For over 30 years, the Vienna Business Agency has been the first point of contact for all companies – international or local – for support, free services and advice. Knowing that innovation is the key to commercial success, under the spotlight in Vienna are life sciences, urban technologies, creative industries and ICT. Jo Murray (JM) speaks to Gerhard Hirczi (GH), Managing Director at the Vienna Business Agency.

JM The inward investment success stories associated with the city of Vienna have a very distinct flavour about them. You could say they are largely technology-enabled but they are also very sustainable, socially aware and life-enhancing. How would you put it?

GH Inward investments and resulting success stories are based on the City of Vienna’s Smart City strategy – and Vienna follows social concerns in all sectors. After all, social security is an important foundation for economic stability.

In the settlement sector, we of course focus on supporting high-value-added sectors such as HQ functions, R&D units or urban manufacturing. As a business agency for the City of Vienna, we provide support and funding to businesses, taking into account all sectors of this strategy – from supporting local suppliers and social entrepreneurs to creating highly innovative solutions and providing land or property we have developed ourselves. 

JM For most cities, one of their key resources is their people, its talent, linguistic ability, education, entrepreneurship, etc. What would you say is Vienna’s raw material?

GH Naturally, all of these resources are characteristic of Vienna and play a major factor in its appeal as a business location. This is demonstrated by the many international companies that are totally convinced by the high quality of professionals in the location. Particular importance is placed on bringing businesses and universities together, as the resulting innovation facilitates the development of products with international appeal, that hold their own on the market. As the largest German-speaking university site, Vienna boasts great potential for talented individuals.

JM How far are you focused on nurturing brand-new companies in up and coming sectors that draw on new and increasingly diverse talent? Are you particularly active in supporting the local start-up scene and does that activity extend to foreign companies too?

GH While Vienna was a late bloomer in terms of start-ups, it has rapidly gained pace in recent years. The ecosystem is bubbling, and things are also moving on the investor side.

We support young companies through a dense network of funding opportunities. This also applies for international start-ups as soon as they settle here in Vienna.

Recently, Vienna joined the global start-up project Start Alliance, partnering with global start-up hot spots Tel Aviv, New York City, Shanghai, Paris and Berlin. Start Alliance is a global network seeking to make international networking easier for start-ups and open up access to key world markets.

With the Vienna start-up package, the Vienna Business Agency is bringing international start-ups to Vienna, offering them a two-month stay, including a chance to test the start-up ecosystem. Numerous free offers await the winners of the Vienna start-up package: aside from flights, accommodation and tickets to the Pioneers Festival, the package includes a work place in a cooperative setting as well as expansion coaching. In addition, they can establish valuable contacts and will be integrated into the Vienna start-up scene.

JM It is becoming self-evident that Vienna is increasingly associated with life sciences research. Is this the result of a planned economy, the establishment of large foreign-owned life sciences companies in your very favourable strategic location, the output from the universities or something else? What has happened in Vienna that this sector is thriving and how are you using this for FDI purposes?

GH As early as the 1980s, Vienna decided to directly develop the life science sector. This has given the city itself an enormous head-start, primarily as a result of constructing premises – resulting in world-class infrastructures and research institutions. Businesses value and take advantage of this high quality. Boehringer Ingelheim, which is among the top 20 pharmaceutical companies worldwide, is currently undertaking the largest investment in the company’s history in Vienna, with the construction of a biopharmaceutical production facility. Vienna was chosen for this over Singapore, Dublin and Biberach – where the company has its headquarters. 

JM From the ICT and multi-media points of view, Vienna has also flourished in step with large German and Nordic cities. Is this associated with any FDI initiatives or is it very much a home-grown achievement?

GH ICT is one of the greatest special strengths of the Viennese economy, with an added value that vastly exceeds that of tourism – for which Vienna is known all over the world, and with good reason. This added value is largely due to local activities. In recent years, two particular developments have taken place: the vast expansion of highly secure storage capacities through international players, which has greatly reinforced the infrastructure power of Vienna as an IT location – and the progression of IT in many other business sectors, for example in the form of the Internet of Things.

JM I would associate Vienna with being a strong contender as a location for a European headquarters, for locating an international organisation and for running international conferences. To what extent is this part of your FDI strategy or is it just a natural consequence of your location between east and west Europe?

GH Vienna's geographical situation is of course an important advantage for the location. However, this potential and opportunity also have to be exploited. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Vienna has been able to position itself as a hub between East and West and in doing so, it has built up a great deal of relevant expertise. It is likely that no other Central European city exists with a comparable range of company-related services specialised in the CEE region. In our efforts to promote Vienna internationally as a business location, these factors play a major role as part of our USP.

JM Travel in and around Vienna has long been efficient but now it is increasingly smart and clean. Does this simply enable foreign companies to negotiate your city easily or is it more complex than that? Does being a smart city attract funding, pilot projects and foreign companies wishing to collaborate?

GH Being smart as a city means heading for new shores and doing things that have never been done before. However, this is only possible when the corresponding basic knowledge configuration is available – and this configuration is in turn attractive for international companies. An innovative setting and proactive city open up new opportunities, new ideas and business models. Tech start-ups that work on smart solutions are a good example of this. They attract global players who are interested in these innovations.

JM What is happening in Vienna’s traditional sectors – services and trade, etc? Do those sectors still underpin your economy?

GH Vienna has transformed itself from a city of smoking chimneys to a metropolis of thinking heads. Since the turn of the millennium or even before, we have fully arrived in the information society. Even traditional companies, some of which have been producing the same products for more than 100 years, are no longer operated in the way they were 20 or 30 years ago but have rather joined the era of digitalisation in their day-to-day running. What is especially exciting at the moment is how young creative individuals are rediscovering and reviving old Viennese handicraft traditions – and have completely utilised the opportunities of digitalisation for their business model in doing so.

JM What do you say in response to Vienna’s accolades for its culture, quality of life and attractions? Presumably they support you in marketing Vienna, but as a BUSINESS location, what qualities do you promote?

GH We try to use Vienna’s high prominence as a tourism metropolis for our work as a promotion agency. This is because both factors – quality of living and high competitiveness – are decided by the investment decisions of companies. 

Our surveys among expats working in Vienna continually indicate the high significance of “soft location” factors such as safety, cultural offering, short routes, public transport and cleanliness. They also contribute to around 90% of Viennese expatriates recommending the city further as an expat location.

Vienna’s strongest arguments for its role as a business location today are its internationality, innovative setting, expertly trained workforce and its hub function between East and West.