Giving space to disruption

By Anja Knass, RBI |

Clauida Witzemann ©Daniel Shaked

Dr. Claudia Witzemann is the Managing Director of weXelerate – Austria’s leading start-up and innovation hub. We talked with her about the Austrian start-up ecosystem, the importance of disruption and Austria’s role as a bridge between East and West.

weXelerate is Austria’s largest start-up hub and located in the center of Vienna. Could you give us a few facts and figures about the hub?

Open 365 days a year, 24/7, our 9,000 m² start-up and innovation hub hosts a Multi-Corporate Accelerator, a co-working space, entrepreneurs in residence, venture capitalists and many other partners. Driven by a strong entrepreneurial spirit we have created a unique ecosystem, which provides scope for innovation, networking and success – including a complete innovation toolbox for established corporates. The concept is complemented by a unique stage for inspiring events, the latest trends, and panel discussions with international experts and leaders. A gateway to both Eastern and Western Europe.

What is the vision behind weXelerate and how do you support start-ups?

weXelerate is Austria’s only Multi-Corporate Accelerator and the largest start-up and innovation hub in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Our effort is dedicated to enable start-ups to exploit their full potential in cooperation with companies and partners. At the same time, weXelerate offers established companies the space and the people to test disruption in order to remain relevant and competitive in the future. With entrepreneurial spirit and great passion we make weXelerate THE Austrian place-to-be for innovation.

In general, how would you describe the Austrian start-up ecosystem? Which fields are particularly strong developed in which fields do you see the biggest growth potential?

The Austrian start-up ecosystem is developing rapidly with various strong players on the market. In general, established companies are open towards collaboration with start-ups. The interest in approaching and developing projects together is growing substantially – but what is more, it is accompanied by the open-mindedness towards disruption on part of both start-ups and established companies. In particular, we are seeing strong dynamics in the field of financial services/fintechs. In this respect, the unique ecosystem of weXelerate provides the best ground for networking, innovation and cooperation.

How easy is it for entrepreneurs to start a business in Austria?

Bureaucratic hurdles still exist, although we see that a reduction of these hurdles is in progress. This is an ongoing process. The Austrian support scheme is very important: It provides solid financing for a number of entrepreneurs during their initial phase. Thereby, they can get the business model running so that it can bear and finance itself.

Historically, Austria has always been a “bridge” between Western Europe and CEE. How can start-ups in Austria benefit from this geographic proximity to the CEE region?

Of course, the bridge still exists – the market entry is certainly easier from Austria than from other locations. Austria is an integral part of the CEE region, both historically and since the EU eastward enlargement. Austria’s image is very positive in our neighboring countries. At the same time, the CEE region is an economic area with a great potential and future. Consequently, from weXelerate’s point of view, Vienna is the logical basis for the largest start-up and innovation hub in Central Europe.

What is your view on the potential of the CEE region? Are you planning on expanding your network to the neighboring countries?

A start-up ourselves and only one year old, we have had a fantastic start with 18 corporates and five strategic partners already. We are stabilizing the business in Austria with our location in Vienna, further locations in Austria, CEE respectively, are an important step for our further development in the medium-term.

About Claudia Witzemann:

Claudia Witzemann joined weXelerate as Managing Director in April 2018. After graduation in physics at the University of Vienna, she worked as a scientific assistant at the University of California and then did her post-graduate studies at the Technical University of Munich. In 2003, Witzemann also graduated with an MBA degree from the University of Michigan. From September 2000 until March 2018 she worked for A.T. Kearney. Since January 2010 she has been a member of the extended Management Board of A.T. Kearney, before she joined weXelerate.

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