ws is a unique resource for Austrian startups. As the promotional bank of the Austrian Federal Government, it is co-owned by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Labour and Economy (BMAW) and the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology. aws focuses on current economic issues, supporting startups through soft loans, grants and guarantees to implement innovative projects at the idea, early and growth stages of development. It also provides coaching, networking and other soft-skill support for startups.
Within Europe, and in many other parts of the world, a priority is being placed on sustainability as a way to both pursue post-pandemic economic growth and to combat climate change. For Tanja Spennlingwimmer and Stefanie Nagler, this means guiding greentech startups in Austria to find funding while navigating a rapidly changing economy.
Tanja leads three departments at the aws, supporting startups, SMEs, universities and community organizations by helping them to find funding. Originally from Upper Austria, she has an extensive background in business development and innovation, as well as environmental industry, in the region.
Stefanie is a manager in the aws’ Seedfinancing program, focusing on green startups. She has a background in IP management, personal work experience in greentech startups, and a master’s degree in European Environmental Science. Since 2021, aws Seedfinancing has had a special focus on greentech that earmarks funds for projects relevant to climate protection.
Climate change is a global priority, and businesses, especially in the areas of greentech and technology-for-green, are a major component in the path towards healthy environmental and economic sustainability. “In Europe, models like the European Green Deal have earmarked millions of euros at various levels to help companies move in this direction. However, being green is still a fairly new concept as a business model and defining success in the space can be tricky,” says Tanja. “The European Green deal is one of the basic models that we rely on, and the startups that we support at aws should in some way promote those goals.”
Because startups are so agile, they represent a chance for both society and the economy to evolve quickly enough to meet sustainability goals.
Stefanie adds that founders in this new space still need to succeed in all the traditional ways. “They still have to be successful as a startup; the financing, the team and the business model all have to work, but for a green startup to be successful there are additional metrics, such as social or environmental impact. It’s a different set of criteria that, at this point, is not so easy to define.”
As climate action is a global priority, there are now copious funding opportunities available EU-wide, as well as through national, regional and private funding sources. In some cases, the lack of hard definitions in the space makes it easier for startups to access these resources. Nevertheless it also means that they need to be well aware of the frequent changes in policy that impact these funds. Stefanie tells founders to “keep up with new directives and political decisions in your target market. In the EU, for example, there are constant developments, even for the definition of ‘green’. Being aware of this rapidly evolving political landscape is vital for startups to stay ahead of the game in terms of funding and market opportunities,” she continues, “because these political decisions can even change market failures.”
safeguarding innovation is a big deal, particularly in greentech. Founders are often not aware of the threat they face by not protecting their IP
Tanja stresses that “safeguarding innovation is a big deal, particularly in greentech. Founders are often not aware of the threat they face by not protecting their IP. We talk to a lot of companies that are surprised when they learn what they could do with a proper IP protection strategy.” As a manufacturing and tech hub, Austria has a robust ecosystem for this, aws in particular has programs such as Green IP to help (green)tech SMEs through consulting and funding to pursue patents and other security measures. Collaboration and open innovation is the other side of this IP coin. Meeting both the global and European climate goals on schedule will require companies around the world to connect and collaborate.
Both Tanja and Stephanie also emphasize that startups must take care not to “greenwash” their solutions. Tanja says that, especially in B2B scenarios, customers know when something is not actually green. If you are on the fence about what counts as green, “use a clear metric, CO2 in kiloton for example, as suggested in the EU taxonomy,” says Stefanie. “It’s a real risk factor to oversell green. Be honest, be careful and do your due diligence. For example, think twice about going to market with claims of being ‘climate neutral,’ something that’s very difficult to actually fulfill.”