ech2b is one of the largest and most successful incubators in Austria. It helps technology and product focused startups launch successfully, and through initiatives like Pier4 connect them to the broader industry and international networks.
Raphael Friedl is the managing director of tech2b, one of the largest and most experienced incubators in the country. The company celebrated its 20-year anniversary last year, and Raphael has been working there for over half that time, much of it directly with startups, having personally supported over forty as a lead startup coach. In its twenty years, tech2b has supported 450 teams which has led to 300 tech startups launching. The company is partly owned by the region’s universities, like Johannes Kepler University, which contribute to many of the startups that are incubated, meaning that cutting edge research and technology gets to market quickly. With so many of tech2b’s startups coming directly from university laboratories, it makes sense that existing industry players would be the most likely candidates to benefit from their solutions. Upper Austria is the industrial capital of Austria and, as one of the most concentrated industrial regions in the EU, it is a major hub for Europe as well. Because of this, many of the startups that tech2b incubates are industry facing.
There are plenty of reasons why startups and industry players might want to work together. “Startups are more agile and have foresight on the next big innovations in tech often before industry players even know,” says Raphael. Big corporations and established industry players, on the other hand, have the size, international network and budget to help get startup innovations to markets around the world. With Upper Austria putting a major focus on R&D, there is a widespread interest in working with startups. Incubators and accelerators are also specializing in advancing this connection. For example, in 2017 tech2b launched the Pier4 initiative to directly connect startups and industry through networking and pitching events, and to create an ideal contact point for international startups to gain access to the region.Raphael says that startups looking to work with industry should always do extensive research about the needs of the customer segment they are aiming for, including talking to potential customer companies. With this knowledge in mind, they should then focus on the quality and maturity of their solution, and not approach the industry too early. Once their product is ready, they should approach their target companies with concrete solutions for the needs identified during the research phase. He also says that even though purchasing departments might seem like the logical point of entry into a big company, in fact innovation and branch managers are much better points of contact. Ultimately, Raphael tells founders to “stay true to your vision and use feedback to make it relevant to customers.” While tech2b is technology agnostic, Raphael points out that they are currently focusing on greentech and medtech startups. This is not only inline with the general trends in the region, but also with European trends as the continent moves to address the growing challenges of climate change and societal needs. Starting up in these areas “can be particularly difficult,” Raphael says, “because they tend to be hardware and capital intensive, and they act in markets that require specific regulations and certifications. We want to help the founders that are brave enough to take on these challenges for a more positive future.”
We want to help founders who are brave enough to take on the challenges for a more positive future.
Another important goal for tech2b is to increase the number of female founders. “We clearly see that mixed teams are far more stable, more successful and just perform better than all male teams, which unfortunately make up most of the startups we’ve seen.” tech2b offers a number of incentives and benefits for women that want to become founders. To work with tech2b, startups simply need a new idea for a scalable product, as tech2b typically works with products rather than services. The “most important thing that we look for in the startups we support is a great team, with relevant and complementary competencies,” says Raphael.
Most important tips for startups:
- Customer-centric solutions are important but don’t lose sight of the market. Don’t make your product too specific for one potential client, because then you can only sell it once.Instead, get a good feeling for the needs of all the potential customers in your segment and design core features for their overarching needs. Customization can be added separately.
- People make the difference. Whether it’s the startup team, or finding the right industry contact, success is made by the right people. Focus on complementary skill sets in your startup’s team, and when approaching industry players look for innovation managers and branch leaders, not the purchasing department. And don’t forget that mixed teams are more successful.
- Don’t approach industry players too early. Having a mature product is important, as MVPs aren’t attractive to big players who need a ready-to-use solution that can be integrated into their existing processes.
Main Photo by: Antje Wolm