Europe’s Pioneers Festival for Innovative Entrepreneurs Image owner: Eva Marie Klauser

Pioneers Festival is Europe's Premier Meet - And - Greet Event for Investors and Innovative Entrepreneurs

Paul Castle, PhD, Director of Search & Evaluation, R&D Innovation – Oral Health

When I received an invitation this year to attend the Pioneers Festival in Vienna, Austria, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a “Festival” exactly. This didn’t sound like the typical tech conference. What I encountered was a live celebration of innovation in healthcare. Upbeat. Fast-moving. And a truly exhilarating opportunity for corporate, venture capital and angel investors to interact with some of the world’s most exciting technology start-ups and innovative entrepreneurs.

The annual Festival, launched in 2012 by two young guys who’d been active in the European start-up scene, became a by-invitation event this year with 500+ technology start-ups from around the globe chosen to attend, network and demo their breakthrough innovations for free. Dozens of investors, media reps and entrepreneurial “mentors” are invited to join them at the event. And other start-ups can apply to be considered for an invitation.

The excitement of the festival builds ahead of it, thanks to a Pioneers app that acts like a “Festival LinkedIn,” allowing you to read profiles of other attendees and arrange 1:1 meetings. I had around 30 meeting requests before arriving, which was great. On the first morning, I could hear the festival before even entering its venerable location – the grand 500-year-old Imperial Hoffman Palace. Inside, I encountered a kaleidoscope of activity including Robotic displays, Augmented Reality booths, even a DJ and a light show. The inspiration and wow factor begins the moment you arrive.

TakeAways for Successful Start-Ups

The festival included two main arenas--one for “showcasing” new digital technologies and the other for “Master classes” such as: “What not to do as a CEO” and “10 rules for attracting investment.”

The audience even got to observe start-ups making live pitches to investors, while a “mentor” observing the pitch would jump in at various points to highlight an opportunity for improvement.

Here are my 4 essentials for a successful start-up based on what I learned from the sessions I attended:

  1. Don’t run a start-up alone. It’s very lonely and tremendously challenging when there’s no one to bounce ideas off of and to help find solutions during hard times.
  2. Never stop your effort. Move the ball forward a little bit every day since you won’t get investment by being lazy. Focus deeply on your first milestone and use the momentum to reach the next and the next.
  3. Build your network and get endorsements. This is part of the hard work, but an effort that will pay off.
  4. Really know and be confident in your business. You should know precisely what your market is, what your secret is, who your competition is and how you will beat them. You should also define a meaningful view of the outside of your company — the view those on the outside will see.

Tips for Pitching Your Innovation in Healthcare to Investors

I also had the opportunity to have 14 one-on-one, face-to-face meetings with start-up companies and innovative entrepreneurs that piqued my interest. As of now, I’m continuing conversations with at least 4 of them that have a potential fit to GSK Consumer Healthcare.

The most compelling pitch was delivered by a young man with a sense of passion and confidence that I would call infectious. One small thing that really enhanced his presentation was the use of a hand-held tablet on which he demonstrated the innovation, so that we could both look at it in a relative small space. This tool really changed the physical dynamic of our conversation, giving us a shared focal point that made it feel like a collaboration instead of a discussion between people on two different sides of a table. This demonstration also helped me to ask better questions and to get the supplementary information I needed to make an informed next-steps decision.

The worst pitch was essentially unclear. I left not really understanding the business, its benefit, its target market and so forth. As such, there didn’t seem to be anything worth pursuing.

My advice to entrepreneurial innovators is to be relaxed but be fully prepared with your pitches. Remember to speak mindfully to your audience – which may include someone like me who is not familiar with the concepts and language you’re immersed in! Lastly, smile as you present. Politeness, enthusiasm and happiness for your innovation goes a long way and costs nothing.

Some open innovation conferences are mainly populated by big companies and include a lot of theoretical discussion, which is good for the learnings in a non-competitive sector. But Pioneers Festival was Front of the Funnel Innovation in Action and I will be there next year!

To learn more about Pioneers Festival, visit the organisation’s website at