Vienna-based start-up IQ Mobile found that obtaining funding to develop innovative solutions was a straightforward exercise. It was awarded 15 per cent of the costs for its video telephony project and now names Sony BMG as one of its customers.
Austrian start-up secures funding for video telephony project
The European Commission identifies ICT as the biggest driver of growth for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). But for many start-ups, lack of financial support can see the company fail before realising its innovative potential. Recognising this, and the importance of SMEs to the economy, the European Union (EU) established sources of funding to support these fledgling operations. But with business strategies to plan and operational processes to put in place, when do CEOs have the chance to find and apply for these grants? The answer is they often don't, and as a result miss out on an opportunity to make their business more competitive. Harald Winkelhofer is one entrepreneur who avoided this situation when he set up one of Austria's most exciting SMEs.
Building on more than 10 years' experience in multimedia products for mobile phones, Winkelhofer founded IQ Mobile in June 2006. His vision centred on offering two sophisticated services to the mobile telephony market. Winkelhofer wanted IQ Mobile to become the first company in Austria to develop a video telephony platform for the mobile phone, and the first to support advertising on mobile phone portals such as Vodafone Live. In the first few months at IQ Mobile, Winkelhofer was heavily involved in preparing business, marketing, and sales plans, and had little time to look for funding opportunities. “From the outset, I wanted to apply for funding,” he says, “but during the start-up phase I didn't have time to study complex application forms.”
Günter Schneider, Microsoft and Harald Winkelhofer, Chief Executive, IQ mobile
© Fotodienst.cc/ Oskar Goldberger
While reading the newspaper, the IQ mobile founder came across a means to apply for funding that wouldn't take his focus away from the business. The European Union Grants Advisor (EUGA) programme is an initiative supported by a number of community partners and industry leaders, such as Microsoft, Intel, and HP, to help increase SMEs' awareness of, and access to, dedicated EU, national and regional funds. Winkelhofer contacted EUGA to arrange a consultation. During the initial contact, EUGA informed the IQ Mobile founder about an online competition sponsored by Microsoft Austria and news provider Pressetext. At the event, Winkelhofer scooped the competition's first prize - €500 (U.S.$709). He says: “There were two great things to come out of that day for me—the €500 prize and an increased knowledge of funding for start-up companies.”
Winkelhofer presented his ideas for IQ Mobile and the video telephony platform to EUGA experts in a series of consultations. “It was a very structured process,” he says. “We had three or four personal meetings where I told them what the company was doing, what my goals are, what technical background we need, and what the estimated costs were, and then they recommended the funding to apply for.”
“It's really important to help small companies grow their business, because it brings more jobs, higher turnover, and greater investment in other companies, and boosts the whole economy.”
Harald Winkelhofer, Chief Executive, IQ Mobile.
IQ Mobile applied for a risk related grant from an Austrian and European funding cooperative in September because of the risks involved in working with such new technology. By the end of 2006, the funding body rewarded the innovative nature of the IQ Mobile project with a grant to cover 15 per cent of the project's total costs. Winkelhofer says: “The consultation process was a good way for us to work, because I could focus on my daily business and let the expert recommend which funds to apply for - that's why we'll consult EUGA again.”
Since IQ Mobile was founded, the Viennabased company has grown rapidly, building up a base of 40 customers including big names such as Sony BMG and Nokia. IQ Mobile is the first company in Austria to provide a video telephony platform with interactive voice response. Impressed with the technology, Sony BMG signed up for mobile marketing and video telephony services on the first anniversary of IQ Mobile. The music and entertainment giant is set to use the IQ Mobile technology to bring previews of new music videos to its customers' mobile phones. Winkelhofer says: “At the moment Sony is sending out previews to its online newsletter community, but soon they'll be marketing a free preview of new music to be consumed on the mobile phone.”
Over the last year, IQ Mobile has developed an extensive convergent platform (sms, mms, voice) with an innovative portal of mobile video solutions. As well, mobile marketing and advertising tools were established. Winkelhofer plans to use EUGA services again and recognises that future grants will also help the company to progress faster. “I could invest the money in a sales employee or further technical developments, so that will definitely support the business,” he says. While Winkelhofer wants the company to extend its reach, he is keen for it to remain a small, creative, high-quality business in the mobile sector. Winkelhofer shares EUGA's view that innovative SMEs have an important role to play in the European economy. “It's really important to help small companies grow their business,” he says, “because it brings more jobs, higher turnover, and greater investment in other companies, and boosts the whole economy.”