06 Nov 2014

What was Pioneers about?

By Jessica

Last week in Vienna over 2500 people gathered at the Hofburg Imperial Palace for Pioneers Festival, one of the largest events for tech startups, hackers, corporates and investors in Europe.

I went along to learn about how the tech scene is developing in Central and Eastern Europe, and to cheer on Andiamo as they made it through to the finals of the Pioneers Challenge Top 50 competition.

As I passed by flying cars and a few great talks (catch Steli Efti on hustling if you ever get the chance) there were three main things that struck me about the festival.

The first thing was the scale of the festival. It was a BIG high production event that drew in thousands of people. I expected it to be busy but I have to admit I was surprised that the startup ecosystem in Vienna could support an event of this scale, which shows my naivety about the size of the tech scene in Central and Eastern Europe. It’s clearly strong, and growing.

According to this FT report investors are looking more closely at the area and they’re scouting out opportunities. There’s a growing tribe of young people across the region who are highly skilled entrepreneurs, programmers and software engineers, and they see the world differently from their parents who grew up under communism. They’re testing the boundaries with growing confidence. They’re pioneers.

The second thing that struck me was that the event was, unsurprisingly, very male dominated. Like many entrepreneurship events there was an attempt to tackle this by holding a separate workshop on Women Entrepreneurs, but after sitting in a number of these sessions in the past I’m starting to doubt whether they truly encourage more women into the startup world.

Instead, it would be good to see more women in the speaker panels across the main event itself – surely this would have more impact. It was great to see the winner of last years Pioneers Challenge Urska Srsen from Bellabeat take the main stage to share her story of raising $4.5m from Silicon Valley angels. Urska is a pioneer, and I’d like to see more women like her taking centre stage in the future.

The third thing that struck me was that our narrative doesn’t work with this audience at the moment. At BGV we believe technology has the potential to solve some of the worlds biggest social and environmental issues. We talk about tech for good, social innovation, social impact and changing the world for the better. This language was largely absent from the festival, but that doesn’t mean that this audience doesn’t care about these issues, or that the technology they’re developing can’t be harnessed for social good. It got me thinking whether separate workshops on ‘tech for good’ at these kind of events would help to raise awareness, but I don’t think this is the answer.

Much like my point about the women in entrepreneurship sessions, social impact needs to be seen as part of the mainstream, and not just this nice thing on the side. I think we’ll see this change as we start to get more success stories from pioneering startups that prove you can have an awesome scalable business and do social good at the same time.  Which is why I was thrilled to see Andiamo do so well in the Pioneers Challenge.

I guess that’s what Pioneers is about – being the first, innovating and pushing the boundaries. That’s how we’ll make progress.

Image credit: Hofburg Imperial Palace by CarlosJR licensed under CC BY 2.0