this city. If I had only known that when my German was only Bahnhof-fähig!
What, in your opinion, is Vienna’s best kept secret? What do people not expect about it?
I think people generally perceive Vienna as snooty and posh, but there is a thriving creative and underground scene that is super interesting and open.
That and eis greissler.
Thanks to Floor for taking the time to answer our questions.
sektor5 hosted the Vienna round of BETAPITCH Global, an international startup pitch-off. population.io, their winning startup, will compete in the grand finale at betahaus Berlin on October 15th. Get your tickets here!