Last year, Andreas Tschas, co-founder of the Pioneers Festival, welcomed chancellor Christian Kern as a keynote speaker at the Pioneers Festival. This year he met him for an interview.
Andreas Tschas: A year ago you were on stage at the Pioneers Festival. We welcomed you as the new chancellor of Austria. It was a fantastic atmosphere. You gave a fantastic talk. You spoke also about the entrepreneurial landscape in Austria as one of your top priorities. Now it’s time for a summary. What are you proud of, what could have been better?
Christian Kern: It was in impressive festival. Politics isn’t always about facts, even though I think it should be a lot more about facts and analytics. But emotions are really important for politicians. At Pioneers, you could really feel the emotions, the optimism. It’s really important for all of us to create an environment of positive energy, not a mentality of failure and a lack of perspective. That was motivating and inspiring for me. Afterwards, I scrutinized the issues at hand: Why are do we make progress so slowly? In the last twelve months, we fostered the grassroots of innovations markedly, we have created various programs with a total of twenty measures to drive the Austrian startup culture forwards. We created a fund that should provide funding for early stage startups and we set up a new framework dealing with the risks of bankcruptcy. Most importantly: We’ve started to accept that it’s all about „trial and error.“ Sometimes you can’t avoid making mistakes but this shouldn’t be the end of your career. This shouldn’t be the end for your hopes. Our intention was to give the people the confidence to go on and try it again, even if they failed.
On of the initatives you announced in your Plan A is the creation of startup clusters. We at Pioneers were involved in several projects to create this entrepreneurial ecosystem and we followed your plans closely. We believe that these clusters are highly important for the Austrian economy. What are your concrete plans?
Absolutely. If you take a closer look at the Austrian economy, you see that manufacturing contributes about 20 percent to our GDP, which is significantly above the average of most European countries. This is a strength of our country. So when it comes to startups, the call to create here a new Amazon, a new Google or a new Facebook doesn’t get us far, because these kinds of companies do not align well with our strengths. We have an excellent industrial sector and we can build on that. It’s a strong base. What we need to do is bringing together startups and traditional corporations. So we came up with two ideas: The first one is about micro-electronics, which are very important for the southern parts of Austria, for companies like Infineon in Carinthia. The second one deals with infrastructure and engineering for environmental technology. In Austria, there are many very advanced companies in this area. And building up from these strengths, we think that we could motivate startups, bring them together with the big corporations and let them create the future together. If you look at the abstract concept – honestly, it wasn’t created here. It was already established in Israel. We shouldn’t copy and paste the ideas from there, but we can adapt them for our own country.
We work together with a lot of international startups. Please tell me: Why should a startup relocate to Austria?
I think there are some really good reasons. If you look at the early stage fundings, Austria is offering an environment which is uncontested. We are really good in helping young people to create their own business. I have my experience in a big company and I know if you want to build up a company and you want to be among the best 40 companies in Europe, you are going to fail. You should always try to be among the best. That’s the same approach we try to promote as a country. Austria should be branded as a place where somebody who is involved in environmental or energy technology takes a closer look and sees the opportunities here. Therefore, it’s important to offer immediate access to the established companies with advanced technologies, who are financially stable to fund new activities. We have just started that. Unfortunately we are going to have snap elections next autumn. So some issues are going to be put on hold. But after October 15, this concepts have to be on our top three list. It’s important to concentrate your efforts on the areas where you can be successful. It makes no sense to be dull diversified and to spill money all around you.
The longterm vision is missing in the political discussion. There is a lot of uncertainty and fear in the society. I see it as the purpose of politics to take this fear away from the people and provide a positive future vision for our society. What is your future vision for Europe?
Europa was founded sixty years ago on two pledges. One was peace, the other one was prosperity. If you look at the prosperity, you have to answer one question: How can we be competitive with other regions in the world? There are only two relevant answers: Education and innovation. So we have to create a sustainable high class education system. We have to totally change the way we are educating our pupils and we have very ambitious plans for that. And the second one is to create an innovative environment. Austria only spends 3 percent of the GPD for R&D activities, our intention is to go way above. That’s why we have increased the incentive for companies who do research and development in Austria up to 40 percent, again, that’s unprecedented and people in business circles are very well aware of that. Companies are setting up shop here, Boehringer-Ingelheim for example, and a lot of pharmaceutical companies create R&D hubs in Austria. In Europe, we are facing real tough challenges. It’s not only tough regarding the relationship with the British people, but it will raise a lot of issues in Europe internally. It will force us to answer the question which Europe we want. A Europe, where we spend 60 percent of our budget on the traditional agricultural sector, or one where we spend more effort and money on new ideas? If I look at young people, my intention as a chancellor is to create an environment that shows everybody: The future is happening here. If we want to shape the future, we don’t have to go to Silicon Valley or Jerusalem. We can do this here. We’ve got so many innovative and skilled people here. Austria should offer the opportunities to be one of the best places to realize your dreams.
If you weren’t chancellor and wanted to establish your own company. What area you would choose?
I am a man who looks at the heavy metal side, quite literally, so all materials that are electrically conducting or machines that produce a lot of steam and heat. Look at the three major drivers of change in our time: technology, globalization and climate change. I would set up something dealing with these three challenges. So personally, I would be most motivated to build a company in the sectors of energy, environmental technology or sustainability.