Promoting a Culture and Innovation Mindset
he Tabakfabrik is the creative center of Linz, a factory for ideas and the heart of the city’s thriving entrepreneurial scene. It is home to a wide range of businesses, services and event spaces. Set in a historic factory, Tabakfabrik has been owned by the City of Linz since 2010.
The age-old lines between art, science and business are increasingly blurring. At the Tabakfabrik, Linz’s creative center housed in a reclaimed historical cigarette factory, CEO Markus Eidenberger works with founders and business leaders, like Georg Tremetzberger, CEO of the business supporting organization Creative Region Linz & Upper Austria, to help these once disparate groups work and grow together. As they like to say, “new ideas need old buildings.” The space has become known around Upper Austria as a hub for different forms of creativity, where technicians bounce ideas off artists, creatives network with business leaders and everyone helps each other “overcome the frictions of digitalization.”
For Markus, a real estate developer and entrepreneur who works with the City of Linz, the Tabakfabrik represents: a “peculiar development.” Over €70 million ($77 million)were invested into renovating and developing the historical space. Today, the companies that call it home are very carefully selected projects chosen to create a “creative ecology,” as Markus puts it, within the campus.
Various communities are represented at the Tabakfabrik, and together they all make up a single living, breathing community of innovation. In order to create this delicate balance, Markus says that they have to reject a lot of potential tenants, and carefully arrange the ones that make the cut around the campus; no single building is made up of one company or industry.
For him, the Tabakfabrik is “not one center, but many communities representing different creative branches in the life cycle of ideas.” The Tabakfabrik team also controls the balance of industries, for example, how many ad agencies there are or how many photography studios, often limiting to just one company per industry. They carefully maintain a mixture of classic businesses, public organizations, education, social initiatives, various IT companies and a space dedicated to startups.
Startups only make up one part of the community at Tabakfabrik. In addition to curating the industries, they also choose tenants based on their lifecycle, mixing companies that are in a growth phase with companies that have survived disruption, or pre-seed startups, with those seeking late stage funding. The result is, as Markus puts it, “one big community for cooperative knowledge” where “mindset is the most important factor.”
It’s important to create the opportunity for serendipity, but within a curated setting of people, space and mindset.
“When organizations come to us asking for space, we always start with an interview and ask them why [they chose Tabakfabrik], what can they offer the community. We try to find out the character of the organization; we want extroverts, organizations that want to have contact, cooperate, exchange ideas and arguments, etc” says Markus. Both agree that this selective mindset boosts the whole economy, and as Georg says, it is creating a “center of early adopters and the curious” where everyone is sharing information, knowledge and contacts. This has become a public hallmark of Tabakfabrik, which makes it a desirable place to work with quite a waiting list. Ultimately, says Georg,“we are creating the opportunity for serendipity” inside a carefully curated environment.
All this organization and push for innovation is to create opportunities for the future. Georg says that for many companies, times are tough and there is a “need to invest in new ideas” in order to pull through. For Markus, “finding talent is the most important topic we see for the next few years. Within the next ten years in our region with the development we expect, we will be lacking one hundred and seventy thousand workers. That’s what we try to shift our focus to.” To this end, they both agree that to prepare for this reality, companies need to be open minded to new ways to work, to navigate regulations, as well as to attract remote workers.
Markus points out how they are “lucky to be in Linz and Upper Austria.” Both of them lead publicly funded companies, and this gives them the freedom and income to focus on creating a culture of innovation, allowing them to be selective and to move as slow or as fast as they need, rather than struggling to keep the lights on. Ultimately, the work they are doing to create a culture of innovation and collaboration is helping to make Linz and Upper Austria more resilient in the coming years, and serves as a model for anyone trying to do the same in their company.
Most important tips for startups:
- You can’t force creativity. When trying to promote innovation it’s important to set up the right environment and connect the right people, but ultimately great ideas happen naturally.
- Diversity creates inspiration. People have diverse interests, skills and backgrounds, and when these differences come together they create the inspiration needed for innovation.
- Be open to new ways of work. Technology, the challenges of the future, regulations, etc, will create both new needs and new opportunities. Stay flexible, open, and use every tool at your disposal, for example, finding new talent around the world thanks to remote work.
Main Photo by: Antje Wolm