Tiroleans with vision

Rolf Spectacles, Gloryfy and Visalyze are three examples of companies founded in Tirol that have become well-known players in the last few years – all focusing on perfect vision.

The hall hints at how loud the large machines once were, you think you can hear the sound of milling, the screeching of metal. However, the German parent company closed the toolmaking company in Weißenbach in the district of Außenfern at the end of 2010. It was quiet afterwards, but only for a few months. Today, about 50 people work in the hall again, the interior looks totally unconventional. An old cable car from the Hahnenkamm mountain cable railway in the Reutte region serves as an office for the interns, people skype in another scrapped cable car, the meeting room is an old wooden container, the glass is old stock from the University of Innsbruck. The fittings and furnishings are just as unusual as the products, which leave the hall: handcrafted eyewear. In 2008, Roland Wolf together with his brother Christian as well as Marija and Martin Iljazovic founded the start-up Rolf Spectacles in Lechaschau. With a "combination of utopia and madness," Wolf explains, they produced their first patented wooden glasses in a garage in 2009. Today, after numerous international design awards, the invention of stone eyewear and a stopover in Höfen, the eyewear manufacturer Rolf Spectacles is the largest employer in Weißenbach.

Another eyewear project was starting in Tirol at practically the same time and in a garage, too. In 2004, Christoph Egger, an advertiser then, came up with the idea of unbreakable eyewear. He invested a lot of energy and brainpower in process engineering, lab work, finding the right material and getting to the production stage. In 2008, he presented his Gloryfy Unbreakable prototype at opti, the international trade show for optics and design in Munich, and since 2011 has been providing unbreakable vision  with ski and sunglasses, optical glasses will be coming in 2016.

Christoph Holz, an IT specialist from Innsbruck, intends to provide a completely different kind of vision. In 2012 he founded the company Visalyze in Innsbruck and developed visualisation software for the qualitative analysis and management of social media content. Whereas before media observers would use a tally list when brand names were mentioned in newspapers, in principle not much has changed in the digital world, according to Holz, "There are more than 200 social media monitoring tools that use a tally list in an electronic format. That's Web 1.0 technology for a Web 2.0 problem." His software not only visualises tally lists, but also presents the relevance and the context of the information.

Gloryfy, Rolf Spectacles and Visalyze are only three examples of companies founded in Tirol that have become international players in the last few years – and have all taken different roads in doing so. Roland Wolf returned – after training as an optician, working as a snowboard teacher, greenkeeper and living in Berlin for many years – home, he wanted to bring creativity, internationality and fashion to Außerfern. "I was convinced that everything was possible," he says looking back. And so he threw himself into the company, tinkered about, tested, experimented. He came up with a new method of manufacturing eyewear frames that enabled curved frames to also be made out of wood. He even broke new ground with hinges – completely made out of wood and without screws – and opthalmic lenses. He received support from his family and the adventure X business plan competition organised by Standortagentur Tirol and CAST, Center for Academic Spin-offs Tirol. "We were new to business planning," Wolf says, "and forgot to do so many things at the very beginning." They learnt a lot, especially about the industry. "When we started, there were two companies that made wooden eyewear. Now there are 120, 130 – and there's a whole lot of copying going on," the 37-year-old complains. It's important to him that everything – spectacles, exhibition stands, eyewear cases (made out of wood, of course, which cost nine euros to produce), sample cases, marketing, photo shoots, etc. – takes place in-house and on site. It does have its price, Wolf admits, Rolf Spectacles are sold in the high three-figure range. "Our company is a small vision of doing something better," Wolf says. In the meantime, Rolf Spectacles has won more than 20 international awards, the annual production is in the five-figure range, after the first shop in Reutte – a disused petrol station – a second one opened in the centre of Vienna on Franziskanerplatz.

Christoph Holz was drawn to the USA, not Vienna. In 2014, this man in his late forties simply wanted to know whether there were any comparable products on the other side of the pond. "No," he concluded after observing the market for several months, building and maintaining business contacts as well as potential investor relationships. A well-considered step as Holz intends to start in 2016. About 1.6 million euros have been invested in his start-up. He received funding from aws (Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH ) and FFG (Österreichische Forschungsförderungsgesellschaft, the Austrian Research Promotion Agency) and received support from e.g. CAST ("Great support in the early stages."). His first customer was an Austrian brewery for whom Visalyze provided visual insights into their Facebook communication.

Holz' expertise in data visualisation was a pre-

requisite as was the fact that Facebook had released his programming interface about three years beforehand. "The Twitter and Facebook feeds from companies are information marketplaces, which we keep a close eye on", Holz explains. And the company – with eight employees and a good dozen customers at the moment – is expandable. The next round of funding is not only intended to enable global distribution, but also to feed even more social media into their portfolio. Visalyze, Holz the entrepreneur repeatedly acknowledges, is his way of facing his midlife crisis as well as the desire to establish something in Tirol that would be significant beyond its borders.

Christoph Egger also receives visitors from beyond the borders every now and again. The contrast between the rural idyll and the worldwide coolness of his unbreakable Gloryfy eyewear isn't a problem, he claims, on the contrary, "Our visitors, including many international extreme athletes, find them really cool and original." Werber, the former advertiser, has been marketing his invention since 2011 and produces about 60,000 glasses a year, still in a garage in Mayrhofen, Egger says, laughing. He is no longer alone. He now has 30 employees in the Ziller valley and at the headquarters in Rotholz, including the advertising agency. "The project nearly failed a few times," Egger admits. It took a diehard to finish it. Apart from receiving funding from FFG twice, Gloryfy has mainly been financed by equity, money that Egger earned with a mobile phone holder made of silicon. He sold more than a million units in the pre-smartphone era, then in 2005 the patent and distribution. "My goal was to have the glasses on the market in 2008 and to still have 300,000 euros on the side for the launch," Egger remembers. He was ready in 2010. "Instead of the 300,000 I was in debt." By using guerilla tactics, Egger explains, they were able to gain access to the sports industry. Now experts mention them in the same breath as Adidas Eyewear, Julbo or Oakley. The Tirol brand and its relation to sports, Egger admits, had helped him greatly – and when there weren't sports connections, there were local ones. Gloryfy was an official partner of the Life Ball in Vienna in 2015 and designed an exclusive eyewear collection especially. He came into contact with the organisers through a close employee of Gery Keszler's – from Tirol.

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