‘We’re bringing outside thinking into the bank.’
Erste Bank der oesterreichischen Sparkassen may be one of central and eastern Europe’s oldest savings banks – it celebrates its bicentennial in 2019 – but its approach to Austria’s start-up scene is strikingly contemporary.
‘Startups are a much-debated topic in Austria,’ explains Emanuel Bröderbauer, who heads the marketing team that works with SMEs at Erste Bank. ‘Lots of established businesses have jumped on the bandwagon to pass themselves off as startup supporters. For us, however, there is much more to startups than mere promotional positioning.’
Startups are a clearly defined target group that the bank is trying to cater to – both in terms of products and advisory services. The i2b (‘idea to business’) program is typical of the bank’s engagement with startups. It’s an association the bank founded in collaboration with Austria’s Federal Economic Chamber to provide free support to startups at the very early concept stage.
“We’ve developed a keen sense for endeavors that turn out to be successful.”
Erste Bank’s branch offices also specialize in providing advice to startups – discussing business ideas, developing financing plans, exploring subsidy options and granting financing. ‘We’ve developed a keen sense for endeavors that turn out to be successful,’ says Bröderbauer. ‘It is on the back of this strength that we can provide startups not only with advice but also with the necessary funding.’ Moreover, the bank is continuously expanding its services: it recently launched a coworking space where startups pay only the running costs.
Critical to the success of the bank’s engagement with start-ups – which it classifies as companies less than three years old – are the consequences of merging ‘the culture of the classical bank with the new, flexible, innovative young guys who have an idea and say, “Come on, let’s do it.”’
A case in point, Bröderbauer says, is the bank’s Erste Hub innovation lab. ‘There are people working there who have never worked with a bank, for a bank or in a bank. So we’re bringing outside thinking into the bank, and bringing good services for our customers to the market.’
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