Andra Slaats joined the Impact Hub Vienna community in March 2013, as a Connect member. Soon after, inspired by the other entrepreneurs she wanted to get closer to the social scene and so she became a host of Impact Hub Vienna. Her journey continued with applying and winning the Impact Hub Vienna scholarship for MODUL University, now finishing a 2 year MBA course.
In 2013, she pitched her project Younited Cultures to the Social Impact Start jury and by winning, she made a huge breakthrough in the social business scene in Austria and the region. Only one month ago, her team won the SIS EUR5.000 award, opened to all SIS ventures in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Here is her story!
Being a winner of the SIS Program in 2013 has certainly put you in the spotlight. But, who is Andra behind the scenes?
Good question. I actually don’t feel comfortable being in the spotlight. But I am getting better at it.
Behind the scene I am a strong “familist” and a person that takes her energy from the people around her. I love spending quality time with my husband who gives me enormous moral support for what I do. Whenever there is time, then I hang out with my friends and try to catch up on things. I work hard, I have as well an MBA to finish and in parallel a part time job, working for a bag designer (on a temporary base). So, I am pretty busy but it only works out if the moral support of the family is there. Without my husband’s strength, patience and understanding, I would not be able to do all of this and be fully happy and worries-free every day. I thank God for having the best husband ever. I am living my dream and I try to enjoy it as much as I can and celebrate it with the people close to me.
As hobbies, I like jogging and going swimming. I love simple things and try to keep it simple in all I do. As well, I like simple products and minimalist clothes. Simple is elegant. Less is more. And most importantly, my mood determines how I dress up. So, my emotions determine basically my morning choice of clothes. It’s funny, but it’s true. I truly am what I wear on that day.
Why did you decide to apply for the SIS program?
I actually had applied once before, a year ago. With another venture, another product. It was not my business idea though. And you could tell I was not the right person for it. Hence why I probably didn’t win that time. I was passionate about the social impact that business idea had, but could not befriend the product. And after I pitched the idea, I realized that I could not stand behind that project if I didn’t love the product passionately. And the jury also felt that.
But I didn’t give up. That experience didn’t make me feel that I failed, on the contrary. It brought me into another direction. It guided me towards finding my own path. And from that day on, with the inputs I received from the jury and some Hub members, I started shaping my own concept with the right product. Once I had everything shaped up, I considered pitching again for the SIS program. I wasn’t going there in order to win necessarily. But I wanted to get their inputs and see if I they also confirmed that I was on the right path. And surely enough, I was. And that is why I also won. Because I “owned” that idea. I stood 100 % behind it and was fully passionate about it.
Iulia, my business partner, joined in at that time, shortly before the SIS pitch and is co-founder of Younited Cultures. I didn’t want to do this alone, because it is more fun to share the pleasures of entrepreneurship with someone who shares the same vision. It was a lot of fun to prepare and as well pitch with her.
What is the Younited Cultures about?
Younited Cultures is about celebrating diversity and about real stories of people that have contributed to the Austrian society and the economy. It is about immigrants and their journeys. And I wanted to tune into these stories, hear them, share them. Be somehow part of them. And that’s how the idea shaped up. I decided to tell their stories on beautiful high quality scarves, designed by local designers and custom-made for each immigrant role model.
I didn’t want to talk about discrimination so much, I wanted to look for the source of why people really decide to not like others because of their origin, because of their background. And I looked at myself. And I wondered, have I discriminated someone without realizing and if so, why? When I asked myself that, I realized that I did that too. Back home in Romania, as a small child, if you did not behave, parents would tell their children “If you don’t behave, the gipsies will take you”. And we were really scared of the gipsies. But now, I wondered why we were so scared. It is because someone told us that they were scary. Understanding that, I then thought of ideas of how to change mentalities of people who discriminate. Because, we are not born with this characteristic. It is something that develops throughout our lives and it’s picked up through ones own experiences, or is being influenced upon you. But no matter how we put it, it is something we can change. People can change. With the right impulses, positive signals and beautiful experiences. If you fuel those negative experiences with new and positive ones, people can get to see a new perspective.
That is why, Younited Cultures brings up role models of immigrants in Austria, interviews them and show cases their stories through a scarf. The product is more like means to an end. We produce this scarf for this person, to say thank you; to celebrate their journey and to inspire others to share this experience, to learn from it and to fight for their own journey. At the moment we choose the role models ourselves. In the future, the community will be able to recommend them. Once we have chosen someone, for example Adela Kuliga who will be featured in the month of October, we also look for a designer to join in the process of building the story. Together, we interview Adela, the designer listens to her story and gets inspired by her journey from when she came to Austria from Poland and how she has made it to become founder of Networking Youth Career. The scarf can be something abstract or something specific. Adela chooses the colours and the material. She has full ownership of how it should look like. We then produce 100 pieces of this scarf. And very important for us, we produce it in Austria.
With the money we get from the sales, we support an event/workshop that Adela can create herself and she can invest it in helping the Polish community to maybe motivate them, to help them get into networks or to get to know others who are in need and can be helped by just reaching out to them. And the process then repeats itself with the next role model. At the end of autumn, we will launch 2 stories : Adela Kuliga from Poland, Founder of Networking Youth Career and Vlad Gozman, from Romania, Founder of TedX Vienna.
How has your business idea changed since winning the SIS Stipend?
With the help of the experts, we were able to make our business model more specific, more detailed. We looked deeper into the idea and we were able to come up with further approaches and concepts that can help us be more impactful. The best thing about winning the Social Impact Start stipend was the opportunities we gained, the support we were exposed to. One month ago, we even competed (and won!) an award, organised by SAP and Social impact for all ventures that ran though this program in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. We were very proud of winning EUR 5.000. It was difficult to get so many votes, but it was also amazing to see how the communities and the networks we were part of and as well those who didn’t know us but wanted to support our vision, how they all pulled together and helps us win this.
Another great thing about SIS was to get to know other ventures within the program. You can learn so much from their own challenges, failures and breakthroughs. And they are willing to share and help you succeed as well. It is not a quid-pro-quo situation between the ventures. It is always a voluntary offer to help you with your project and connect you with their networks and other multipliers relevant to our project.
Having the experience in applying and winning, what would be your advice to future applicants for the SIS program?
Firstly, own your idea. Be confident of what you talk about. And of course to be passionate about the idea, to show the enthusiasm for what you do.
Secondly, explain the business model in a coherent, logical and easy way. It doesn’t have to sound complicated to be taken seriously. Explain your idea in a simple way. Success is guaranteed!
And last but not least, prepare for the pitch, don’t take it too easy! A 5 minutes pitch is more difficult than explaining your idea in 20 minutes. And don’t make it boring. You do want the audience to be engaged and actually listening. If your idea is more technical, it can still be presented in a fun way. If you are not a creative person, others can help you with it. Just be willing to ask for help. And most importantly, pitch it to someone before you pitch it to them. Practice makes perfect!