On 10 November 2015 the Austrian Economics Center in collaboration with its sister organization – the Friedrich August v. Hayek Institut – hosted its annual Gala. As for the previous year, the venue selected for this event was the magnificent Gartenpalais Liechtenstein. The Gala gathered more than two hundred people from different parts of the world, including guests from all over Europe, and the United States.
The evening was featuring several traditional ceremonies. Dr. Barbara Kolm, the Director of the Austrian Economics Center and the President of the Hayek Institut, in her opening speech presented the Institute’s activities, the Free Market Road Show, its studies and publications, and thanked all partners and sponsors without whom all these projects would not be possible.
Later in the evening, Mag. Eva Schütz announced the winners of the Next Generation’s Mobility Contest. This year the Austrian Economics Center received 107 project applications from 261 talented students from all over Austria. Headed by Mag. Eva Schütz, the distinguished jury was facing a tough choice while selecting the most remarkable projects to be competing for the title of the winner.
This year the Austrian Economics Center is awarding 20 students, who have truly large-scale projects to realize in the near future. By this, the Austrian Economics Center and the Hayek Institut congratulates Natascha Weiland, Deniz Telci, Basak Altun, Nadine Burggraf, Erika Bauer, Laura Hößel, Sertap Tegmen, Lena Winter, Nadja Witzmann, Daniel Oderits, Celina Schmid, Michael Their, Manuel Eque, Manuel Bandion, Nicole Eggenreich, Fabio Postiasi, Alexander Spitzer, Annamaria Teply, Lukas Ertl, Deniz Onaral with their outstanding concepts on mobility, sustainability, crowdfunding and technology. The Next Generation Mobility participants are the biggest asset of the project. The Austrian Economics Center is very proud of its 2013 contest winners – Christoph Rebernig, Niko Moshammer, Karim Abdel Baky – who are now successfully running their well-established company – ReGreenAt – which was presented during the 2015 Gala.
Later in the evening, Manfred Kastner took his turn to present the success story of Hello App. Mr. Kastner highlighted that Hello App is an application primarily designed to make the learning process of a foreign language much easier – particularly for children, and emphasized that the application would be an excellent tool for refugee kids in the face of the terrible humanitarian crisis they are living in.
The announcement of the Next Generation Mobility winners and presentations were followed by the most important part of the Gala – the bestowal of the Hayek Lifetime Achievement Award. The Award was designed to acknowledge the most outstanding contributions to Economic Freedom and Liberty and had been conferred annually since 2010. Previous recipients were Mario Vargas Llosa, Niall Ferguson, Leonard Liggio, Dambisa Moyo, and Deirdre McCloskey.
Richard Zundritsch, a Board Member of the Hayek Institut, delivered a highly inspirational speech introducing Peter Thiel as the next recipient of the Hayek Lifetime Achievement Award. Presented by Meinhard Platzer, the Award was bestowed upon Mr. Thiel in recognition of his entrepreneurial contributions to the world economy. Peter Thiel was a co-founder of PayPal along with Max Levchin and Elon Musk and had a number of successful e-projects, like Palantir specialized in data analysis. In 2004 Peter Thiel became the first outside investor of Facebook and had been holding a position of the Member of the Board of Directors ever since. Peter Thiel has been an angel investor in many startups and, in search of new talents, created Y Combinator, a business incubator that unlocks the full potential of newly established companies. And what is more, he is a staunch advocate for free markets and innovation.
After the welcoming note of Prince Michael of Liechtenstein, in his video congratulating Peter Thiel on receiving the Award and acknowledging the great effort of the Austrian Economics Center and the Hayek Institut in promoting values of Liberty, Peter Thiel addressed the audience with this philosophical statement: “Good ideas are those, of which you would not be convinced in the beginning”.
Peter Thiel addressed the division between developed and undeveloped countries, where the higher degree of development can actually be counterproductive: “Growth will not probably return to where it had been in the past. In some sectors we have observed very little progress. Examples are the energy sector, rocket science or microbiology. These sectors slack because society is afraid of change – people only see the negative aspects of these fields, without realizing their potentials”. Indeed, this state when the limit of development is considered to be achieved, might lead countries into complacency and self-indulgence. This, in turn, creates a general tendency to preserve the status quo, which closes the door to innovation. “In the developed world people think they are already there,” said Peter Thiel and then continued, “that is why stagnation is a problem across the first world.”
Peter Thiel expressed his fear that innovation has stalled. “We were promised flying cars; instead we got 140 characters,” joked the American venture capitalist. This is because we are living in a two-track world – bits are unregulated while atoms are heavily regulated. Thus, innovation is almost impossible in many areas. Peter Thiel noted that “the biggest problem the western world is facing at the moment is political correctness – that you can only say things that have already been accepted. People think the same way about products – they only want things that are well-tried. There is no room for new ideas in their thinking. However, nothing really extraordinary can ever happen if people only adhere to ideas that are already very familiar to them”. However, he optimistically concluded that in the world of information technology there is still room for breakthroughs.
When asked what he could say to a start-up founder, Mr. Thiel recommended not to imitate successful entrepreneurs, such as Steve Jobs. “You should not start wearing black sweaters all the time,” he said ironically. “The qualities of a good founder are a great idea, a sound business strategy, and a great plan,” concluded the tech entrepreneur.
After Peter Thiel’s inspiring speech, the guests were invited to continue the discussion at a festive reception. The 2015 Next Generation Gala connected economy and education, entrepreneurship and youth, new ideas and established businesses. We look back on an exciting evening and are already looking forward to the Next Generation 2016.