What is the objective of the aws Seed Financing Programme?
The goal is to help young, innovative high-tech companies that have remarkable product ideas and scalable business models to grow and sustain their growth. Because the companies that are funded by aws Seed Financing usually have to compete with others on a global scale, the international market acts as the benchmark for evaluating the companies’ innovation.
How does the aws Seed Financing Programme define high tech?
Deep-tech or high-tech start-ups are based on tangible scientific advances and discoveries and time-consuming in-house high-tech development, which is associated with significant technological risks and requires exceptionally high investments. The company must be in a position to expand and secure in a lasting way its competitive position on account of its international technological leadership, secured by patents, licences and other options for protection.
How can I apply for aws Seed Financing?
The page for submitting applications can be found at https://foerdermanager.aws.at. It is an electronic submission. If you require technical support, please use the contact number provided.
How long does it take to receive aws Seed Financing?
The period is comparable to a typical Austrian venture capital financing. From the time that documents are made available that provide clarity and detail, you can expect an approval period averaging 3 months, subject to the availability of funds and a favourable vote in the assessment panel.
In how much detail must the application form be filled out?
You will be guided through the fields required for the application. Any detailed information (such as on the business plan) can also be submitted subsequently, albeit swiftly. The information in the application form can be kept to a minimum. This initial information must allow us to draw qualitative conclusions about the technology, the distinction to the state of the art and the target market.
After the initial assessment, an iterative process will commence during which you will provide detailed information and can edit the documents according to the formal requirements.
What legal form can an aws Seed Financing company have?
Any appropriate Austrian legal form (OG, KG, GmbH, AG) is possible, with a financial statement having to be prepared in accordance with the Austrian Commercial Code (UGB) as of the year the first funds are paid out at the latest. The beneficiary must be an independent small company. This means that no other company may exercise a determining influence (in form and content) over the company. The condition of a small company within the meaning of the SME definition must always be met (http://www.awsg.at/Content.Node/files/ergaenzendeinfos/Definition_KMU.pdf), which Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH (aws) reviews on a case-by-case basis.
I have been managing a company for years – can I still apply for aws Seed Financing?
Business experience is always a good thing. Because aws Seed Financing is aimed at young companies that are no more than 5 years old at the time the funding agreement is signed, content aspects will have to be considered to assess the situation. If, for example, a sole proprietorship was incorporated into a GmbH, it is the day the sole proprietorship was established that is decisive. Likewise, if the same shareholders set up a new subsidiary or sister company of an existing company, that is not enough to fall into the “young company” category under EU state aid law.
How are companies of the same shareholders or companies that are otherwise linked abroad considered?
In the same way as companies in Austria.
Must I already have founded a company in order to apply for aws Seed Financing?
Neither a business licence nor an entry in the commercial register is a prerequisite for submitting an application. Regardless, the relevant legal provisions of course apply when taking up a business activity. If aws Seed Financing is granted to the applicant, then a company must be founded before the funding agreement is drawn up.
According to which Austrian and EU guidelines is funding structured?
Funding within the European Union is subject to extensive legal regulations, to which Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH (aws) is bound.
The “Programme to Fund the Establishment and Setting up of Innovative Companies” is based on item 2 of the Guideline for Funding the Establishment and Setting up of Innovative Companies (Seed Financing Guideline 2016)
The Seed Financing Programme Module is based on Commission Regulation (EU) No 651/2014 of 17 June 2014 declaring certain categories of aid compatible with the internal market in application of Articles 107 and 108 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, OJ L 187/1 of 26 June 2014 (General Block Exemption Regulation, or GBER), in particular Articles 22 and 28 thereof. Moreover, Austrian laws and regulations exist that are referred to in the guideline specifications.
Is aws Seed Financing a de minimis aid?
No. Neither the funds of the Seed Financing Programme nor the consulting that forms a part thereof has to be counted towards the de minimis amounts.
Can aws Seed Financing be recognised as equity when pursuing other funding schemes?
aws Seed Financing is public funding. Therefore, these funds cannot be counted towards an equity contribution or complementary own equity financing for other funding schemes that finance, for example, 50% of the project costs. and as such must be financed with other private capital (own funds, long-term shareholder loans, lines of credit, company profits). However, it is possible to provide evidence of sufficient overall funding (in compliance with the respective aid intensities) by including aws Seed Financing.
What is the aid intensity?
Aid intensity is the amount the public sector gives, expressed as a percentage (present value) of (partial) project costs. Depending on the funding guidelines or the importance of a business promotion programme for an economy, the aid intensity can range from a few percent to almost 100 percent.
What is the present value?
The present value describes the benefit of funding, expressed in financial terms, taking into account financial mathematical methods and risk assessment. A grant usually keeps 100 percent of its present value, while a loan or guarantee has a much lower present value depending on the repayment conditions.
Can I have my own work output credited as equity in aws Seed Financing?
No, the founders’ minimum own cash contribution is considered reasonable.
Can I have the work hours for which I receive remuneration from aws Seed Financing credited towards other funding as an “own contribution”?
No, as that would be an impermissible double grant.
Why is the entrepreneur or team of entrepreneurs so important?
Start-up companies, especially those in the high-tech industry, are faced with high risk but also great opportunities. Entrepreneurial success and failure highly depend on management. For this reason, when selecting start-up projects, it is vital to have an experienced, committed and risk-averse start-up team.
The following minimum requirements apply: At least one shareholder who has a 25% stake in the company at least and is 100% active. Those who have the essential know-how must also hold at least 25% of the shares and be actively involved in operations.
Why do founders have to bring in equity capital in cash?
How the company is managed (and thus how the company value is influenced) is in the hands of the founders. It is possible and also probable to achieve a high growth in value of companies. Adequate risk participation is therefore a matter of course.
Is/are the founder(s) allowed to be remunerated?
Depending on how high the own funds contributed in cash are, the founder(s) may be remunerated. This is determined within the context of the economical use of the aws Seed Financing funds. The ceiling for mostly publicly funded Seed Financing companies is the rate for the “Senior Postdoc” level of the Austrian Science Fund FWF (www.fwf.ac.at; standard personnel costs). The founders should first and foremost be interested in the company’s growth (i.e. in an increased value).
If I have received aws Seed Financing, can I be a part-time entrepreneur, i.e. hold another job?
Technically no. Smaller lecturing or teaching jobs are possible, subject to prior agreement. Successfully setting up a business requires all available resources, which is why a company as a sideline is generally a grounds for exclusion from aws Seed Financing.
Why are the tranche payments based on milestones?
The seed and start-up phase pose many risks. Agreeing on interim targets allows for feasible growth and an ongoing assessment of the start-up project.
Does Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH (aws) receive shares in the company as part of aws Seed Financing?
No. However, in order to ensure that the funds are used in compliance with the financing, Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH (aws) reserves the right to extensively audit and inspect the company's operations. Because the aws Seed Financing interests are similar to those of an equity investor, any major entrepreneurial decisions and changes such as to the shareholder structure must be first discussed with Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH (aws).
What are the requirements for the business plan and financial planning?
The business plan should comply with the criteria that can be found at http://www.gruenderservice.at/Businessplan. The international market situation and international competition in particular must be analysed comprehensively and, if possible, backed up with figures and sources. In addition, the used technology should be described in detail. The detailed target specification (data sheet, feature list, etc.) in comparison to existing products is an essential point of reference for classifying the project. Furthermore, it is important to clearly present how the company wants to earn money (business model) and how overall financing is supposed to be structured. Financial planning should logically structure sales by revenue type (e.g. product sales, services, licencing revenues, etc.) as well as show the essential parts of a common expenditure structure. A monthly or quarterly presentation is useful for the first 12–24 months, after which finances can be presented half-yearly or annually.
Furthermore, management composition and the track record of each team member must be shown. The IP strategy and status regarding FTO, trademark applications and proprietary patent applications also have to be described.
Will financial planning spanning two years suffice?
No, financial planning should span 4–5 years. Even though the planning uncertainties in the seed and start-up phase are great, a four to five-year plan is a working hypothesis that should and must be continuously refined as the company grows.
Can a company that has already been funded by a VC (venture capitalist, institutional risk capital provider) also receive aws Seed Financing?
Given the small amount of early-stage venture capital funds available in Austria, companies that have already been VC funded can also receive funds from aws Seed Financing, provided that there has only been one venture round and VC funding was less than EUR 1 million. Typically, aws Seed Financing is provided prior to VC funding, however. Moreover, it must become evident that the project cannot be implemented in the planned way without aws Seed Financing.
Why are the funds “conditionally repayable”?
For the benefit of efficient and proper use of resources, funds must be repaid when the company has achieved particular success after having received funding. A successful sale (for the shareholders) or steadily positive earnings are one reason to repay the funds, taking into consideration the company’s liquidity.
If at the end of the agreed funding period (project duration plus five-year observation period) no “business success” was able to be achieved or the company has not been sold, the contract will be ended and no further repayment will become due.
What happens when new shareholders are admitted to the company?
aws must be verifiably notified of a new shareholder entering the company or of a change in shareholders
within two weeks. If this leads to a
change of control, aws must first be consulted. With regard to the criteria for repaying the funds, all shareholders are required to accede to key points of the Seed Financing agreement.
When and how must the funds be repaid?
Alternative 1: A going concern:
In the case of sales revenues, a share of these revenues is to be calculated, which is the amount to be repaid in the event that normal business activities achieve a positive result (also in subsequent years). The total to be repaid is limited to the amount of the paid out funds.
Alternative 2: Sale of the company:
If the company or shares in the company are sold in whole or in part, the funds must be repaid. As a general rule of thumb, Seed Financing should be repaid if the shareholders withdraw money from the funds besides that which is agreed to cover their living expenses.
In the event of a serious breach of contract, the funds must be repaid with interest.
What happens when founding partners leave the company?
The above rule of thumb also applies in this instance: When an owner withdraws money from the funds, the Seed Financing is expected to be repaid.
What happens if the company is sold?
Then the necessary repayment of the funds must be taken into account in advance.
Do the founders have personal liability?
Yes. However, only in the event that the company or essential assets are sold without the Seed Financing grant having been repaid. For other liability cases, the existing legal regulations apply. Founders with a 10% or greater stake in the company should accede to the Seed Financing agreement and thus be personally liable for certain situations.
How should the Seed Financing grant be handled on the balance sheet?
The funds are designed as “conditionally refundable grant“.
We recommend the consultation of the company‘s tax accountant. Please refer to the information provided in the German version of this FAQ-topic.
Which expenses are NOT funded?
The expenses not eligible for funding include: Any expense that is not related to a technology project in terms of content (e.g. food, other expenses strongly connected to “personal lifestyle”), expenses that have already been claimed for other funding; expenses that cannot be recognised as business expenditures within the meaning of the Income Tax Act (Einkommensteuergesetz); expenses that do not comply with the principle of economy and expediency; travel expenses that do not follow the guidelines of the federal business travel regulations.
What should be taken into account when doing the account settlement?
The funds are accounted for on the basis of verifiable costs. There is an accounting form for this, which must be filled out accurately and correctly. We recommend you keep this list up to date from the start of the project onward. Each invoice must have a proof of payment or proof of cash flow (e.g. bank statement). Only the eligible costs may be invoiced. For this purpose, grant recipients will generally consult tax advisers/public accountants for assistance.
Further details and important information can be found in the account statement guidelines:
Can vehicles be purchased?
Purchasing a vehicle from Seed Financing funds is not permitted. Rentals or leases are allowed, provided it is economical, appropriate and approved as part of the business plan.
Why is there an assessment panel?
The members of the assessment panel have many years of entrepreneurial and/or scientific experience while also being knowledgeable about the uncertainties of founding a company in the high-tech industry. The members of the panel are able to identify many of the potential bottlenecks along the company’s growth trajectory. Information or conditions will be provided as part of any recommendation for funding.
What other financing options are available?
A distinction must be made between equity capital, debt capital and other funding. The website www.foerderpilot.at offers help in finding additional financing options.
Is it possible to receive Seed Financing if a business model or technology that is already internationally established is brought to Austria/Europe for the first time?
No, a technological lead can usually no longer be presented in this instance.