Magdalena, you and Wolfgang Lechner have known each other for a long time how did your collaboration come about?
We met four years ago, when Wolfgang Lechner first introduced the LHZ architecture to Hermann Hauser. At that time Hermann Hauser decided to support the University of Innsbruck with an endowed professorship through the Hauser-Raspe Foundation. Since then, our paths have crossed more often, until at some point we were sitting across each other at the investment table.
We know that teamwork is the basis for a successful project. Can you give us an insight into the cooperation between you and Wolfgang Lechner? We always see you laughing a lot when we meet – do you have an anecdote you’d like to tell us?
If you don’t get along well as a founder team, this always has a negative effect on the company. The first steps as a start-up are never easy and you need someone at your side on whom you can rely 100%. Therefore it helps of course if you get along quite will. Furthermore, the start of a new company – especially in such a field as Quantum Computing, which is still very new to most people and therefore still needs a lot of explanation – is always associated with complications. If you can laugh about them together, they are also easier to manage.
You initially accompanied ParityQC – at that time still LHZ – as an investor in the context of the spin-off from the University of Innsbruck and the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW). Both on the side as investor and as co-founder the project is a challenge where many eyes are focused on you. Our readers are interested to know what your experiences in these two phases have been. What learnings did you take with you – both on the investor side and on the side as part of a spin-off?
Of course the view of ParityQC has amended with the change of roles, but basically, all parties involved want the company to succeed. Who benefits from this and how much, had to be negotiated during the spin-off time. The biggest difficulties were in the coordination of all parties involved – we have the Austrian Academy of Sciences on board in addition to the University of Innsbruck and they had to agree with Wolfgang Lechner and our ideas on how ParityQC should be structured. In addition, negotiations had to be conducted regarding the transfer of all patents to the company and this took more than 1.5 years. In my role as lead on this investment, I was not only responsible for the negotiations for Hermann Hauser Investment GmbH (HHI), but also supported Wolfgang Lechner in building up the company as part of the work for equity terms. This means that together we wrote, developed, rejected and re-planned business plans, financial plans, strategies etc. (after all, in 1.5 years something is always changing) and then finally pitched for the grant at the Austrian Wirtschaftsservice (aws). That was also the time when it slowly became clear that it might be time to leave the investment side behind and continue to build the company together with Wolfgang Lechner.
A core message of the I.E.C.T. – which you have built up over the years – is that university research is made accessible to the market. You yourself have now entered the ecosystem you helped build as the founder of a deep tech start-up. In what way did the activities of I.E.C.T. help you and still do?
My work in building up the I.E.C.T. has always been about supporting researchers and other university related founders and doing everything possible to make the first and next steps as easy as possible. I have tried to follow the example of Cambridge and especially the philosophy of Hermann Hauser, who always emphasized that the best ideas often come from the university environment. Of course, it was also very helpful to see how research is transformed into companies in Cambridge and many other spin-off hot spots around the world. Then there are simply mistakes that you don’t necessarily have to make all over again yourself. Others cannot be avoided, even with the best of knowledge, because unfortunately you cannot foresee everything. But since we’ve been through some ups and downs with start-ups in recent years, it’s easier to keep your nerves. What also helps a lot, of course, are the incredibly great people I got to know over the years at the I.E.C.T. and who are still there to help me with advice after my changed role. I am also very glad that the I.E.C.T. is being continued so well and that the work that we put into building up the I.E.C.T. at the beginning is now being transferred to the next phase. This has also made the switch of roles much easier.
Now that you’re on the start-up side and looking at the ecosystem from a new perspective what topics do you see critical to be tackled?
First of all, the spin-off process from the university needs to be simplified. A uniform system for the transfer of IP to the spin-off, including a regulated upper limit for the participation of universities in the companies for the IP, would greatly simplify the negotiation process and reduce its duration. Of course, it must be fair for both sides, but a set of rules with guidelines, such as those that Imperial College has, would definitely make the spin-off easier.