About Us


About Circle17

And why we do what we do


By Graeme MacKay, Originally drawn for March 11, 2020. Revised May 23, 2020.

Why circle17?

The world today is facing many challenges. Rapid population growth and growing welfare based on unsustainable business models are resulting in climate change, resource depletion and biodiversity loss. Challenging our systems at all levels. From the individual to the global.

In 2019, the Austrian Development Agency teamed up with AustrianStartups and respACT to create an initiative that helps startups- and companies find common grounds, for the design of practical business solutions to urgent sustainability challenges.

By facilitating a 5-phase program, startups and innovators are brought together with established organisations to:

  • Collaborate on an eye-to-eye level.
  • Explore boundaries and sustainability challenges.
  • Stretch them.
  • Identify opportunities for collaboration, and
  • Design solutions that benefit not only the business, but society as a whole.

circle17 is a platform to battle sustainability challenges, and build post-pandemic resilience for business- and society at a larger scale.

On this page, you’ll learn more about circle17’s fundamentals and insights through which our programme is shaped. Are you ready for your sustainable business transformation?

The circle17 Program

Three consecutive milestones conclude the circle17 program, in which participants can experiment within the co-creation process and work on their sustainability challenges and experiment 
*Click on the image for more info

Building Blocks

circle17 is a response to fundamental trends and insights. Want to learn more about our program's building blocks? Please click on the titles to expand the insights.

Sustainable Development Goals

The close interdependency of business with society and environment is clear: without a healthy planet and healthy people there’s no healthy business on the long-term. A message that has been formulated before within 17 goals - the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.

The SDGs provide all businesses with a lens through which to translate the world's basic needs and ambitions into business solutions.

Many companies have already recognised the opportunities and the urgency of the SDGs for the resilience of their business, recognizing that environmental protection and social responsibility are important to both shareholders and other stakeholders.

Yet, despite their heightened awareness and commitment, most companies have found it difficult to translate broad goals and policies into day-to-day decision-making.

Within circle17 we see sustainability, and a business’ achievement of the SDGs not as an end state that we can reach; rather, it is a characteristic of a dynamic, evolving system of adaptations a corporation can make.

Within the circle17 programme we foster and use the SDGs as guide to the design of fruitful collaborations between startups and established organisations. A playing field full of opportunities. 

17 Sustainable Development Goals

Resilience in Business & Leadership

A fundamental prerequisite for sustainable development and achieving the SDGs is resilience: the capacity to persist, adapt and transform your business in the face of change. 

Resilience is an essential concept in crisis management; it describes a business’ ability to: 

  • SURVIVE, and how we initially respond to an impactful event
  • ADAPT and how we adjust in the face of change
  • RECOVER and our capacity to bounce back from the setback
  • THRIVE and even grow stronger and more resilient in the face of change. (most importantly)

Within circle17, we aim to not only develop resilient business solutions, but develop resilient leaders, who are able to move the implementation of these business solutions forward. 

These leaders need to be able to:

  • Manage a constant challenge to stretch our mind-set and leave old patterns behind us
  • Find the win-win-win for business, nature and other collaboration partners
  • Be open to learn, unlearn and relearn
  • Be able to survive, adapt and flourish in the face of turbulent change
  • Rethink and redesign their, and their business’ future

Developing resilient solutions to the specific sustainability challenges posed within the circle17 programme (see image Resilient Economy), requires a mind-set change. It needs education. And most of all, it needs experimenting with open minds. In safe environments. 

circe17 provides this environment, for you and your employees. It’s fun. It’s vibrant. And in this fast-changing world, it is a platform essential for the design of practical sustainable solutions to create a better tomorrow.

Sustainable Design & System Thinking

Businesses and their unsustainable business models are often seen as the cause of much destruction and yes, they often add too many societal problems. But circle17 will prove that businesses can play a vital role in finding solutions for tomorrow instead.

Identifying specific business sustainability challenges, allow us to work with specific problems and take these as foundation to understand the root cause of this sustainability challenge, understand the problem beyond the business and organisation, and its interconnectivity within an underlying system. 


The systems change theory is the study of how complex entities interact openly with their environments and evolve continually by acquiring new, “emergent” properties. Rather than reducing an entity (e.g., the human body) to the properties of its parts or elements (e.g., organs or cells), systems theory focuses on the relationships (e.g., feedback loops) between the parts that connect them into a whole.

When we talk about systemic change, we tend to think of visionary concepts and ideas. In practice, though, no one can realise this type of change alone. The real path to systemic change is instead paved with developing solutions to specific sustainability challenges and making sure no new problems are created in the process.

As mentioned earlier, collaboration is key to change. Therefore, circle17 asks federal ministries, corporate organisations, local councils, civil society, universities, and other systemic players to come together and work specifically with our innovators to realise effective ideas and solutions quickly and on the broadest possible scale.

Images from @Leyla Acaroglu

The Resilience Generation

Millennials and Gen Zs aren’t just hoping for a better world to emerge after the COVID-19 pandemic releases its grip on society—they want to lead the change. 

These generations want to change the world—at your company

A 2020 Deloitte Global Millennial Study explored the views of more than 27.5K millennials and Gen Zs, both before and after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, to understand their perspectives on business, government, climate, and the pandemic, among other issues.

According to the study, 75% of the Millennial & GenZ generation have pledged to want to make a positive impact on their community in the future — and they want to see business and government reflect the same commitment:

  • to put people ahead of profit,
  • focus on social issues,
  • prioritise environmental sustainability,
  • and provide opportunities for employees to be more engaged within their communities.

Whilst they feel personally responsible to make this difference, 90% believe the true change lies with companies. Therefore, they’re motivated to seek out workplaces that will embrace and empower that inventive spirit. A workplace that facilitates the development of skills in order to do so.

We are at a pivotal point in history. Now it’s the time to not only create a new normal, but a better normal. The Millennials and GenZ’s see the brighter society that’s possible, once the pandemic passes, and want businesses to help them achieve it. It’s an opportunity business leaders cannot let pass. 

For businesses, the message is clear: young people believe in companies with a purpose-driven strategy, and these are the resilient companies that will likely lead in the post-pandemic future.

Circular Innovation

We draw inspiration from nature when working on innovations that do no harm to society, the environment and business. Nature - a 4.6 billion years old system that has constantly been renewing and innovating itself. A highly interwoven system with enormous biodiversity that needs to be treasured.

For too long we have seen nature as our enemy. As an external factor that had to be structured, degraded and used for our benefit, harming its sensitive ecosystem and polluting our planet we call home.

It’s time to rethink our system. Let’s scrap the idea of linear business models, in which we ignore the abundance of natural processes and designs. This is where the concept of circular economy comes into play. 

Circular economy goes beyond doing less harm: it does good

Circular economy aims to keep resources, components or products in stable utilization cycles, in order to drastically reduce the very energy-intensive and environmentally harmful degradation of resources. 

So what if we would design circular business models in which waste becomes a resource for a next product? Design regenerative business models where we give back to nature in the form of clean air, clean water and healthy soil? What if we take nature as our inspiration when designing production processes, distribution methods and waste prevention? 

When exploring these questions an enormous amount of innovation potential lies in front of us. Startup innovation plays an integral part in pushing this innovation potential forward. 

Circular economy also sheds light on the systematic nature of our economy and the potentials of partnerships. 

Just like in nature, businesses are living organisms in a network where each stakeholder is connected and affects each other. So what if businesses are supported by their system of stakeholders, and are in fact benefitting from their interconnectedness with their system? What if you had a partner that closed your production loop? 

circle17 strives to provide a platform for exploring these questions. Innovative collaborations are needed to find answers to these open questions.

That is why circle17 aims to bring key actors in the system together and unleash the potential of startup collaborations for good.

Our Values

Please click on the arrow to unfold our values. Does your heart beat faster by reading the values?

We LOVE to hear from you.

The circle17 initiative is a platform built upon a set of fundamental values. Through these values we aim to foster a direction in all we do, and attract a community of stakeholders who are excited to tap into the same principles of building connections.

Throughout the programme and at all times, we aim to:

  1. Take a systemic view to find solutions, with multiple benefits.
  2. Be zooming in to practical issues and zooming out to understand them within the bigger picture. 
  3. Unleashing creativity with modern methods such as design thinking, true conversations, world café and many more. 
  4. Awakening the best in both worlds, the startup world and the corporate world. 
  5. Create the safe space in which all cultures and stakeholders can be open and start sharing.
  6. Explore the overlap, explore opportunities that co-creation and find the leverage points for all stakeholders.
  7. Foster experimentation. Experimenting is key to speed up the learning process and create new patterns.
  8. Dare to fail is key. Learning and doing better next time is key.
  9. We will be looking in mirrors, we will be upfront with each other and say what needs to be said without harming trustWe are mindful, yes. Aware of how difficult change is, yes. 
  10. Stimulate resilient leadership in all people. Acting from a place of self-worth and compassion. Understanding the power of diversity.. Remembering our WHY. Finding purpose and ways to embrace that purpose in our day-to-day activities.

Responsibility at circle17

As an impact-driven initiative we are aware of the consequences of our actions on the planet, environment and people. Therefore sustainability and responsibility are at an utmost importance to us. The Sustainable Development Goals not only shape our program, but also guide us in our project management in general.

Hannah Wundsam

Mentor Coordination

Our Supporters

Daniel Cronin


Hannah Wundsam

Managing Director AustrianStartups

Daniela Knieling


Markus Raunig

Executive Chairman AustrianStartups

Every Hand Counts

Organizing a fully online collaboration platform takes a lot! We are always on the lookout for volunteers, mentors and facilitators to help make this happen.

We are open for volunteer applications!

Participant reviews

We've been "cycling" around since 2019. Curious how other participants have experienced the circle17 program? 

Susanne Formanek
„The Circle 17 Impacthon was characterized by interesting people, future-oriented tasks and encouraging input. GRÜNSTATTGRAU was able to meet many motivated participants within the course of the challenge. Working together with them on solutions for the green city of the future was not only fun, but very successful.”
Matthias Wagner
„Was respACT & AustrianStartups geschaffen und organisiert haben, ist so viel mehr als nur erstaunliche Lösungen für die Herausforderungen zu finden. circle17 hat so viele inspirierende Menschen zusammengebracht, sie motiviert und ihnen Hoffnung auf eine bessere, grünere Zukunft gegeben. Es scheint, als ob es während dieses Impacthons eine Explosion von Wissen und positiven Emotionen gab!“
Marie-Theres Lutz
„Wir nehmen von der Zusammenarbeit nicht nur viel Inspiration und Motivation mit, sondern auch einen potentiellen Partner, der eine nachhaltige Lösung mit uns gemeinsam umsetzt."
Markus Linder
“circle17 has been instrumental for us to get from a visionary idea towards a passionate team working together to help mitigate the climate and biodiversity crisis by empowering people to shop in line with their environmental and social priorities.”
Esther Hummel
"Through Circle17 we got to know our first business partner. The cooperation with an established company enables us to achieve a greater impact with our sustainable solution and thus to jointly contribute to the achievement of the SDGs."
Screenshot 2020-09-08 at 11.16.38
Fabian Artacker
"With Carpacity, we are meeting one of the biggest challenges facing society today: CO2 emissions caused by private transport. Our goal is to convince citizens of sustainable mobility. circle17 helps us to push our project further with its great networking effect"
Design ohne Titel
Michael Friedmann
"circle17 provided us with the opportunity to reflect about our sustainability strategy and to select a major direction we would like to explore. During the sessions we experienced a lot of inspiring moments and new perspectives which helped us to generate more innovative ideas."
Richard Kahlbacher
"It was a huge joy to work with the highly motivated and perfectly prepared circle17 team. Further it was an excellent opportunity for networking and exchanging ideas. The entire event was made in a professional and motivating way."
Martin Stohanzl
Social Innovator
„Es ist faszinierend, was man mit einer gemeinsamen Vision, einem Team und einem Laptop an einem Wochenende erreichen kann."
Greiner Logo
Philipp Kranewitter
Greiner AG
"circle17 managed to provide a robust innovation and idea process, which allowed us to quickly jump into the topic and start working together with the team on our Challenge. Overall the tools and preparation for the virtual collaboration was excellent."
Challenge Lead 2020
"circle 17 has been a highlight in 2020! Participation in the Impacthon offered an ideal opportunity to build a network in the digital world even during COVID-19 and to present OeEB to a new audience."
FarmNow Titelbild
Alexander Juranek
"circle17’s Impacthon was a fantastic experience: starting with interesting challenges, to the highly diverse participants, the world class workshop moderations/meeting logistics to the mentors/coaches it was a revelation – and while really intensive we can recommend it to any person who’s thinking about starting a social impact venture."
Michaela Stephen
" The coaching and resources provided by circle17 have been extremely helpful in supporting Sleepify to take our idea and turn it into an initial start-up."
Christoph Hornik
"The best part of this program is to meet and interact with like-minded people who all want to develop solutions that make a positive impact on the environment and our world. Furthermore, circle17 always provides a range of experts from various fields. Those who mentored and supported us not only helped us advance with our start-up, but also connected us with important key players of the market."
Andrés Campaña
"It is a good place to meet like-minded people who have the same vision as we have towards making our world a better place. This experience has also had a great impact on our personal lives, giving us the opportunity of meeting new cultures, new ways of thinking, and the possibility of improving our English and German language skills."

As Mentioned By

In all we do, we aim to promote the SDGs and methods to utilise them, for the development of solutions to societal challenges. 

You want to help us spread the message? Please see all press materials in our FAQ.

Plattform circle17 vernetzt Startups, Unternehmen und NGOs in Sachen Nachhaltigkeit

“Wir müssen damit anfangen, gesellschaftliche und ökologische Herausforderungen von unterschiedlichen Seiten her zu lösen.”
Der Standard

Start-ups mit Mission

„Ich habe Zugang zu einem tollen Netzwerk bekommen’, erzählt Markus Linder. Der Wiener Entrepreneur war bereits mit seinem 2006 gegründeten Start-up Zoovu erfolgreich.“

Hacking Global Development

It’s about changing priorities – a switch at the core of everything circle17 does. Still, the ideas must ultimately make money, an awareness that sets circle17 projects apart from idealistic not-for-profits battling the corporates on every front.

AustrianStartups über circle17 und die neue Doppelspitze

“Markus Raunig, Hannah Wundsam und Stefan Lixl von AustrianStartups im Brutkasten-Talk über die neue Doppelspitze und das Nachhaltigkeitsprojekt circle17”
der Brutkasten


“Gleich 28 Jungunternehmen präsentieren ihre Ideen. Diese reichen von der Mitfahrgelegenheit-Plattform Ummadum über die kompakten Kunstoffreyclinganlagen von Plasticpreneur bis zu naturbasierten Lösungen von aeroSQAIR.”

Eventtipp: Matchmaking for Sustainable Transformation

“Am 27.02. kommen Unternehmen, Vordenker und NGO in der Brotfabrik in Wien zusammen. Das Ziel: Lösungen im Sinne der SGDs finden”
Die Wirtschaft

circle17: Wie Startup-Gründer mit Firmen und NGOs an den SDGs arbeiten können

"Ziel des Programmes ist es, eine Plattform für Multi-Stakeholder-Partnerschaften zu bieten, um neue Geschäftsmöglichkeiten zu erkennen, starke Beziehungen aufzubauen und dabei zukunftsfähige Lösungen zu entwickeln“
Tech & Nature

circle17 Impacthon: „Jede Regierung und jedes Unternehmen spielt eine Rolle“

Während Covid-19 aufgezeigt hat, wie eng die Gesundheit der Gesellschaft und die Wirtschaft miteinander verflochten sind, so ist sie nur ein „Auftakt zu den Auswirkungen der Klimakrise“, so die Initiatoren des circle17 Impacthon.
der Brutkasten

circle17 startet Hackathon für eine bessere Zukunft

"Der Circle 17 Impacthon bietet Unternehmen und Non-Profit-Organisationen die Möglichkeit, im Zuge von drei Tagen gemeinsam mit Startups, Programmierern, Designern, Kreativen, Studenten und Enthusiasen zukunftsfähige Lösungen zu Ihren drängenden Herausforderungen gemeinsam zu erarbeiten."
Die Wirtschaft

Unternehmen, NGO’s & Startups im Sinne der Nachhaltigkeit verbinden

"Das Projekt circle17 möchte Innovationen schaffen, indem etablierte Unternehmen mit NGO’s & Startups miteinander vernetzt werden. Wie genau so eine Ideenschaffung im Rahmen des österreichischen Projekts aussieht, erzählt uns Elena Beringer im Interview."
Grüne Startups-Logo
Grüne Startups

Circle 17: Fokus auf die SDG

"Drei intensive Tage des digitalen Austauschs über Geschäftsmodelle im Lichte der globalen Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung (SDG) und der Beginn neuer Partnerschaften – das war der Impacthon der von der Austrian Development Agency ADA geförderten Initiative circle17 Ende November."

Fokus auf die SDG

"Digitales Teamwork: Beim circle17-Impacthon ging es um konkrete nachhaltige Business-Lösungen." - Print Ausgabe 89/2020

Partnerschaften zur Erreichung der Ziele

"Durch Vernetzung können Partnerschaften entstehen. In diesem Zusammenhang ist z.B Circle17 von respACT zu erwähnen, dessen Ziel die aktive Zusammenführung ('Matchmaking') von nachhaltig agierenden Start-ups mit am österreichischen Markt etablierten Unternehmen ... ist."
Screenshot 2021-01-28 150221
Senate Magazin

circle17 - Partner für zukunftsfähige Innovationen

"Das passiert, wenn Unternehmen, Start-ups und Zivilgesellschaft an einem Strang ziehen."
Forbes Austria

Impacthon Partners

circle17 is a true community effort, involving organisers and stakeholders of all ranges from our society.

Location Provider

There will be the possibility to co-work from one of our partner Co-Working Spaces in Vienna, Graz & Innsbruck!

Supporting Partners

Frequently Asked Questions

For more in-depth questions on how your journey could look like, please see our full FAQ section.

What is Circle17?

circle17 supports the design of practical business solutions to the most urgent sustainability challenges, by facilitating a platform for startup collaboration with corporates and non-profit organisations.  

In order to identify these most pressing sustainability challenges, circle17 co-operates together with corporates- and non-profit organisations. These sustainability challenges function as a strong foundation, inspiration and validation for the design of system-changing solutions. 

The development of these solutions is not a straight-forward given. It requires an inclusive and experimental approach, modern methodologies, creativity and an innovative out-of-the-box mindset. 

This is where all social innovators come into place: startup founders, academics, changemakers, enthusiasts, coders and creatives come into place. The circle17 Impacthon is an open-call for all those who believe it’s important to unite, in order to solve the most pressing sustainability challenges together. 

Not only does circle17 provide a safe space for eye-to-eye level exchanges, but an inclusive growth platform where the potential that lies with multi-stakeholder collaboration can be understood and unleashed.

Who’s behind circle17?

The circle17 project is brought to life via the two Non-Profit organisations AustrianStartups & respACT.

AustrianStartups is Austria’s largest start-up platform and think tank for innovative entrepreneurship 

With a team of around 50 startup enthusiasts, the non-profit organization organizes more than 60 events annually, operates communication platforms for more than 30,000 followers from the startup environment and publishes Austria’s largest startup study – the Austrian Startup Monitor.

respACT has been supporting its more than 300 member companies for over 20 years in achieving ecological and social goals economically and independently. On a national level, respACT cooperates with ministries, scientific institutions and interest groups. As the coordinating office of the Global Compact Network Austria and partner of the WBCSD and CSR Europe, respACT is also the right contact at the international level.

How does the circle17 program work?

The circle17 programme consists of three phases. 


The discovery is all set to identify and determine the most critical sustainability challenges. Corporates and Civil Society leading the change particiapte in two consecutive workshops (hosted by circle17) to explore trends and define challenges within the sustainable development goals.

Learn more about the programme’s offer on our Lead the change-Page


The circle17 Impacthon is an online hackathon designed to share and rapidly develop practical solutions. Startup founders, entrepreneurs, academics and enthusiasts come together to work on society-level solutions to the sustainable challenges, posed by our network of (corporate) organisations.

Learn more about the impacthon, and how you can get involved here.


Our circle17 Matchmaking event is a day in which we’ll bring all programme participants and project innovations together with an external network collaboration partners, and offer supporting modules to match interests and needs. 

How can I join circle17?

We are looking for bold and innovative thinkers & do-ers that can help to develop solutions to the large-scale sustainability challenges that withhold us on individual, business and societal level to become more resilient.

For this to work, circle17 needs a strong community. We need you!

You can get involved in four different ways:

Challenge Leads are corporate- and non-profit organisations that have submitted sustainability challenges, they face inside- and outside of their organisation.

We are inviting all gamechangers, from creators, IT specialists, startups, academics and enthusiasts to participate and show us how you would solve various challenges through creative thinking and the (potential) application of technology.

Are you, or the organisation you are working with, faced with sustainability challenges in your daily operations? Are you interested in working together with a broad network of young innovators, startups and academics to dive deep into your challenge and work on solutions that could benefit your business- and society at larger scale?.

We’re looking for mentors who can coach the participants during the Impacthon and experts who can answer questions along the way.

Are you a superhero mentor, interested in partaking in our programme to support the development of sustainable project innovations? – learn more on this page on how you can get involved!

The circle17 programme is a non-profit establishment, aimed at the development of resilient and sustainable business solutions. Are you, your company or organisation interested in exploring opportunities to support our cause? Contact us!

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