The frustrations of an idea-filled entrepreneur in Tirol


A little Tuesday morning rant from me. I’ve lived in Tirol on and off since 2003 and I’ve always struggled with the culture of “being part of the system” here in Austria. Heaven forbid you should have an innovative idea and want to start a company to play with that idea without having a certificate or some sort of training. No, no. In Austria, a certificate is all-important.

For a variety of reasons, this hasn’t been an issue, but when we returned in 2014 for good, I decided that I ought to try again. Perhaps it was just me, after all. Perhaps Austria was in fact a hub of idea-filled entrepreneurs who were taking advantage of technology to work in new and flexible ways…

In 2016, I started playing with an idea called Catalyst. The idea was that I would offer an 8-week training course to help women in Tirol take their good ideas and turn them into businesses over an 8-week period. I spoke to a number of women about the idea, crafted a website and the response was hugely positive. The only down-side was the name, so I prevaricated a bit more, playing with the name and collecting more feedback. The feedback that came through – other than the name – was that it would be great to have a network in Tirol for women who were either thinking of starting a small business or who were running a one-woman band. Support was needed!

I pulled and punched and played with the idea, and eventually came up with a new name: Frauen Power (women power is the direct translation, but Frauen Power just rolls off the tongue a bit better and implies the power that women already have and hints at the power of women supporting each other).  Lovely. Then I developed the idea further – I decided that I wanted Frauen Power to be a safe space where women could develop a network (networking events), learn new skills (workshops and courses and talks, delivered by me or others), and get support (by relying on other women in the network and by tapping into my years of experience of running my own business and supporting business owners who get stuck – this latter I’d call a mix of training, advising and mentoring).

Excited about this all, I wrote the content, created the website, sorted out a translation and bounced the idea off a few people. I knew that at some point I needed to go to the WKO (Wirkshaftkammer – the organisation that deals with the economy and registration of businesses in Austria), but it didn’t occur to me that I’d have any problems. In fact, I wanted to have the website finished so that I could show them what I was trying to do.

Why not? Well, because I have 20 years of business experience, 14 of which have involved training and advising and brainstorming and supporting business owners in some shape, form or fashion.

More fool me! I had totally forgotten how much the Austrians love their pieces of paper, and how rigid the system is here. Off I  went, all excited, and was immediately deflated when I visited the founder team. Deflated because they really don’t care what it is that you want to do. All they do is tell you which “group” you fall under (because you have to pay some fee to that group – I’ve never completely understood why, but there you go – let’s call it a tax on innovation…), print off a sheet of requirements, then shake their head and tell you that you can’t do what you want to do unless you have a certificate.

Here’s what I understood:

  • It’s not a problem to create a network for women – although I am not sure what that network would fall under in terms of “groups”.
  • It’s not a problem to run a training programme – all I need to do for that is register with Tirol Land.
  • Providing support to women, 1-to-1, based on my experience of running my own businesses and supporting others to do the same in the UK, USA and SA IS A HUGE problem, however. The reason? Because I called this “business coaching”, stupidly trying to find an umbrella term that encompasses the mix of brainstorming, training, expert insights and recommendations and experience, and “business coaching” requires a piece of paper.

So I went home somewhat disheartened. Disheartened for a couple of reasons – first  because the lady the WKO couldn’t be bothered to try to understand what I was trying to achieve, and seeing whether there were other ways of describing my offering in order to make this work. Why should she, after all – she’s only the representative of the organisation that is supposed to support new businesses?

Second, because experience seems to have no currency in Austria. The important thing in Tirol is that you have a piece of paper. As long as you have your certificate, you can lead workshops and year-long programmes in entrepreneurialship without having an entrepreneurial bone in your body. You can teach people about starting a business without having ever started a business yourself. And of course, you can coach micro-businesses in how to start and grow their one-woman band without having ever run your own business and without knowing what it’s like to be a woman juggling children, caring responsibilities and social expectations.

I felt like giving up, as I so often do here, and then I decided that instead, I’d write a note to the leader of the group, outlining my experience and what I wanted to do, to find out if there was a way to realise the network.

So I did, referencing my showcase website. His response was that if I was offering any form of coaching or support that seemed like coaching to aspiring or growing micro-businesses, a qualification was needed.

I have a meeting with him on Friday at 10am, but I have to confess that I don’t feel particularly hopeful.

God knows that I am not a coach and I’m not a consultant either – I don’t just ask questions and expect people to work things out themselves and I am not someone who dives into interfere with someone’s business with no knowledge about what they do, either. However, my approach is consultative. I facilitate and train and provide practical support to help people realise their goals. I don’t know how to describe all of the things I do other than using the word “coaching”.

It’s very frustrating. M says that one of the reasons for all the hoops and obstacles is because the WKO is an organisation that needs to protect itself and justify its existence. I wonder if it’s simply because people don’t want to engage. Perhaps Austria doesn’t really care about new businesses and they just want to keep the status quo in place.

More to follow.

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