The colors throughout the Wirtschaftsagentur Wien (Vienna Business Agency or VBA) are bright and bold. The organization just updated its rather serious corporate identity to reflect how the city has grown: “Let’s talk business. Let’s Talk Vienna.” The slogan is just as clear as Gerhard Hirczi explains the choice. “We need to be unmistakable,” the general manager says as we enter his office. “Other cities may be more obvious locations for innovative and successful businesses. We have to stand out to get noticed.”
A prophet in his own land
But the brilliant colors underline some very convincing hard facts. Since 2000, the number of research and development (R&D) companies in Vienna has tripled. The city is now home to 1,550 research institutes, employing over 45,000 people from all over. “It’s the exciting projects and project ideas that bring the talent to the region,” says Hirczi. “A decade ago, many thought the presumed strength we had as the world’s gateway to Eastern Europe was a fallacy, but I never believed that.” Today the Vienna Region – encompassing the city, Lower Austria and Burgenland – make over €20 billion from the information and communication sector alone. “There are a number of companies who’ve cited their talent needs in the tech sector as a reason or choosing Vienna as a location.”
The day before our interview, Hirczi had attended a meeting of Austrian managers, where he had mentioned a few of Vienna’s unique selling points: “The economic output of Vienna is equal to that of the entire country of Slovakia and equal to that of Croatia and Slovenia combined. Vienna is the second largest city in the German-speaking world and has the most university students. In the last decade, Vienna’s population has overtaken that of Hamburg, Bucharest, Warsaw and Budapest.” These insights were news to most, which Hirczi thinks contributes to the challenge of his VBA’s mission.
“We Austrians tend to downplay our accomplishments and strengths,” Hirczi explains. When it comes to communicating the location’s unique selling propositions outside of Austria, the agency’s people often have to start at square one.
The city’s strengths
Part of the agency’s job is to attract the right kind of companies for the Vienna region’s strengths. “I’m not going to make claims that Vienna is the perfect location for every kind of business. Our strengths lie in the area of life sciences, ICT, creative industries and smart production.”
Several large corporates have chosen
Vienna as a satellite location or even research HQ within the last five years. One of the largest was the pharmaceutical giant Böhringer Ingelheim, which opted for Vienna over Singapore, Dublin and its corporate HQ in Biberach, southern Germany.
In the financial sector, the Bank of China recently set up an office here as well as the Mizuho Financial Group. The French software giant Atos IT Solutions recently settled in Vienna and in the life science sector, the US non-profit LifeNet Health, the world leader in regenerative medicine and developer of implants and organs for transplants.
The Agency also offers the Vienna Startup Package, which gives young companies benefits when moving to or founding in Vienna. One of the benefactors was Medicus, a startup that translates the cryptic results of blood tests into visually understandable data and actionable steps for patients. The company has since also opened offices in Paris and Berlin.
In the creative industries, Music Traveler, a startup with founders from the UK, chose Vienna as the headquarters for their sourcing app for practice rooms. Their prestigious ambassadors include John Malkovich, Billy Joel, pianist Yuja Wang and legendary film score composer Hans Zimmer.
“Over 50% of the companies that have moved to Vienna are technology or tech-related companies, particularly in the areas of IT, life sciences and IoT (Internet of Things). The others are service-based or retail.” The portion of tech companies has increased drastically over the last years, which signifies a valuable addition to the market. “Of course, we’re not going to deny anyone the chance to open a business here in Vienna, but we’re happy to see high-value tech companies whose worth reaches far into the future and generate a great deal of capital at their locations here.”
Location, location, location
After a stint in government in the 1990s and before coming to the Vienna Business Agency, Hirczi worked at Siemens, initially as head of personnel for the entire CEE region. He’s very aware of the importance of Vienna’s key geographic benefits, but there are many factors that go into choosing a location for innovative companies.
Zürich and Munich are both smaller than Vienna but make strong arguments when it comes to local talent. “There is the ETH Zurich and the Technical University of Munich – both are lighthouse universities, which are not only strong when it comes to research and technology, but also in science and technology transfer, so moving innovation to market. We can definitely learn a lot from them in that regard.” He stresses the need for stronger technology transfer and also cited American universities as being the best-practice when it comes to bringing university research to market.
Hirczi knows differentiation means using the benefits companies already love about Vienna. Besides the ever-lauded quality of life, Vienna has developed a unique strength since the fall of the iron curtain.
“We’ve specialized in Eastern Europe, which gives us a competitive advantage. We have tax advisories that specialize in Eastern Europe, law offices, business consultants, banks and insurance companies that are spread throughout the region. We have many people who speak the various languages of the region.” Other cities that have Vienna’s proximity to the region don’t have those features, he stresses. “Not Munich, not Zürich, not Frankfurt, not Berlin.”
Good news for RWR Card
Labor laws are struggling to accommodate the wave of talent streaming to Vienna every year. According to the Austrian Startup Monitor 2019, the startup scene alone will need 17,000 new employees in 2020, most of them hailing from elsewhere.
While the Vienna Business Agency isn’t directly involved in policymaking, its mandate is to alleviate the strain and difficulties that often arise when hiring non-EU nationals.
“I think the red-white-red card has a lot of potential for improvement,” says Hirczi. “We continue to feel the inadequacy of the current solution in Vienna at the MA35, which tends to become a bottleneck for these work visa issues.” The agency is working with City Councilman and VBA President Peter Handke to make the process simpler for key employees, scientists, highly qualified specialists and upper management.
“Vienna is going to offer a first point of contact to support the MA35 in processing the applications.” For the visa applicant, that means that they will receive consulting services.
“These won’t necessarily be lawyers, but specialists who know the field and speak the necessary languages to really provide the support the applicants need to get through the process more smoothly.” He reiterated also that employees of the MA35 don’t have an easy profession. Each applicant has a unique set of needs and circumstances; add the potential for misunderstanding on a cultural or linguistic level, and “the job is anything but easy.”
The Vienna Business agency looks forward to Vienna UP’20, the biggest innovation festival the city has ever seen and the 5th largest conference in the city. (Edit 12.03.2020: ViennaUP’20 was canceled to coronavirus and will launch as Vienna UP’21) The Vienna Startup Package has made a huge impact and is bringing more and more people to Vienna to launch their business. “We just heard that we now have over 1,000 applications,” says Hirczi. “That’s a great sign that we’re really on the radar.”
What Mr. Hirczi Recommends This Spring
Vienna’s Research Festival (Wiener Forschungsfest)
R&D is done for the next generation. That is abundantly clear at Vienna’s one-of-a-kind science and discovery festival, which Hirczi says is much more of an “experience” than just a festival. Both kids and adults will love the hands-on activities like making a team of robots, uncovering the internet of mushrooms of creating your very own tornado. There’s music, stage performances, workshops, plenty of food and drinks.
This year, one of the largest innovation congresses on the continent will take over the city for the first time. Offering new mobility solutions, fintech, health and life science as well as industry 4.0, some are calling it “Europe’s South by South West.” Most of the week is free for guests, and Metropolitans are invited to join in the exclusive invitation-only special event on May 14: Ready for Takeoff, the grand opening of the new innovation space at AirportCity.
Check your inbox starting in April for your invitation!
When May 11-17
Where various locations
Vienna Festival (Wiener Festwochen)
As any self-respecting Viennese does, Gerhard Hirczi makes sure to enjoy the city’s cultural highlights and certainly won’t miss the Festwochen. “I’m a fan of the spoken word,” he explains. That’s an important distinction since performances can take any number of forms. As the Festwochen mission statement puts it: “The festival encourages artistic projects that don’t fit existing formats and require different modes of presentation.“
When May 15 -Jun 21
Where various locations
“I’ve been trying to get a reservation there for the past six weeks and have had no luck.” Hirczi lives in the 7th district, but usually dines outside his home turf. He’s going to keep vying for a table and some of chef Eyal Shani’s Israeli-inspired gourmet chaos, which made this establishment in the Max Brown Hotel an instant favorite.
Where Max Brown, 7., Schottenfeldgasse 74
Reserve @ sevennorthrestaurant.com/reservation