© Paul Blau / Atopia

Women in Tech: Annabell Vacano from Atopia

The virtual reality startup Atopia is building a platform on which museums, galleries and sights from all over the world can be experienced immersively from home - interactively and socially. The startup was founded in 2023 by Annabell Vacano and Valentin Diehl, supported by business angels Boris Bend and Mark Dzulko. After training as a violinist and studying economics at LMU Munich and King's College London, Annabell worked in cultural management and consulting for cultural institutions. At Atopia, she can now live out both of her passions. In this interview, Annabell talks about what motivates her, how she gets the best ideas and gives hands-on tips for pitching.

Munich Startup: What motivated you to found the company?

Annabell Vacano: Art has always been my passion. But for as long as I can remember, I have also seen great, untapped potential in it. In my opinion, the idea behind Atopia has the potential to strengthen art and culture for the future. In doing so, Atopia creates an important new source of income for institutions and artists and builds enthusiasm among younger target groups. From day one, I was completely taken by the idea of making this ambitious project a reality – founding it was no longer a question!

Munich Startup: What do you wish you had known before you founded your first company?

Annabell Vacano: Media reports often portray starting a business as an effortless process. But the reality is more complex. It was only after talking to other founders that I realized that even successful entrepreneurs constantly face challenges and setbacks.

This awareness would have helped me to doubt myself less in the initial phase when I came up against obstacles or rejection. And that was often the case! Otherwise, our idea would hardly be “innovative”. Building a company requires resilience, strength, courage and perseverance. I would therefore recommend every aspiring founder to build friendships and relationships with other founders, to support each other and to learn from each other. I can highly recommend the Sigma Squared Society, the TUM Venture Labs and this interview with Brian Chesky, the founder of AirBnB.

Munich Startup: How has your company been financed so far?

Annabell Vacano: We are venture-funded and completed a pre-seed financing round from two VC firms and several business angels in August 2023.

Anabell Vacano: “Art is an incredible source of inspiration and reflection for me”

Munich Startup: When and where do you get the best ideas?

Annabell Vacano: At a concert or in a museum. I’m actually someone who almost always digresses when it comes to art – but that’s exactly what makes it special for me. Art is an incredible source of inspiration and reflection for me. And my best ideas almost always come from there.

Munich Startup: What are your 3 favorite work tools?

Annabell Vacano: 1) Notion, because it allows us to design our entire game design and company processes transparently and collaboratively as a team. 2) ChatGPT, because it helps me incredibly with brainstorming or creating emails or grant applications. And 3) Midjourney, because it often creates a great basis for design concepts – especially for visual design.

Inspire your counterpart!

Munich Startup: Your top tip for pitching?

Annabell Vacano: Keep it simple! Investors often talk to countless founders every single day. It’s very difficult to stay focused with so many complex innovations. In the first pitch, I would therefore always make sure to keep your idea as easy to understand as possible. It’s best to summarize the idea in one sentence so that everyone understands the gist of it. If someone is interested, you have all the time in the world to explain all the studies, data and technical basics to them. But for now, the most important thing is to get them excited! And to do that, you should make it very easy for them to understand you. I sometimes did that wrong myself at the beginning.

Munich Startup: Does it seem like a good time to start a company? Why?

Annabell Vacano: Basically, yes. There are countless early-stage funds, support programs and initiatives around the world that support founders. In addition, digitalization allows small, agile teams in particular to operate much faster. And investments in digital infrastructure, for example, are becoming increasingly affordable. But quite apart from that, every idea has its own “perfect time” to be founded. And this is what really matters in the end.

Munich Startup: Which technology or industry would you focus on for your next startup?

Annabell Vacano: First of all, I can only think of the connection between virtual reality and the cultural industry. But I’ll be happy to answer this question if I ever prepare a second startup.

More support away from deep tech

Munich Startup: What do you think could be improved in Munich as a startup location?

Annabell Vacano: I would find it enriching to see more support in Munich outside of the deep tech sector. Munich has a strong focus on deep tech, which produces many incredibly great companies.

Sometimes, however, it feels a little as if non-deep tech companies are not taken just as seriously. Examples such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Netflix show that companies can also achieve incredible success by using existing technologies. Because in the end, it always comes down to creating something that customers love. I would therefore think it would be great to loosen up this focus in some places!

Munich Startup: Which founder would you like to meet in person? And what would you ask him or her?

Annabell Vacano: Mark Zuckerberg. I’d love to hear all about his vision for VR from him, as I think Meta has the potential to be a major new success story in the coming years.

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Helen Duran

Als Redakteurin ist die Wirtschaftsgeografin Helen Duran seit 2015 für Euch in der hiesigen Gründerszene unterwegs. Sie ist neugierig auf Eure spannenden Startup-Geschichten!

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