My idea started when I had the opportunity to go travelling for half a year through the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, I discovered a project where a Swiss couple were combining good food with doing something good: training orphans for jobs in gastronomy. I thought it was such an amazing idea, especially seeing as I don’t like cooking and much prefer going out for meals, so it made me think, why not make something good of going out? Back then it was just an idea, I came home and went back to my job, then a few months later I discovered social entrepreneurship and got very excited about it, as I studied social work and it seemed like the perfect way to combine social work with an economic background. I decided I wanted to do something in this area, so I began collecting ideas.

I put a big sheet of paper on my closet and wrote “passion” in the middle. Then, every time I stumbled across a topic I felt passionate about, I wrote it down and began to brainstorm ideas I’d like to pursue.

One idea was the idea of Topfreisen, which stayed in my mind the most – I didn’t think it was the one with the most financial possibilities, but it was the one I liked the best, so I submitted it shortly after having the idea for a pitching contest at Impact Hub. It was my first time pitching to an audience, but I managed to win the contest! This was what made me think, “Ok, I have to do this” and I tried to bring the idea to life.

At Topfreisen, we invite guests on social culinary journeys by catering with food that’s been cooked by refugees, food from their countries. In the future, we will also provide gastronomy education for refugees to help them integrate into the labour market and thereby also into society. We recently received funding of 100k, after winning the aws Social Business Call, which was the first of its kind in Austria. It was quite a challenge to reach it but we made it! So I am looking forward to seeing what we can make out of that and to all the new challenges that will open up.

An Austrian participant from the previous year’s startup mentoring programme referred me to enpact and one of the main reasons I chose to apply was because it was with entrepreneurs from MENA, which is the cultural background I work with, and Arab culture is very interesting to me; I even tried to learn Arabic! I love experiencing the language, the people, and the mindset, and this was what I got out of the programme.

It’s very enriching to get different points of view and see how people have to fight for what they’re doing in other countries far more than I have to.

Their lives and the lives of their relatives depend on the success of their startup – this was was a real aha moment for me and I am full of admiration and respect for them. The interaction with the people was the highlight of the programme for me. On the one hand, there are the other fellows and connections you make, which were really good ones in my case, and already people have been to visit me in Austria. Then there are the mentors, with whom I will stay connected over the next few years. My mentor also visited Austria, and I know I can reach out to him at any time. I didn’t try to stay in contact with everyone – for me it’s quality over quantity – but the few connections I want to keep are strong ones. The most valuable thing I learned on the programme was experiencing how different it is here in Austria to the other countries I got to know; in Austria, everything is small and samey, but if you go further afield, you get to see so many different things that you could never have imagined and it makes you more conscious. I realised that the way I do things is just one possible way, that it’s not “the norm”. This is something I always try and remember. I would recommend the programme because it is so interesting to see different startup cultures. If, as a European, you have some connection to MENA in what you do, I think it’s a great possibility to make contacts.

by Cornelia Mayer

We’re looking for 30 European startups to join our mentoring programmes this year. For more information, and to apply, click here.