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As investors and founders mature, Vienna emerges as a European startup hub

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According to Austrian Startup Monitor, entrepreneurs have founded more than 2,200 startups in Austria since 2008, with the number of tech companies growing 12% per year since then, significantly faster than the 3% growth rate for traditional companies.

Home to roughly 50% of Austria’s startups, Vienna has a plethora of VC, corporate and university investors. Top VCs include 3TS Capital Partners, AC & Friends, Cudos Capital, FSP Ventures, Hansmen Group, i4g Investment, i5invest, LilO Ventures, next.march, primeCROWD, Speedinvest and Venionaire Capital, among others.

The local ecosystem benefits from several initiatives, including the Social Impact Awards, Vienna Startup Awards, Design Week, Climate KIC Stage, Innovation Incubation Center and INiTS Accelerator. The well-run Pioneers Festival contributed massively to the ecosystem for several years after a certain TechCrunch editor-at-large gave the organizers an excuse to expand on a simple TechCrunch meetup. But the festival was shuttered last year after its sale to a local accelerator meant that the event itself ran out of steam. Perhaps it was just as well, given this year’s pandemic.

State support for startups is also there. The Austrian government created a comprehensive startup program in 2016 to make the country more attractive to startups setting up there.

Standout exits include fitness app maker Runtastic, acquired by Adidas for $240 million in 2015, as well as listings marketplace Shpock, which was acquired by Norwegian publishing conglomerate Schibsted in 2015. Other notable startups originally from Vienna include mySugr, wikifolio, kompany and Codeship.

There have been jitters on the way, however. The Austrian Private Equity and Venture Capital Organization’s 2019 report found that Austria’s startups saw €237.6 million invested in 2018, but, this number fell 8.2% to €218 million in 2019; the number of deals exceeding €500,000 also dipped by 8.7%. Foreign funding also slowed in 2019 after a few years of a bull run — between 40% and 63% of deals sized €0.25-€1.99 million were significantly funded by foreign investors in 2018.

Despite the decline, local investors have started to pick up the slack, boosting the number of funding rounds over €5 million to 12 deals in 2019 from 11 in 2018. In both years, all but one of those deals drew a substantial part of the funding round from foreign investors.

We expect more to emerge from Vienna’s tech scene in the future. The Pioneers Festival (RIP) proved that Vienna is a fascinating bridge between Western European capital and entrepreneurial culture, and East European entrepreneurs and talent, which it will no doubt continue to benefit from in years to come. But — just as will happen with Lisbon this year and the loss of Web Summit — the loss of a major conference in Vienna to shine a light on the city and ecosystem, combined with the pandemic, may have cooling effects for the next couple of years.


Notable Vienna startups:

  • Newsadoo: Uses artificial intelligence to personalize news.
  • Cashpresso: Links customers, merchants and banks to offer consumer financing options.
  • Jobrocker: An online job search portal that connects applicants’ CVs with job openings.
  • Storyblok: A headless content management system.
  • Byrd: First-mile shipping service that allows customers to ship items hassle-free.
  • Music Traveler: A marketplace that centralizes spaces with musical instruments and equipment.
  • PAYUCA: Provides flexible access to parking spaces in private office and residential buildings.
  • Refurbed: Fast-growing marketplace for refurbished electronics, across the German-speaking world.
  • Presono: A web platform for creating, managing and showing presentations in companies.
  • Blockpit: Develops software for portfolio tracking, tax calculation and compliance reporting of transactions for cryptocurrencies and crypto assets.
  • Robo Wunderkind: A robot for kids to build and program.
  • Medicus: Converts health data with their cryptic numbers and medical language into an easy-to-understand visual experience.
  • Cybershoes: VR accessory that allows you to walk through your favorite VR games.

Here’s who we interviewed:

Eva Arh, principal, Capital 300

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
B2B software, robotics, no/low-code automation, AI-enabled vertical solutions, e-health, companies enabling others to hire and engage talent remotely.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Lokalise.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Companies that enable others to manage and automate billing even further (e.g., per API call), next-gen video conferencing, solutions guiding women through menopause, providing solutions that help companies to offer mental health services to distributed teams, bringing cloud kitchens to the next level (not running central kitchens).

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
As always, ambitious, smart, hard-working teams eager to build a category leader in a huge market.

What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Concerned about solutions that leverage behavioral data to influence people for the sake of optimizing profit, overload of sales and marketing tech, overload of chatbot providers. [It is] hard to compete with players that have benefited from huge network effects such as food delivery.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We focus on German-speaking areas and Central Eastern Europe. Opportunistically we would also invest outside of the region, still in Europe.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Austria — no specific industry focus within software. However, well-positioned in the biotech space, CEE — given the strong presence of IT outsourcing companies, the region is well-positioned to build solutions in the business-process automation, dev tool space. Storyblok (our portfolio). Others to watch: Anyline, Adverity, Bitpanda, PlanRadar, Refurbed.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Regarding Vienna — we are seeing the first generation of entrepreneurs building global companies. Their and their team experience will be at utmost value creating a new wave of tech companies that compete on a global level.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Yes, we already see this — exciting companies coming out of small cities in Poland, Germany, etc. and companies going remote.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Telemedicine, online education has been accelerated. We see a shift that otherwise would have taken years, especially in the relatively conservative German-speaking area. As mentioned previously, mental health solutions, hiring and employing remotely are some of the opportunities highlighted by COVID-19. Companies that are heavily exposed are those that have been serving the long tail of companies, small merchants, and local businesses that were closed down or experienced much less traffic in past months and hence are extremely sensitive around their cost base, discontinuing services that are not 110% essential.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
We have always been very selective and focused, partnering up three to four times a year. We continue at the same pace. The companies that perform well despite COVID-19 are still in a strong position for attracting external capital. Of course, we help our portfolio to secure a runway and have a discussion how/whether the situation has impacted their offering/GTM. Some companies have to rethink their value proposition, some rethink their target groups either to make up for slower sales cycles or on the other hand to leverage and benefit from the current situation.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, we see that Lokalise is growing heavily with the current customer base as their customers expand to new markets, likely to make up for slower revenue growth in their existing markets. We see that Nethone (fraud prevention) is able to double down on e-commerce. Online fraud and online transactions are skyrocketing as people spend much more time online. (On the other hand, their airline customers of course show a different trajectory.)

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
It is inspiring to see how founders go through the current situation, act instead of reacting, especially in those countries where there is less government support incentives in place. Personally, I am also happy to see that people use the work from home time to rethink and introduce healthier habits.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
As the world has gone online and the location matters much less, there is an opportunity to distribute the created value and wealth more evenly — be it a company founded in a “non-tech-hub” location or be it talent hired remotely.

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Stunning images show NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft stirring up rocks on an asteroid

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NASA shared astonishing images of its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft touching an asteroid yesterday, revealing how the vehicle stirred up rocks and debris on the object’s surface when it made contact. The goal of the tap was to collect a sample of material from the asteroid, but the engineers behind the spacecraft say they won’t for sure if they collected anything until this weekend, when they spin the vehicle and measure how much material is inside.

However, the OSIRIS-REx team feels confident that they got something. “Bottom line is from analysis of the images that we’ve gotten down so far, is that the sampling event went really well, as good as we could have imagined it would,” Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, said during a press conference. “And I think the chances that there’s material inside… have gone way up way up based on the analysis of the images.”

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Images of the event show how OSIRIS-REx supposedly grabbed some asteroid dirt from the asteroid — named Bennu — on Tuesday. The pictures highlight the end of OSIRIS-REx’s outstretched robotic arm, tasked with gently pressing onto Bennu’s surface. “We were in contact with the surface for about six seconds, and our collection time about five seconds,” Sandy Freund, a mission support manager for OSIRIS-REx at Lockheed Martin, said during the press conference. When it touched Bennu, the spacecraft’s arm released a whiff of nitrogen gas, which caused the rocks and pebbles on the asteroid to dance and twirl about in a frenzy. The hope is that the gas caused some of those rocks to shoot up into the arm itself.

Now it’s just a waiting game as the OSIRIS-REx team pores over the data. On Saturday, the engineers will send OSIRIS-REx into a spin, with its sampling arm outstretched, measuring the vehicle’s inertia. They’ll then compare those measurements to how OSIRIS-REx spun once before, without any sample in its arm. The difference between those measurements should give the team a better idea of how much material the vehicle grabbed on Tuesday.

And if OSIRIS-REx grabbed enough — at least 60 grams — then the mission team will start making preparations for the spacecraft to leave Bennu next year and embark on the long journey home, carrying its precious cargo back to scientists here on Earth.

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Facebook Dating launches in Europe after lengthy delay

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Facebook Dating, the social network’s competitor to Tinder and other dating apps, launches today in Europe after a long delay from its planned Valentine’s Day debut.

The dating service offers the same features in Europe as it does in the US, using the existing profile you’ve created on Facebook to find potential matches. Facebook tailors these matches with your preferences, Facebook activity, and, if you opt in, groups and events.

While the service still only appears as a tab in Facebook’s mobile app, it’s deeply integrated with the rest of the social giant’s products. Your profile can pull stories and photos from Instagram, you can initiate Messenger video calls from chats, and the splashy Secret Crush feature searches both your Instagram followers and Facebook friends for potential matches.

Facebook touts the service’s privacy features, with many of its more personal matching tactics entirely optional. But the close connection Facebook Dating has to the rest of the company’s products has raised concerns in the past. Back in February, Facebook chose to push back the service’s launch after regulators in Ireland took issue with the timing of the planned launch. Companies launching such products must undergo a review called a Data Processing Impact Assessment (DPIA) under the European Union’s GDPR protections, and Facebook reportedly informed regulators too late of its plans, raising concerns about data privacy compliance.

With the problem settled, Facebook Dating is now offered in over 50 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

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Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ software is starting to roll out to select customers

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Tesla sent out the first “Full Self-Driving” beta software update to a select group of customers this week, CEO Elon Musk tweeted Tuesday. On an earnings call Wednesday, Musk said more Tesla owners would get the update as the weeks progress, with the goal of a “wide release” by the end of the year.

Only those customers in Tesla’s Early Access Program will receive the software update, that will enable drivers to access Autopilot’s partially automated driver assist system on city streets. The early access program is used as a testing platform to help iron out software bugs.

Musk said that Tesla was approaching this software update “very cautiously” because the “world is a complex and messy place.” In a letter to investors, Tesla said its Autopilot team “has been focused on a fundamental architectural rewrite of our neural networks and control algorithms. This rewrite will allow the remaining driving features to be released.”

This rewrite, Musk has said, will allow Tesla’s vehicles to interpret their environment in four dimensions rather than two, which should result in a dramatic improvement in performance and faster software updates.

Previously, Musk has described a “feature complete” version of Full Self-Driving as enabling the car to drive from someone’s home to their work without intervention. Drivers will still need to be ready to take control if the car runs into a problem. Some experts have taken issue with the way Musk talks about these features in the past, arguing he is muddying the waters by overselling a Tesla car’s capabilities.

Autopilot can center a Tesla in a lane, even around curves, and adjust the car’s speed based on the vehicle ahead. The “Navigate on Autopilot” feature can suggest — and perform — lane changes to get around slower vehicles, and steer a Tesla toward highway interchanges and exits. Another feature can slow a Tesla to a stop at traffic lights and stop signs. The company has yet to allow its customers hands-off control of the vehicle at medium speeds, where they are more likely to encounter traffic signals, intersections, and other complexities.

Autopilot can’t perform some of these tasks if a road’s lane markers are faded or missing, and it can’t make turns. The driver must have a hand on the wheel at all times, too, or else Autopilot will flash a series of warnings before ultimately disengaging entirely. But when those features work in concert, it can feel like the car is driving itself — but a driver is still liable if the car makes a mistake or crashes. (There have been a number of fatal crashes involving Tesla vehicles with Autopilot enabled.)

On the call, Musk argued that Tesla’s self-driving advantage comes from having a large fleet of vehicles — around 930,000 — already on the road. Those cars record situations and provide training data to improve the neural networks needed for the artificial intelligence software that powers self-driving cars. The company’s approach to autonomous vehicles is primarily focused on computer vision, or using cameras — just like humans — to recognize and understand the world.

“Having on the order of a million cars that are providing feedback, and specifically feedback on strange corner case situations that you just can’t even come up with in simulation — this is a thing that is really valuable,” Musk said.

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