Austrian Science Talk 2009: "Under Crisis Conditions - Using Research and Technology as a Means to Step Out of the Crisis"

bridges vol. 23, October 2009 / News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad

By Stefan Eichberger

Dr. Christian Prosl, Austrian ambassador to the United States addressing the participants of the AST 09 in his opening remarks.

As Dr. Christian Prosl, Austrian ambassador to the United States, put it in his opening remarks: "Time is not standing still, not even in Austria." Therefore, he called on the approximately 100 participants at the Austrian Science Talk 2009 to "engage proactively and get yourselves informed and involved." It was the sixth time that the Austrian Science Talk - the major annual networking event for US-based Austrian scientists - had been hosted by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) along with the "brainpower austria" initiative. With the theme "Under Crisis Conditions - Using Research and Technology as a means to step out of the Crisis," the event was held in New Orleans, October 3, 2009.

Tomorrow is better than today

Keynote speaker Norbert Bischofberger, presenting the success story of Gilead.

Günter Bischof, head of the "Center Austria" at the University of New Orleans, introduced the keynote speaker for the event, the Austrian-born and -educated Norbert Bischofberger.

Twenty-two years ago, this internationally successful scientist founded a small start-up enterprise in the San Francisco Bay area. However, major success would not be achieved overnight.  His enterprise, Gilead, required 15 years of intense research and development, along with an investment of more than $1 billion, finally leading to a success story that could not be more impressive.

Today, Gilead is a 4000-employee multinational company, with a turnover on sales that exceeds five billion dollars. Tamiflu and Atripla are notable examples of their product range.  As Bischofberger observed, not only research activities but, more importantly, the entrepreneurial spirit of the Bay Area led to this success. Gilead is in good company with enterprises such as Intel, Google, and Genentech also based in the Bay Area or nearby.

Participants of the AST09 listened attentively.

Having access to a well-established venture capital system, not being averse to risk-taking, and having the ability to accept failure are major differences between the entrepreneurial spirit found in the Bay Area and that found in Europe, according to Bischofberger. However, he also had to pay a price for the better business environment in California.  Originally a native of Vorarlberg, Bischofberger used his preferred language - which, after more than two decades, is now English - to make his presentation to the bemused Austrian ex-pat community who well understood the language issue.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Firsthand news from the Austrian science and technology policy landscape

Friedrich Faulhammer, director general at the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research (BMWF), and Getraud Oberzaucher from BMVIT, who is in charge of the "brainpower austria" initiative within BMVIT, provided firsthand information to the attentive audience at the Austrian Science Talk about what's happening in the Austrian research landscape. They pointed out the importance of initially encouraging interest in research among a broad base of people, in order to end up later with an elite group of excellent researchers.

Experts Friedrich Faulhammer (BMWF), and Gertrude Oberzaucher (BMVIT) on research in Austria.

A good means of attracting - and retaining - aspiring young researchers to Austrian universities is the collective contract, as it creates a more secure professional environment and future outlook for young faculty, Faulhammer pointed out.

Oberzaucher briefly summarized the results of the evaluation of the Austrian research system, as they were presented at the recent European Forum Alpbach in August 2009. The research system in Austria has been useful so far, but radical changes need to be imposed, according to the evaluation's findings. These changes are defined in six guidelines, which include the important issue of developing a common research strategy for all Austrian federal ministries. Oberzaucher also pointed to the positive evaluation of the "brainpower austria" initiative. It will take time to further develop the "brainpower austria" initiative and to include new projects such as supporting the dual career aspirations of highly qualified researchers. In this context, she mentioned the ASciNA mentoring program as one of those new promising projects which took off with the support of "brainpower austria," and helped to create and support the first three transatlantic mentor-and-mentee pairs of Austrian scientists.

Profession: Researcher - being successful in Austria

Two Austrian scientists familiar with the importance of international experience in R&D, Eva Maria Binder and Anton Plimon, traveled to New Orleans to share their experiences on R&D in Austria with their peers. Both hold management positions in research areas in Austria.

Plimon, the managing director of the recently restructured Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), pointed out that AIT is currently experiencing a pleasant all-time high of incoming orders (the general order situation), despite the prevalent global economic crisis. According to him, innovation is the most important criterion for economic success, or survival for that matter, and it builds a sound foundation for lasting success. Plimon also told the audience that more than 50 new job openings for highly-skilled workers will be available at AIT in the next few months, particularly within the topical areas of mobility and energy, which will be expanded extensively.  

Eva Maria Binder reported that: "Of the 80 people working in R&D" at her employer, Erber AG, "65 percent of them are women." Binder, who herself is the mother of two daughters and works half-time in a leading management position at Erber, praises the positive balance of work and life within the family business. Asked how cutting-edge research can be placed on the innovation agenda of a company, Binder only shook her head. In her opinion, the best cutting-edge research happens by serendipity, while trying to solve a specific problem. This often leads more or less by coincidence to new knowledge, which might eventually translate into a marketable product. Binder also pointed out: "Nobody conducts research primarily to be awarded a Nobel Prize." The work of this highly successful female researcher and research manager also influences her private life in a positive way: When her eight-year-old daughter was asked about her future dream job, she simply replied "being the boss," following in her mother's footsteps.


Viennese Kaffeehaus charm turned information-exchange hub


Participants exchanging information and ideas at the "world cafe."

The afternoon of the sixth Austrian Science Talk was used for discussions in smaller units consisting of eight tables, 14 table hosts, and a total of five 20-minute discussions. As in the past, the conference venue turned into a vibrant "world café," following the tradition of Viennese Kaffeehäuser where exchanging information and meeting with interesting people was always at the top of the agenda. In today's world, this process would probably go by the name of "networking."

Some of the morning speakers acted as table hosts and joined forces with Evelinde Grassegger (BMVIT) and Sabine Herlitschka (FFG), Philipp Marxgut (OST) and Stefan Eichberger (FFG), Eugen Stark (Marshallplan Foundation) as well as Peter Nagele (ASciNA).

After an intense day of discussion and information exchange, Getraud Oberzaucher and Philipp Marxgut thanked the participants in their closing remarks for actively engaging in the discussions.  They noted that improvements are not only always possible, but are desirable in developing the format of the Austrian Science Talk and bringing it to the next level -

From the left: Guenther Bischof, Center Austria;
HMC Christian Prosl; Norbert Bischofberger, Gilead;
Philipp Marxgut, OST.

thinking already about the 2010 event. To conclude the evening, all attendees were invited to a closing dinner in the lively French Quarter, offering even more opportunities to discuss any topics that had not been touched on during the day, over a drink with the famous New Orleans Jazz playing in the background.

The Austrian Science Talk 2009 once again served as an occasion to bring together Austrian experts and researchers. The Austrian Science Talk builds bridges between science, economics, and politics. On behalf of the BMVIT, we would like to thank all participants for their interest, and especially thank those who helped make this event successful.

For further information, or to learn about the Austrian Science Talk 2010 and how to participate in it, please visit:

Speeches can be found here:

Philipp Marxgut, Director, Office of Science & Technology (OST)
Overview of the Office of Science & Technology 
Norbert Bischofberger, Executive Vice President, Research and Development and Chief Scientific Officer, GILEAD
Gilead Sciences: A Success Story of US Biomedical Research  
Eva M. Binder, Chief Research Officer (Erber AG)
Feed and Food Safety in the Erber Group
Anton Plimon, kfm. Geschäftsführer, Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT)
AIT Austrian Institute of Technology - your ingenious partner


The author, Stefan Eichberger, is program manager of "brainpower austria," a program of the Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT), managed by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). {/access}