We met Eveline Steinberger-Kern, former executive at Verbund and Siemens, now founder of a green energy investment company – oh, and wife of the Austrian Chancellor
The past four months have been busy ones for Eveline Steinberger-Kern. Just two years after founding The Blue Minds Company, a sustainable energy consultancy based in Vienna and Tel Aviv, she is now juggling the urgent needs of a growing business, her nine-year-old daughter (not to mention three stepchildren), and her husband’s new job.
Since Christian Kern was sworn in as Chancellor of Austria in May 2016, things have certainly changed for the energy entrepreneur.
“We’ve made it part of our daily routine [at Blue Minds],” Steinberger-Kern explained. “We took the time to think it through – considering conflicts of interest, etc. – and then we settled it.”
Her business partners were more of a challenge, especially in Israel: “I think they didn’t quite believe me when I said, nothing’s going to change.” Unfamiliar with Austrian traditions, they asked whether she would now only travel with her husband. “They were assuming it would be like the Netanyahu family,” she mused. “I won’t give up my business ambitions for my husband’s political career.”
In conversation, one quickly forgets her exceptional circumstances. Despite her vast experience and influence both in the energy sector and as Austria’s First Lady, she remains comfortably down to earth, and speaks openly about their many shared interests, such as books they both love.
“We like to talk about global developments, especially in business,” Steinberger-Kern said. “On that level we do exchange views and certainly did so when it came to founding the company.” It had been risky to leave a lucrative management position for an uncertain future. “My husband was impressed by how much courage it required at the beginning.”
The company’s newest project, “Elfred” (named for Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred), is a “smart home solution” designed to help people with complicated lives, like hers. Now being tested in Austria, Israel, Italy and Turkey, Elfred combines convenience and security, while cutting costs, and can be integrated into a home’s existing hardware.
But big challenges remain. “The rolling out of smart data is not yet where we’d need it to be. That has to be a given,” she said. To encourage new ideas, Blue Minds has launched an incubator for energy sector startups, providing access to their vast network in the energy sector. Given all this, you would expect Steinberger-Kern to be an outspoken advocate for startups. It’s not that simple. The startup hype misses a key segment of the Austrian economy, she believes.
“We increasingly work for family-run SMEs. Some of them are market leaders in tiny niches. We come in to help them internationalize.”
Working in two markets has given Steinberger-Kern a number of valuable insights into startup culture. “I don’t have a very Austrian approach,” she admitted, saying state funding can slow things down. “You’re spending so much time on reporting rather than product development.”
But she is optimistic about the future of Austria’s public financing: “Yes to the funding system, but to really get results, we have to orient it more around achievement and output.
Where to find Eveline in September
When she’s back in Vienna for a longer stretch, the Blue Minds founder misses her second home. “I live for Israeli cuisine and I love the atmosphere there.” For breakfast or brunch, at Neni, she invariably goes for shakshuka, poached eggs in tomato sauce.
Not far from her office on Siebensterngasse is her favorite restaurant. “I love the owners and the food is delicious.” A mixed crowd and fantastic outdoor seating round out this Lokal, where you may spot her sipping a glass of wine after work.
This cafe has retro-chic written all over it. “This is where I have my espresso macchiato,” said Steinberger-Kern. The neighborhood hangout offers great coffee and the chance to run into friends and acquaintances.
A Blue Minds Company project, MyFavoriTEN sees opportunity in the up-and-coming area of the new Hauptbahnhof. “I love going to this Grätzl and seeing all the changes. It shows that you don’t have to be small and nimble to be innovative.”