Start-Up „sproof“ from Salzburg wants to replace DocuSign in Europe

The Salzburg startup sproof.io, a spin-off of the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences, was able to win prominent major customers and thousands of private customers shortly after its founding in 2020. The European Super Angels Club and the renowned business angel Michael Repnik recently invested and want to replace the market leader DocuSign on the European market with the Salzburg founders.

The founders of sproof.io, Fabian Knirsch and Clemens Brunner. Photo: Florian Dorn

The spin-off of the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences, around the founders Clemens Brunner, Fabian Knirsch and Erich Höpoldseder, has set itself the task of making the handwritten signature disappear from everyday business life. For small businesses, medium-sized companies, large corporations and public institutions, daily signatures and contract signatures are part of everyday life. Although the qualified electronic signature has been legally equivalent to the handwritten signature since the early 2000s, many organizations are not yet taking advantage of this digitization opportunity. “It has failed so far due to questions of data protection, complexity and the quality of the digital signature, which must be guaranteed electronically via a trust service provider registered with the RTR,” explains Clemens Brunner, founder and CEO of sproof.io.

Handwritten signatures will soon be history

In addition to the Federal Accounting Agency, the Chamber of Commerce and Sony DADC, the Vienna City Business Agency has recently started using sproof.io to make signature runs DSGVO-compliant, digital, legally valid and efficient. For the issuing of certificates within universities and universities of applied sciences, sproof is used, as well as at the renowned law firm Binder Grösswang or at the legal software provider ADVOKAT.

The founders of sproof.io have noticed a growing interest in legally valid digital signatures, especially in the human resources sector, the real estate industry and public administration. “Currently, there are countless providers for digital signatures, especially in the American market. The problem is that many of these providers do not meet the high European data protection standards. In practice, disputes can ultimately end up in court due to the lack of legal certainty and lead to high costs,” says Fabian Knirsch, co-founder of sproof.io.

Without capital no growth

Startups usually need larger sums of venture capital, but this problem has also been solved for sproof.io for the time being. President of the European Super Angels Club and founder of Venionaire Capital, Berthold Baurek-Karlic recently invested a high six-figure sum as lead investor, but this is said to be just the beginning. “We used sproof.io ourselves and thus also got into talks about a possible investment. The founders are technically very strong, were able to convince institutional customers early on – our investment is a start, but certainly not everything. With the company we have a chance to replace the market leader DocuSign in Europe and for this we will invest a few more times”, says the investor Berthold Baurek-Karlic.

In addition to the European Super Angels Club and their business angel, the startup was also able to win the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) for a grant. “With the European Super Angels Club, we have a strong partner on our side, which means that nothing stands in the way of further growth. We see the first completed financing round as an important step towards our goal – to become the largest digital signature provider in Europe,” the founders are convinced.


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Change processes in SMEs and how digitization projects become successful – a field report based on the introduction of digital signatures with sproof sign

team meeting stock photo

Annika Koch, intern at sproof GmbH

Change processes in SMEs are often a topic that people want to avoid. However, it is essential for sustainable economic success to continue to develop through constant change. In doing so, it is important to maintain the successful and to implement the new. An important driver of change processes is digitalization.

In this article I describe my experience as an intern at sproof GmbH. We offer a digital signature solution with which small, medium and large companies can completely digitize their signature workflows. Printing, signing and scanning for a signature is therefore no longer necessary. I would like to share here not only my experiences with the digitization of SMEs, but also address the challenges of the associated change processes and present possible solutions.

Challenges of change processes

As an intern at sproof GmbH, I often experience how it is an overcoming for companies to digitize processes. At the recent Leaders Academy webinar on change processes with guest speaker Debora Karsch, typical mistakes that companies can make during change were highlighted. These include underestimating the blocking potential, the habit of wanting to do too many things at once, and not having access to an adequate competence team.

The solutions presented by Debora Karsch in the webinar correspond well with my experience in introducing digital signatures in SMEs.

Involve and understand employees

The potential for employees to block any change should not be underestimated. Digitalization issues in particular present employees with a challenge. Analog processes that employees have been accustomed to for years, such as signing internal documents on paper (vacation requests, orders, etc.), are now being eliminated and replaced by a new, digital system. Although the digitization of such processes, for example, brings significant savings potential, both in terms of money and time, which ultimately also benefits all employees, individual doubts quickly arise as to whether one is up to the new processes. These doubts are absolutely understandable, normal and comprehensible. Some employees will voice their resistance out loud, but it is important to also recognize the silent blockages and to seek dialog with the relevant employees. By communicating ideas, pointing out changes and not surprising anyone, security and appreciation can and must be conveyed. For example, if one decides to use the digital signature solution from sproof, each and every individual can try out the free version in advance. Since it is a cloud-based solution, no installation or IT project is necessary and all employees have immediate access. By carefully approaching and independently testing and using the product in everyday business, the inhibition threshold is lowered, the advantages are recognized and the change is accepted – even acknowledged and welcomed.

Example: Digitization of signature processes

sproof sign provides SMEs with an up-to-date, legally compliant and modern solution for the digitization of signature processes, as well as a competent team. The solution is user-oriented and designed to optimize processes, so that ultimately all employees benefit from more efficient work, less stress and bureaucracy, and more free time for individual creativity.

In conclusion, it can be said that when implementing such change processes, it is also necessary to proceed step by step. No one benefits from digitizing everything in one fell swoop. If you start with the digital signature, you will see the direct effects. Annoying printing and scanning is no longer necessary. Analog filing space is saved. Signature processes are accelerated and time is saved. A priority can be processed without any pressure. With the first positive change, it is easier to tackle further projects and to develop further in a future-oriented way.

Your experiences

What are your experiences and how do you deal with change processes in SMEs? Write in the comments!

Success Story Maschinenring Salzburg

Maschinenring Salzburg is digitizing its signature workflows with sproof sign to make the internal processes even more efficient. Rather than printing documents for signing and requiring to distribute and collect the documents across multiple divisions and office locations, this can now be done fully digitally.

The original idea of Maschinenring was for farmers to support each other and to jointly achieve price advantages and reduce costs by sharing expensive machinery. This vision is still valid today. However, in addition, Maschinenring opens up a wide range of additional business opportunities. Through services and personnel leasing, farmers and people with an agricultural background are employed, for example, in winter service but also in summer service, and thus Maschinenring offers numerous employment opportunities.

Maschinenring Salzburg has chosen sproof for accompanying its digitalization process for two main reasons: sproof is an Austrian-based company that is 100% GDPR-compliant, and sproof provides qualified electronic signatures for legally-binding and valid digital signing according to the European legal framework. Qualified signatures offer  the highest level of trust and are equivalent to handwritten signatures. With sproof, the management board of Maschinenring Salzburg has been equipped with their own legally-binding electronic signature. However, the application of sproof sign is not limited to the  board, but also all the other employees can digitize their processes. sproof sign is a cloud-based solution, easy to use, and does  not require a large-scale IT project to start.

At Maschinenring Salzburg, we decided to use sproof to optimize our business processes and make them more efficient. All documents that require a qualified signature are signed in seconds via Sproof and digitally signed in their entirety. The batch signature of documents is a central feature for us that not only saves paper, but above all time.

Ing. Roman Spiegel
Head of IT and Process Management

Digitally sign – but correctly

For the second time in just a few days, everything revolves around digital signatures and their validity in court: In Germany, the issue is the legality of digitally signed employment contracts, and in another case in Austria, the correctness of a contract award for 400 million euros. Where are the issues in these cases, and how would the right digital signatures have prevented legal doubts?

In Berlin, Germany, a legal dispute between employees and employers is currently revolving around the validity of employment contracts signed via the software of a major US provider. The signatures applied and their legal validity — specifically, whether they meet the writing requirement — are currently the subject of the proceedings (1). In Austria, a few days later, the result of a tender procedure was declared null and void by the court because the applied digital signature was not legally valid in Austria — the contract amount was 400 million euros (2). In both cases, digital signatures were applied whose legal validity is either the subject of the proceedings or was directly rejected by the respective instance.

To understand where the problems lie here, let’s take a look at the current legal situation for digital signatures. In the EU, the legal framework is regulated in the eIDAS Regulation or in the corresponding national legislations that have been leaned on. Essentially, a distinction is made between simple, advanced, and qualified digital signatures. In the case of Berlin employees, everything revolves around the legal validity of advanced digital signatures. This is because the law only specifically stipulates that qualified digital signatures are legally equivalent to handwritten signatures.

Although the eIDAS Regulation provides a uniform legal framework in the EU, it does not cover Switzerland. There, digital signatures are regulated in the “Federal Electronic Signature Act (ZertES).” In the case of the contract award in Austria, a document was signed in accordance with Swiss law. However, the equivalence of eIDAS and ZertES was rejected by the court.

Even if these two cases now give the impression that (legal) uncertainties may arise when using digital signatures, reassurance must be given at this point: With correctly affixed, eIDAS-compliant qualified digital signatures, equivalence to handwritten signatures applies within the EU. When selecting providers for digital signature solutions, therefore, particular attention should be paid to the possibility of qualified digital signatures.

We offer the right solution for this problem with sproof sign (https://sign.sproof.io), an Austrian company. Qualified digital signatures created with sproof sign are guaranteed to be legally valid according to eIDAS and are equivalent to handwritten signatures. If both the employment contracts in Germany and the tender in Austria had been signed with it, the court would probably not have doubted the legality of the signature in either case.

(1) https://plus.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/tuecken-des-arbeitsrechts-berliner-gorillas-streit-zeigt-probleme-mit-digitaler-unterschrift-253141.html

(2) https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000129788448/kauf-von-doppelstockzuegen-wird-debakel-fuer-die-oebb