Inspiring TimesPioneers Festival founder Andreas Tschas explains the reasons behind the event, and why we need innovation to solve world problems
THE RED BULLETIN: This is the third Pioneers Festival. What has changed this year in comparison to the previous two festivals?
Andreas Tschas: The Pioneers Festival is receiving much more international recognition, and important stakeholders in the startup community are beginning to realize the value of the festival. We are now able to help startups in a much more precise way, and we are continually improving our network and our ability to connect startups with investors and well-established companies. Pioneers has become a platform for technology and entrepreneurship, and we want to be able to solve the biggest challenges in our society through this.
What do you mean exactly?
We’re still generating energy from fossil fuels for example. Billions of people continue to starve around the world; there are still too many incurable diseases such as Ebola. There simply needs to be more happening given the technology we have at our disposal. The agricultural technology scene is really exciting at the moment. A lot is happening in this direction, ideas and startups are being created that really have the potential to reduce world hunger. Pretty soon there will be nine billion people on the planet, and these problems are only going to get more difficult to solve if we don’t act soon. We need creative minds that can find solutions to these problems.
When did you decide to start Pioneers, and why?
It is something that really just developed between co-founder Jürgen Furian and I. Initially we wanted to do something against the increasing unemployment rates in Europe. That was five years ago. I was still studying at the time, and I was still trying to decide on what I actually wanted to do with my life.
And what did you decide on?
Business consultancy and investment banking were the buzz terms back then. I decided to go in that direction and established a student-centered business consultancy company. The idea was to allow students to work on projects from startups or well-established companies. One day I just thought to myself, why are we only advising companies and not helping people establish new ones? This seemed like the more important question to me, especially given the high unemployment rates in Europe amongst younger adults.
It is extremely alarming that the unemployement rate in Europe amongst younger adults is currently more than 50%.
Exactly. This is the generation that needs to be solving our problems, but they find themselves without prospects or necessary work experience in perhaps the most important phase of their lives. We wanted to fight against this in cooperation with companies. In addition to this we believe modern day technology offers us so many opportunities. We are more than confident that many of today’s problems can be solved by technology and enterprising ideas. Through Pioneers we want to be able to offer these ideas and startups a stage to be heard on, and to help them be successful.
How significant has the Pioneers Festival become?
Our target is to communicate our vision to the masses, and I think we are heading in the right direction, especially when you look at the general public interest in the festival. I have been told on many occasions that we are well known in Silicon Valley, which is exceptional. We took part in an event in South Korea this year, which is why a South Korean TV crew and many Korean startups will be at this year’s event. We’re not quite where we want to be in terms of our goals though, we need to work on really getting our vision across, because I think we have the wrong economic and technological focus at the moment.
In what way?
As a society we have come leaps and bounds in the ICT (information and communications technology) sector, perhaps too much. Don’t get me wrong this is fantastic and important. Just think about what you can do with a smart phone these days! I think we have taken a step back however in other areas as a result. We are still no nearer to finding a solution for our energy problems, or global warming. This is why we need to start focusing on other areas.
Why are we seeing such a boom in startups at the moment?
Many people are being inspired by the desire to do something independently, to realize ones full potential. It has also never been as easy or cost-effective to develop and offer your own product. You just need to look at how little time it takes to create your own website in order to sell a product, or how easily you can print out a prototype on a 3D printer to understand why people are starting to become more active. The media has also played a major part in developing role models. Mark Zuckerberg or the founders of Google have shown that you can be successful in very little time. That is inspiring.
Have people become more willing to take risks? Or are they just sick of working in rigid systems?
It depends where you look. At the moment Europeans are a lot less open to taking risks. We have it good here, and there is less need to take risks, at the moment at least. There are a few pioneers who have broken free of the rigid systems, and more will follow. Many come to us for inspiration and then go on to do their own thing.
Would you define Pioneers as a startup?
We are still very much a startup. We are on the right track financially, but we need to continue to work on our product. We call it “Customer Obsession”. Our customers are startups, investors and corporations. Our central question is: What can we do to make these three even more satisfied? We’re working on this every day.
Are we living in the most dynamic time ever?
Absolutely. So much is happening and changing all the time. Here is a significant statistic for you: 70% of the products on the market in 1980 were over ten years old. Now 85% are younger than two years old. Here’s another: 87% of the companies in the “Fortune 500” in the 1950’s are no longer in it today. The average age of the companies back then was 61. Today it is 18. This proves that you can be very successful, very quickly as a small company, and you can also be a realistic competitor for major companies.
Why does Silicon Valley have a reputation as the innovation hotbed?
A lot happened around Stanford University. University projects were used and commercialized. It also had a lot to do with the American mentality and the “American Dream”. Brad Feld wrote a very good book about this called “Startup Ecosystems”, in it he explains how a startup ecosystem develops, and who the key players are. There are lots of stakeholders that have to cooperate to make it work – investors, politicians, well-established firms, support institutions, media and universities. If all of these are in harmony then the ecosytem will function. There was also an extreme amount of talent at Stanford at the time, and also a spirit of optimism, a desire to change the world. I think the next Silicon Valley will be something like a “drone valley”, “energy valley” or “Bitcoin valley”. The fact that the people knew each other very well also played a major part in its success. They helped each other, gained inspiration from one another and offered support.
Are there countries with a significant startup trend?
Startup hubs are popping up all across the world from Latin America to South Korea. I was in Seoul and New York this year and the dynamism that can be found in theses places is impressive. There are hundreds of startups being created there, and they also have major financial backing as well. Europe is going to have some serious problems trying to keep up with these. It is therefore very important that we have more startup hubs like London or Berlin in Europe. A lot has happened in Vienna, but we are nowhere near to using our full potential, talent and ideas to good effect.