Before launching Metropole, I wrote about startups for the Austrian daily Die Presse back when the startup scene was still in its infancy, in 2014. Various initiatives sought to invite founders and corporate leaders to Silicon Valley in the hopes that the risk-taking spirit and famous can-do attitude of the Bay Area would rub off on them. As an American who was glad to have escaped the aggressive optimism surrounding all things new, I was skeptical.
When I traveled to visit family in New York or California, I found myself missing certain fundamentally European things. I missed modern trains, good drivers, conversations that start with something other than “What do you do?” And finally, I missed humility. Was the American mindset of the-bigger-the-better really fostering sustainable innovation? It seems Vienna’s methodical and deliberate approach is more in line with the scientific method. Stubborn progress on a different level, persistent experimentation approaching the ideal.
While putting together this issue, we got the chance to dive deep into the reasons behind great Austrian successes in science and research. It became abundantly clear that there is a strong indicator of risk-taking and innovative potential throughout Vienna’s history: cultural diversity.
The Right Ingredients
As is the case with innovation in the Bay Area and around the world, diverse populations paired with clusters of expertise are what make a location a hotbed for successful innovation. In Vienna, the first wave was during the relative peace between the Congress of Vienna and the two world wars; as we outline in the Cover Story (34), half of Vienna’s 19th century population of 2 million was born outside of Austria’s current borders. It was a time of massive urban development, meaning plenty of jobs in engineering and construction, as well as revolutionary developments in medicine leading to 22 Nobel Prize laureates, who are listed in our stats pages (31).
Over the years, Vienna has become a leader in those sectors. Medical research and biotechnology – umbrellaed under the term Life Sciences – remain front and center as we can see in many of the Profiles (42) of today’s scientists and researchers. Women are slowly bridging the gender gap in the natural sciences. We investigate what remains to be done in “Untapped E-XX-Cellence” (50) with inspirational local figures like Hedy Lamarr, and the truth behind the woman hailed as the progenitor of wireless technology (112).
Funding Vienna’s Innovation
Today, Vienna’s regional strengths lie in life sciences, information and communication technologies (ICT), smart production and industry 4.0., which the general manager of the Vienna Business Agency, Gerhard Hirzci, spoke about in our Melange interview (26). The agency also funds startups and corporate innovation projects, helping companies relocate to or open offices in Vienna. Surprisingly, some of Vienna’s most important research centers are actually funded by the Pentagon; we asked what that means for neutrality and academic freedom (54). We also looked into some of the success stories in research and innovation in “Starting Up and Spinning Off” (60) and the best ways to nurture the future of innovation in “How to Raise a Scientist in Vienna” (78).
The recently released Austrian Startup Monitor 2019 (published by our own Home Town Media) showed that nearly half of the startups in Austria state that their companies have social and/or ecological goals. This is reflected in Circle17 (46), a startup initiative with a series of hackathons surrounding solutions linked to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And in the realm of philanthropy and charity, a new movement called Effective Altruism is using data to measure the best way to donate to good causes (64).
The spring has plenty in store for inspired and culture-thirsty Metropolitans, with the city’s best new restaurants, bars, theater, concerts and festivals (83-132). If you need to get out of town, why not try the new routes the ÖBB has launched for the night train from Vienna (134)?
Let the spring sunshine thaw your winter chills and get ready to take over the city’s sidewalks. Vienna’s shifting to its warm-weather mood, so strap on a smile and …
Don’t be a stranger,
Showing researchers and scientists flying over the Vienna region, scoping out the potential for innovation. We’re glad to work with the Italian illustrator Davide Abbati (davideabbati.it) who never fails to surprise us with his creativity.