Impact Hub Vienna is celebrating it’s 10th dear birthday and, as a community, we are celebrating it with the stories that have been nurtured here, taken flight and are sprinkling the impact that you and me could share that silly smile about. Ten years seems a short time, yet peculiarly long, when we rekindle all those memories of transformation, ideas that have evolved and people’s lives that have been impacted in subtle, amazing ways. To highlight one such transformational story, I had to interview Theresa Imre, the founder of markta, a quickly growing digital farmers market that combines the rural supply of high quality sustainable food from the farmers with the flexible urban demand created by us the chic and trendy consumers. markta was part of one of the accelerator programs (innovate4nature) at Impact Hub Vienna and has recently developed as a wildly successful brand through the pandemic as people moved to the online market to virtually shop for their groceries. This is an alternative option for the supermarket-goers; specifically to get their food fresh from the farm and a push towards a growing community of people who love sustainable food that in turn empowers the farmers.
You can read more about story leading up to me discovering markta, finding out how we shared a rooted cause oceans away and my fun experience meeting Theresa in this blog article. I’ll directly take you now in this article to the venue, amidst the lively and chatty bars of the dimly lit and often chippering Yppenplatz square, as me and Theresa are sipping our fresh spritzers. Now hold on tight, Acio!
The Early Days
Stanish: So Theresa, where did this all start, why do you feel like you want to make an impact?
Theresa: I was actually living in the countryside, living around farms and was used to how people produce food in a natural way. But that is just one part relating to my roots; the other part relating to my heart, my energy and my motivation is that I never understood why as a child I had all this education, food and everything while so many people did not have access to all that and this gave me a clear and naïve perspective at a very young age. I realized that I wanted to make an impact, and spend my lifetime with leading a change. That was my big motivation for being an entrepreneur and doing business. That is why I went to business school did business administration and then followed that with economics with the understanding that “I needed to grasp the structure at first and then I could change something, not the other way around.” A lot of people feel something in the world is going wrong, but not a lot of people have concrete actions on how to change that system. That is something that shaped me from very early on, that I always wanted to just make things happen.
Are you a careful person?
(Almost instantaneously) I think a lot, I would say I am a thought-through person but not so much a careful person. “I think you need to try and fail otherwise you are not going to learn fast enough.”
Talking about failure, who is part of your support system?
Most definitely family, the closer part of my family. The tougher things get, even leading to certain parts of anxiety, the smaller group gets you. In terms of friends, I have a few, and you need that back up knowing whatever goes wrong there are these people out there.
I love your urge to address problems, was there a reason why you chose this very specific cause among all the problems our society is facing?
Food is just so easy for everybody to understand. It’s about sustainable consumption and how we shape our future when we are deciding what we consume and what we do not. Food is something that everybody has to buy, or grow or digest every day. We just have to have food! So in my thinking it’s a basic thing to start with. Food is so much easier for everyone to understand and also there is a big problem surrounding it and especially in Austria.
Because of the big structures of the supermarkets and industries, many small family farms are not able to survive with the price pressure. Agriculture changed within the last 40 years. Farming was initially very family- oriented and provided for the villages locally. This trend however has been on a decline for example, in the last 30 years, the number of farms in Austria has reduced from 400. 000 to 160,000.
That is when I realized, ‘Nay-nay-nay-nay we have to change something’.
Big industries earn 80 percent and the farmers get 20 percent, and from a calculation basis, if a farmer sells an apple to the supermarket he just gets an approximate 18 cents, and there you can already see this big gap of difference. A farmer earns for the entire span of an animal as much as 6 euros sometimes, and all of the efficiency oriented approaches which the industry has been promoting has resulted in that the farmer has become the weakest link in the entire food production chain.
And you are right there Theresa, the farmer is the weakest link in our society. It is great that your idea seeks to empower them. Going back to the early days, the starting phase that shaped you, who were the mentors supporting you?
I worked in a business consultancy before, which helped me gain an insight into how other companies worked. I worked there for about four years, and that is where I learnt how you get have funding, how the business model is developed. We were specializing in consulting startups. That was quite a good start for me in my business career on how to set up a company. And both my bosses invested in me, in markta and that was something that has pushed me very often and I was quite happy they recognised my energy and my eagerness.
Theresa, what do you think is one thing your bosses would say about you if I met them..
I think they would be quite proud and they are fascinated about the network and reach that I grew. On the other hand, I knew that I needed a lot more expertise in management, for example, since I had never managed people, but that is something you need to learn on the way and on the go. I think your talent is a combination of what you bring to life in a certain way with what just comes naturally to you, how easily you can pick up stuff that is important to learn and understand, and how some other things should be done by other people because you yourself can’t do those things. So both of my bosses are pushing me in terms of management.
So you’re still in constant touch, I find that invaluable, you apprear to have crafted your own role in markta…
Yes we have a good board that supports me and of course there is my markta team. As a founder, I do the ping pong, managing the team, and thinking strategically with the board and other stakeholders. One of the other challenges I have to take up is financing that has always been a big thing especially in Austria and especially when you want to do something sustainable.
Seems to me you’re a working link between the ideation and execution…
I see myself as a communicator, I really believe that my biggest skill is communicating and talking to everyone on one level because at times it can really happen that sometimes I am at the farm with the farmers and then I am at Hofburg meeting the President on the same day. And this is also because women are lacking on panels, especially focusing on agriculture and IT, which are particularly male dominated.
Impact Hub Vienna Days
That’s true but it looks like things are slowly changing. So how did then Impact Hub Vienna come into the picture?
They actually had a program called innovate4nature in collaboration with the WWF where the topic was biodiversity.
Oh, where Lena Gansterer was part of the jury panel? We had talked briefly and she mentioned she coached and worked with markta.
Yes and the nice thing was that five of the startups that participated received coaching and mentoring and that is what I did at Impact Hub Vienna then, when I was still in the process of developing the markta idea. We were still developing between 2016 and 2018, and through this program we had a lot of coaching especially in business modelling and finding the right finance partners. We had the concept of marketing and brand feel all figured out by then, which was in fact one of the first things, since that aspect comes naturally to me.
I must say I do like the brand design appeal, it was also one of the first things I had noticed. Theresa, what was one thing probably different that you felt being in a place like Impact Hub Vienna with you being exposed a lot to the startup industry already…
I know the startup sphere of Austria, this sphere is very often focussed on short term business modelling and an exit focus where everyone thinks I need to build up a bubble and somebody else is going to invest into that and things like that. At Impact Hub Vienna I felt that it was truly something much more on the ground, in terms of, “let’s really make some change” and let’s create business models that are not just there in order to gain more investors and make more profit. Impact Hub is really completely different in that focus.
I think social entrepreneurship has a key role to play.
And I think social entrepreneurship also includes environmental entrepreneurship. I knew about Impact Hub Vienna and I also knew about the workshops it was providing and it was very welcoming and open. Impact Hub is also welcoming people who are not in their programs because you can just rent a desk or be part of a program or in general just join certain evening events and be part of the community, for anyone who wants to be in that area.
Right, and how was the growth of markta during this period because this was right after the initial development phase so there were newer frontiers to look at…
I would say we did a lot of interviews at the farms and then we saw the chance with the digitalization of these processes. That’s where, even in the beginning, I already saw that my biggest impact would be, with helping those small family farms become more professional and have more efficient ways to sell their food. I felt like it was the empowerment of the farmers and that was the motivation for me thinking, ‘Hey, you can free all the farmers’.
And businesswise it is a niche area: connecting farmers to people digitally…
It is a niche area, yes, with the people involved. This concept involves the food that we all eat and impacts the way the farmers produce this food. And the people I met at the Hub, even though you are not closely working with them, like Lena Gangsterer, Christoph Richter, they just stick, they just have the same heart beat in terms of the direction it beats. In a sense, we are all there and we are all working on something great together.
Lena did mention you as a “True entrepreneur”… What I understand, the mentorship in terms of the business to sharpen the vision and execution was an impact from the Impact Hub Vienna.
Definitely as well, I would say we were doing the program and it made me refine my business model and made me question the small things. The real acceleration we had was during the pandemic. And something I learnt a little after the encounter with Impact Hub Vienna is that we met the needs of the producers and not of the consumers in terms of timely delivery, packing and nobody did this fulfilment in between. We started to draw concepts with 45 farmers to set up a fulfilment structure for farmers where we got funding from the EU for that and we built up an entire logistic system to enable our own fulfilment process and that was our big breakthrough. So we selected 100 farmers around Vienna and also for the special products, like bread and vegetables in a circle of 50 km, and we set up a system where all producers deliver between 5–7am in the early morning and on the same day we are packing the goods and delivering them to reach in the afternoon. I would say this is our biggest innovation with our just-in-time principle.
A lot is thrown out in the evening in the supermarkets, and by proactively ordering from the producers, only what the consumer orders each day is harvested by the producers in the night. We only order from the producer only what consumers ordered. This reduces the huge waste that happens in supermarkets. There is this one statistic that Vienna throws away as much bread every evening as Graz actually needs. It is just cheaper for industries to produce more food and throw it away rather than not stocking and preserving it.
That’s a good innovation, It sounds to me similar to what Uber tried to do in the automotive industry…
I think Impact Hub Vienna provided me the metrics and tools in order to measure the impact, and that has really helped me. There is, for example, Werner Krendl, who told me about the impact framework, with IRIS from the GIIN that explains how you actually define and measure your impact because impact is such a vague word. So these are tools that really helped me present better in front of the impact investors as I got challenged with questions.
Hat of Spontaneity with Theresa
Hey Theresa, your documentary is going to air in a bit, how about a quick rapid fire?
Yes! (And very exuberantly)
Values and virtues from Impact Hub Vienna…
Combination of ideology and feasibility.
One thing you are grateful for…
Understanding that I have so much to give, it fosters all my energy, I feel as a thankful child.
markta in the future…
Revolutionize the entire world food structure. We have a franchise concept, and we want to provide an operational logistics concept. Farmers are everywhere, we just need to connect them better.
Role of a global network in going international…
Definitely these structures will help a lot.
Knowing all of this, is there anything you would have done better…
Many things of course, thank god! Otherwise I would not have learnt. There are so many “this little thing” that I will do better next time.
How you see Impact Hub Vienna…
A nest you can get back to. Any questions on sustainability it is a go to place.
Why the name ‘markta’?
It is actually ‘Market’ in German, but sounds like a woman.
It took me 8 weeks to think about the name. We had other names like pro-local before, describing what it actually meant. I was always thinking how it would work internationally, and really in the shower one night, as I was thinking that I needed something easy, and something everyone remembers, it hit me and there it was!
It was initially for a woman who could as well be in the market and one who could represent us. But it is the many we stand for and not just the one and that is why now we have a picture of the producers to represent us.
Do you value diversity in the company?
At certain stages we had more people from all round the world than just from here, but diversity for me is not just where you are from, but also gender, which comes naturally as a woman in the business, and sexual orientation. We have a drag queen in our team and we are very transparent about it. Diversity also in terms of personality, I wouldn’t want employees who are all like me.
Thank you for your time, Theresa!
There are often times you’d hear about a good idea and then there are times you’d meet an idea and you feel somethings going to be changed because the people behind are willing to go the mile to make it happen. Approach is something that counts and as I was on the tram heading back to my apartment scrolling through the documentary of Theresa, I pondered this was perhaps the one thing that has driven Markta’s growth and I scribbled a note to myself to keep in touch with Theresa and follow Markta’s story and order my first groceries online!