#praguehacks, startupyard

#PragueHacks is Back September 30th at Node5

#PragueHacks is Back!

StartupYard is happy to announce, in cooperation with Fond Otakara Motejla, and partners Node5 and reSITE, that #PragueHacks will return once again to give local developers, data scientists, idea makers, urbanists, and others an opportunity to hack the city, making our home of Prague a better place for everyone to live in.

The theme this year is:  Put Open Data in Motion, and Improve Life in Prague

The event will take place on September 30 – October 2 @ Node

Hack the city at #praguehacks @node5 on September 30th! Click To Tweet

 

Who are we looking for?

Developers who want to show their skills, write software and master emerging technologies.

Idea makers who can build innovative, open-source widgets and applications to change the way people feel and live their city.

Data scientists who know how to  find new ways to use open data and uncover data knowledge.

Urbanists who want to share their expertise, and  keep the focus on solving real problems and interesting issues.

Anyone who can help  generate new insights, brainstorm, design projects and tests ideas, so #PragueHacks 2016 will make a real difference to the city and its residents.

What’s the Goal?

#praguehacks, StartupYard



Any city can become a better, friendlier place to live, when the private sector, government, and active citizens work together to address new challenges. Together, we can all give the city the tools to become better than ever. To make this happen, #PragueHacks 2016 will bring together software developers, idea makers, data scientists, and urbanists to create a new City Dashboard (like this one). This open data platform can be filled with small, interactive widgets that will help us all to understand, and to change, our own dynamic urban environment, and see the wonder of life in this great city in a whole new way.

Over the course of a weekend, participants will organize into small teams, familiarize themselves with the technological requirements, and show their skills by writing software, designing mock-ups for a widget of their own, and implementing it while using available open data.

#PragueHacks 2016 will tackle some of the core issues of living in the city, such as Mobility & Population, Leisure & Education, Good Governance & Transparency and Environment & Social Services – all of which can be addressed through open data from multiple sources.

So join us! Sign up as a Prague Hacker today:

 

 

Ceska Sporitelna and StartupYard Present: Startup Roku 2017

Czech business insiders have long known Vodafon’s “Company of the Year,” EY’s own “Entrepreneur of the Year,” but as of this month, a new business competition has entered the fore. We are happy to announce that we are partnering with Ceska Sporitelna to present “Startup of the Year.” This competition brings a totally new approach; focusing on the young and innovative firms that are bringing innovation in the Czech Republic, and changing the way business is done.

About the Contest:
Vodafine OF 2016_col

“Startup of the Year” is a nationwide contest, with the goal of supporting new and innovative ideas. It will focus on young firms, either incorporated or unincorporated, with a maximum of 3 years of business history. The contest will identify and highlight successful startups. Success can be defined as companies that bring new innovations, growth, and a positive impact on the business sector in which they operate. Successful startups may bring financial or growth opportunities, and should have a compelling history and purpose as a company.

The best startups will also attract the interest of top investors, have the chance to cooperate with leading corporations, as well as accelerators in the Czech Republic and abroad (including StartupYard). Aside from Ceska Sporitelna’s financial interest in innovative ideas, it will also look for opportunities for long term cooperation based on mutual interests, not just with the contest winners, but with each of the 10 competition finalists.

Starting now, young startups can apply to be consider for the contest by filling a form, and completing qualification criteria to participate in the contest. Registration will end on the 30th of October of this year. Finalists will be chosen by jury on the 15th of November, and winners will be announced on the 7th of December, 2016, at Zofin in Prague, along with the winners of both Vodafone and Ceska Sporitelna’s other business contests.

More information and applications, along with the contest background information, at the following link: www.firmaroku.cz/startuproku.

 

French Ambassador

French Ambassador Hosts StartupYard Mentors

Last week, the StartupYard team, our 2016 startups, and over 70 of our mentors were honored by a special gala dinner, hosted by the French Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Jean-Pierre Asvazadourian.

The event which included several speakers, a dinner and a reception, and was sponsored by Komercni Banka, Mazars, and Roland Berger, Cedric Voight of Ballou PR gave the keynote remarks. Voight spoke about the importance of storytelling for both startups and corporations, and on the need for corporations to foster innovation in their own regions. Ballou PR is a major PR firm based in Europe, founded by Colette Ballou, with current and former clients such as Facebook, Ebay, Pinterest, and Waze.

Among the speakers were also StartupYard mentors Philip Staehelin, Managing Partner of Roland Berger in Prague, Albert Le Dirac’h, Chairman of KB Bank, and Carlos Meza, representing Mazars.

This event was planned in cooperation with our partners as a thanks to our incredibly dedicated and helpful group of mentors, over 70 in all, who took part in mentoring our 2016 cohort of 9 startups.

All photos are courtesy of the French Embassy, Prague. 

France and The Czech Republic

A clear theme of the evening, given the speakers and venue, was furthering cooperation and knowledge transfer between France and the Czech Republic. StartupYard Managing Director Cedric Maloux, and Ambassador Asvazadourian spoke about the lessons that the Czech government and tech community could take from France’s experience, including greater tax advantages for technology startups, startup visas for entrepreneurs, more public funds for innovation, and greater corporate interest in funding new ideas.

Maloux also spoke about the need among corporations and governments, for touchpoints with the startup ecosystems in their respective countries, and abroad. He laid out his view of StartupYard, and other seed stage accelerators, as key points of interaction between older business and government institutions, and a new generation of entrepreneurs and technologists.

Philip Staehelin of Roland Berger spoke about his passion for bringing corporations and banks into closer cooperation with startups, and learning to adopt startup-inspired processes and entrepreneurial thinking within their own organizations.

Mr. Le Dirach, who has worked in banking for over 3 decades with Societe Generale, and now as the Chairman of KB, spoke about the need for smarter regulation of e-commerce, fintech, and information security. He also touched on KB’s efforts to open its doors to innovative startups, highlighting the need for corporate and banking executives to “get out of the office, and talk to real people outside our organizations.”

The French Embassy

The Ambassador also highlighted the role of the French Embassy as an organization with multiple missions. On one level, it promotes French business interests abroad, and on another, it seeks to promote mutually beneficial exchange of ideas between the two countries.

Ambassador Asvazadourian also pointed out the contrast inherent in the venue- the 18th century Buquoy Palace, with the topic at hand. He spoke about the need for older institutions, including those present, as well as the governments of both countries, to adapt and learn from startups, and new conceptions of working, and living.

StartupYard DemoDay 2016 Highlights

DemoDay 2016: The Big Moments

StartupYard last night introduced its 6th cohort of startups to the world. We are extremely proud, and judging from our community’s reaction, so were you.  Thank you for supporting us and encouraging us to do what we do. Your value to our startups is truly immeasurable.

But which of the companies at DemoDay 2016 were your favorites, and why?

Click on the picture of your favorite startup founder below to tweet about them. 

(Photos courtesy of Milos Potuzak. Check out his other work on his website, or on Facebook.)

Gjirafa Founder and CEO Mergim Cahani talks about the ups and downs of founding a high growth startup.

Gjirafa Founder and CEO Mergim Cahani talks about the ups and downs of founding a high growth startup. Click to Tweet!

Jakub Ladra, of ClaimAir, talks flight compensation.

Jakub Ladra, of ClaimAir, talks flight compensation. Click to Tweet!

Ondrej Sedlacek of Satismeter talks Churn.

Ondrej Sedlacek of Satismeter talks Churn. Click to Tweet!

Pavel Konecny, of NeuronSoundware, talks about machine learning and sound.

Pavel Konecny, of NeuronSoundware, talks about machine learning and sound. Click to Tweet!

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Alex Karadjian of Speedifly talks about social, spontaneous air travel.

Alex Karadjian of Speedifly talks about social, spontaneous air travel. Click to Tweet!

Marek Novy of Stream.Plus talks about the future of online video.

Marek Novy of Stream.Plus talks about the future of online video. Click to Tweet!

Piotr Piekos of TotemInteractive introduces the future of outdoor digital advertising.

Piotr Piekos of TotemInteractive introduces the future of outdoor digital advertising. Click to Tweet!

Karel Javurek of NeuronAd discusses adblockers and online publishing

Karel Javurek of NeuronAd discusses adblockers and online publishing. Click to Tweet!

Johanness Rohrenbach of Boatify talks about amazing boating experiences.

Johanness Rohrenbach of Boatify talks about amazing boating experiences. Click to Tweet!

Martin Cvetler of Salutara introduces the future of medical travel.

Martin Cvetler of Salutara introduces the future of medical travel. Click to Tweet!

Cedric Maloux makes closing remarks.

Cedric Maloux makes closing remarks.

The Royal, a classic venue, for a not-so-classic event.

The Royal, a classic venue, for a not-so-classic event.

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The crowd at The Royal was impressive.

The crowd at The Royal was impressive.

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Don’t forget to check out our exclusive interviews with each Startup from 2016:

StartupYard DemoDay 2016, April 6th at the Royal Theater

It’s with great pleasure and anticipation that we announce that StartupYard DemoDay 2016 will take place on April 6th, at the Royal Theater. The event will feature pitches from our 9 startups, and keynote remarks from Mergim Cahani, StartupYard Alum and Founder/CEO of Gjirafa, the “Albanian Seznam.”

The event will take place on April 6th, at 18:00, at the Royal Theater, in Prague.

 

 

 About the Keynote:

NWJ3017-Edit-1Mergim Cahani is the Founder & CEO of Gjirafa, Inc (gjirafa.com), the Albanian Search Engine. Gjirafa has recently raised $2.5M in angel and venture funding, with investors including Ester Dyson, Ondrej Bartos, Phillip Staehelin, and Rockaway Capital. An alum of StartupYard 2014, Gjirafa is working to bring state of the art e-commerce solutions to emerging markets in Kosovo, Albania, and the surrounding regions.

Previously he founded iziSurvey, a mobile survey solution, and MatchBox, now a defunct dating application. Currently Mergim serves as the President of the Board of Governors at American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo, and has over 15 years of industry experience with startups, technology, management, and investment experience. Previously, in New York, Mergim worked for Broadridge Financial Solutions, an Adjunct Assistant Professor with the department of Computer Science at St. John’s University, and an executive management consulting program at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. His education includes a Summa Cum Laude BSc degree in Computer Science, an MSc degree in Computer Science from New York University, and an MBA degree with honors majoring in Executive Management from The Tobin College of Business at St. John’s University, all in New York.

About the Venue:

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The grand and historical Royal has stood in Prague for nearly 100 years. It recalls the glory days of the city when it was the capital of the First Czechoslovak Republic, from 1918 to 1938. After the 2nd world war, the theater was confiscated by the state, and it was not returned to its owners, the Maceška Family, until after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It remains in the family to this day.

In 2014, the family agreed to rent the Royal to Jean-Christophe Gramont, who restored its look and feel to that of a First Republic public venue. Many of the original finishings remain intact, dating back to 1929.

StartupYard DemoDay 2016

Our decision to host StartupYard’s 2016 Demo Day at the Royal is a nod not only to our roots in Central Europe, but also to the Royal’s signature theme: of honoring the past while remaining unafraid to innovate into the future. As the story of those days in Prague just a century ago shows us: progress and innovation must be constantly defended and constantly re-energized by new generations, be they artists, engineers, or entrepreneurs.

The StartupYard 2016 Startups

 

Satismeter: Know Your Customers

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Czech Republic

SatisMeter is perfect for online businesses that lack qualitative feedback from their users.
It’s an in-app feedback platform, that collects NPS data based on specific usage patterns. Unlike a traditional email survey or various in-house solutions, SatisMeter is an easy to integrate, multi-platform solution, perfect for small startups with only a few customers, all the way up to enterprise scale clients.

Satismeter’s current customers include BuzzSumo,  Udacity, Mention, Adroll, Dashlane, and MailJet

 

ClaimAir: Know Your Rights. Get Paid.

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Czech Republic

ClaimAir helps travelers fight the airlines for compensation, because fliers don’t have the time and resources to do it themselves.
It’s is an automated platform that handles the end-to-end process of claiming owed compensation for delays, baggage mishandling, etc. Did you know that the average compensation owed was over 300 Euros?
Unlike travel agencies, ClaimAir is specialized in handling legal compensation claims in large volumes.

 

Neuron Software: Making Sense of Sound

NeuronSW_finalfor-web-01

Czech Republic

Neuron Software is a deep tech startup, exploring the use of self-teaching, constantly learning neural networks in a wide range of audio analysis and audio manipulation applications.
Imagine having a car mechanic in your pocket, able to diagnose a problem just by listening to it. Or being able to accurately document the emotions of your customers, every time anyone from your company talks to them.
Neuron Software’s technology will enable a broad range of new capabilities that are just starting to be explored.

Stream.Plus: The Last Video Platform You’ll Ever Need

stream_plus_logo-05_720

Czech Republic

Stream.Plus is the future of branded video distribution. Brands who have quality video content often lack control over the distribution and monetization of that content. Stream.Plus creates mobile and web apps for branded, interactive online TV channels that create a direct connection between consumers and brands.

NeuronAd: Ads for Everyone

neuron-ad-logo-final-_color_bw_wb_

Czech Republic

Online publishers rely heavily on advertising for revenue. But 20% or more of internet users now have adblockers installed. NeuronAd helps online publishers show relevant, unobtrusive ads to adblocked visitors, while maintaining the speed, security, and experience that led those visitors to employ adblockers.

 

Speedifly: When in Doubt, Travel

New logo_square

Bulgaria

SpeediFly is for spontaneous travelers who want to get away last minute, but don’t know where they can go on a budget.
It’s a mobile travel discovery platform that locates the customer and finds the 15 cheapest flights departing from and returning to the nearest airport in the next 10 days. Unlike clunky old-fashioned search engines, SpeediFly combines social dimensions like group travel planning, with the ability to discover destinations based on activities and interests.

 

TotemInteractive: Make Ads People Love

toteminteractive-icon-square

Poland

TotemInteractive enables Digital Out of Home Advertising to become more than just a one-way brand-to-customer ad channel.
It’s a cloud based advertising platform that supports interactive content, like games and contests, by allowing people to control ads directly from their smartphones.
Drive real audience engagement with your live ads, by making ads people love, and love to play with.

Salutara: Your Health Matters

Salutara, Startupyard

Czech Republic

Salutara is a full-service online platform for medical travel. Every year, 11 Million people seek medical procedures that are not accessible or affordable in their home countries. With Salutara as a trusted advisor and intermediary, patients can search and compare clinics, arrange procedures, plan, book, and pay for a whole trip in one place. Travel for your health, with Salutara.

boatify: hop onboard (a boat!)

boatify

Switzerland

Boatify is for people who want to go on a boat ride, but don’t have easy and affordable access to a boat. It’s a web and mobile platform, where boat owners can earn money renting their boats directly.
Unlike typical boat rental services, boatify relies on a network of partner “officers,” who take responsibility for the end-to-end customer experience of each boat rental, making it a snap to safely rent and take a trip in a boat near you, anytime.

We look forward to seeing you at the Royal!

StartupYard Invites 9 Startups for 2016 Accelerator

We’re very pleased to announce that after an intensive screening process that whittled the over 300 applications to StartupYard 2016’s open call down to only 19 Startup Day participants, we have now selected and invited 9 startups to join us for the 2016 accelerator program.

19 teams attended Startup Day, a two day event in which the startups pitched, and met with a group of mentors, and the StartupYard team. They also heard from Mergim Cahani, CEO and Co-Founder of one of StartupYard’s major successes, Kosovo’s Albanian language search platform Gjirafa. Mergim spoke about Gjirafa’s recent successes, explosive growth, and the role of StartupYard in his success, both during and after acceleration.

A Diverse Group

As we noted recently, this year gave us the most geographically diverse group of applicants we have ever had. Among the finalists at Startup Day were entrepreneurs from The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, India, the UK, Bulgaria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Russia, and Romania. Among the 9 teams selected for StartupYard 2016, are Czech, Swiss, Polish, Bulgarian, and UK teams.
Startup Day, StartupYard

There are surprises and unexpected outcomes every year in the StartupYard selection process. This year is no exception. No less than 3 travel startups will join us at Node5 for 3 months of acceleration- an outcome we could not have predicted, but a testament to how much technology is now disrupting travel around the world. We will also welcome our first health startup, our first sharing economy startup, and our first “neural networks” focused team. Also for the first time, we have accepted two teams focused on exciting new advertising technology.

How We Select Teams For StartupYard

StartupYard Startup Day

Mergim Cahani, Founder and CEO of Gjirafa, spoke to Startups about the StartupYard experience

19 finalists joined us at Node5 last week, in a marathon session involving pitching, individual meetings, and conversations with the StartupYard team, investors, and a select group of mentors.

As always, each member of the selection committee had their own views on each startup, and each had their favorites, but the final decision to invite each of the 9 companies we have selected was arrived at by consensus. We believe in every one of these companies, and their potential to succeed globally.

As we’ve said frequently, both to our applicants and to the mentors who participate in our selection process, StartupYard is not a contest, and there are no losers at Startup Day. Each of the applicants impressed us and managed to convince us in different ways. Most of the applicants have the potential, and the ambition, to raise successful companies that have a positive impact on many people.

So when we decide not to accelerate a particular company, that isn’t necessarily because we don’t believe they can succeed. We often think that they can and will.

StartupDay StartupYard

But we have to also consider whether a startups wants to be, and can be, the kind of company that will be a smart investment for StartupYard, in terms of time, money, and energy from our team, our mentors, and our investors. We only succeed when our startups grow and expand globally, so no matter how interesting a team and their idea is, it has to have the ambition to be that kind of globally scalable company.

There is nothing wrong with companies that want to be influential and disruptive on the local level. But these companies would benefit less from our help, and would be pushed in a direction that they don’t necessarily want to go. We can’t be the main drivers of ambition for a startup, so that vision of the future has to come built in.

Names to be Released in February

Startup Day

As in previous rounds, StartupYard will release the names, web pages, and descriptions of each of our 2016 Startups sometime in February of 2016. While several of these companies have products on the market, and some are already generating revenue, we don’t discuss startups until they have had a month of intense mentoring in our program, and they are thoroughly ready to talk about their future plans.

By then, we’ll be ready to roll out detailed interviews with each company, and an in-depth look at each of their future plans. Stay Tuned!

6 Tips For Finalists at StartupYard

This week, StartupYard will welcome about 20 finalists for up to 10 positions in our 2016 cohort. They’ll spend a full day meeting with the StartupYard team, and a select group of mentors and investors from the StartupYard community.

This isn’t a competition, and it isn’t a job interview. We aren’t typical investors, and we aren’t employers either. We have a special relationship with all of our startups, and we have to make decisions quickly, but carefully.

So what are we looking for in our final finalists? Ultimately, we are looking for the smartest investments for StartupYard. That means teams that not only impress us with their vision and ambition, but that also offer us an opportunity to make as big as an impact as possible, so that their successes will be our successes too.

Today, we’ll share a few pieces of advice that we’ve come up with over the last few years, on how to navigate this process for the best result:

1. It’s Okay to Say “I Don’t Know.”

fry

As we wrote about yesterday, being a credible leader doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers. If you do have all the answers, there’s a fair chance that some of your answers may not be the best ones possible.

Better that you should be able to say “I don’t know,” when faced with something you haven’t had the time or resources to address yet. Part of being a high growth company is not being able to predict every little thing you’ll have to do along the way. You can show you’re prepared, but you will never be able to convincingly show that you’ve figured out every step. If you had, you wouldn’t be talking to us anyway.

2. Acknowledge Challenges You Face

On a few occasions (thankfully never at StartupYard), I have had the displeasure of witnessing really poor mentoring and feedback on startup pitches.

The worst, and most useless kind of feedback goes like this:

“Well, I worked with a company that tried that, and it didn’t work. So, I don’t know. You’ve got a lot of challenges ahead.”

Duh. This can hardly be called feedback. But sadly, as a startuper, you’re going to hear it a lot.

There are going to be inherent challenges in your near and long term future. That’s a given. But it’s important to recognize, especially when talking to an investor or a mentor, the difference between useless feedback like that, and more serious questions:

“What are you going to do about x competitor?” Or, “Why would people would pay for this?”

A lot of founders get so used to being bludgeoned by stupid feedback, that they start to ignore legitimate concerns instead of acknowledging them. They’ll give bogus answers like “we are smarter than the competition,” rather than talking specifically about how they’re going to challenge a competitor. Or they’ll say: “we are going to work really hard to sell this,” instead of really answering the question, which is not about how hard they’ll work, but about what strategy they will use, and what opportunity they see in the market.

The fact that you have challenges ahead shouldn’t be news to anyone. But how you face those challenges says everything about how you’ll fare against them. You won’t overcome these challenges because of who you are, or how much you want to. You’ll overcome them by thinking about them, so start doing that first.

If you can show you understand what the challenges are, you will have a much easier time convincing us you can solve them.

3. Demonstrate Ambition

Arrogance is certainly a problem for many entrepreneurs, but it can be just as easy to make humility into a vice.

What we’ve found over the years, particularly with startups in Central Europe, is that they can be surprisingly shy about sharing their long-term, “big vision” ideas, because they are afraid that they will appear either stupid, or foolishly ambitious.

It’s not fun to listen to someone who can’t stop talking about their big vision and focus on the details, but it’s important that we do understand what your ambitions really are. What kind of company do you ultimately want to have? What position do you want to be in, in 5 years? It’s really ok for these ambitions to seem somewhat unrealistic. Again, if they were realistic at this moment, you wouldn’t need our help at all.

So don’t think we’ll laugh at you for wanting to be a worldwide leader- if that’s what you really want.

4 Talk Yourself Up

We just got done saying that you shouldn’t be shy about your ambition. You also shouldn’t be shy about your accomplishments.

Last year, as we were working on the Demo Day pitch for one of our startups, the founder was having trouble with what he wanted to say about the team. He couldn’t come up with a convincing argument for why they were the right people to solve a complicated problem on the market.

As it turned out, and as the founder had never shared with us previously, he just happened to have previously worked for companies who needed to calculate orbits and fuel usage for satellites in Earth orbit- he helped those satellites in the sky.

So, in other words, he was a rocket scientist.

And he was someone who was having trouble articulating why it was that he was qualified to take on complicated problems.

I don’t think many reasonable people would think he was being arrogant for mentioning that qualification to investors. But I’ve been consistently surprised by startup founders who do fail to mention important details about themselves and their qualifications.

That’s admirable, that these people choose let their work speak for itself, but if you’ve earned a little bit of respect for what you’ve done in the past, by all means, use it!

5. Ask Questions

This process is not just about us picking favorites. It’s also about you deciding what’s best for your company, and your own future. We don’t know what you don’t know, and since we assume we’re dealing with pretty smart people , we don’t always tell you everything you might want to know.

So ask us. And judge us on our answers. That’s only fair. Our reputation has to be built on our transparency and honesty with startups. If we don’t have that, we don’t have much.

6. Don’t Sell: We Aren’t your Customers

salesman-431

This advice goes back what we said yesterday about “trying too hard.” You have to acknowledge challenges, and talk yourself up, but if you aren’t careful, doing all those things at once can put you right into “salesman mode.”

Pretty soon you’re “acknowledging challenges,” before they’re even brought up, and talking yourself up when you don’t really need to. Your ability to sell is important, but we aren’t your customers.

The unvarnished truth, or at least something closer to the unvarnished truth, is important to investors in making the right decisions- not just for them, but also for you. As I often tell startups: you can sell anybody something they don’t need or want, but only once. After that, you’ll never be able to sell to them again. But if you find the right “customer,” or the right investor, you can develop a lasting relationship.

So don’t treat us like a customer. We aren’t buying anything.

Patrick Riley, of the GAN, visits StartupYard

Last week, in a private meeting with StartupYard mentors and team members, Patrick “Pat” Riley, CEO of the GAN (Global Accelerator Network), hosted a Q and A, and presented GAN’s vision of the current and future landscape for tech accelerators worldwide.

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Riley presents to StartupYard Mentors

Riley, who began his startup career at a startup helping hospitals and medical centers to provide affordable medication to underserved communities, joined TechStars as Director of Business Development in 2011, launching the GAN the same year. Today, the GAN spans 6 continents, and includes over 70 selected accelerators in over 100 cities. The GAN is a selective network of accelerators, including the top 3-4% of accelerators worldwide, that together have accelerated 2500 companies in 4 years, together raising nearly $1 Billion in financing, and creating over 11,000 new jobs.

Gan_infographic copy

Pat visited StartupYard’s homebase at Node5 Thursday, meeting with half a dozen StartupYard startups.

 

Here’s what he had to say about central Europe as a whole, and about the startups he met:


“Central European startups are incredibly unique. They have very strong technical skills, the wherewithal to think about other markets on Day 1, and a laser focus on building products that solve a personal problem. We’re also seeing groups like Microsoft set up their development shops in Central Europe because of how inexpensive salaries are in the area – and startups are taking advantage of that as well.  Because of all of this, we’re seeing the Central European startup scene evolve and develop in very positive ways.

At the same time, there are headwinds facing these startups. First of all, capital is scarce. In the entire Czech Republic there are just a few early stage venture capital firms [ 2 of which, Credo Ventures and Rockaway, are both StartupYard investors]. For a country of 10.5 million people, there is a giant opportunity for greater funding sources.

Secondly, cultural, linguistic, legal and market differences plague many Central European startups. Starting in another neighboring market isn’t anywhere as easy as doing business in another state in the United States. That neighboring market in Europe is a completely different country with different currencies and regulations – making it very difficult to set up shop easily.

Third, while not all Central Europeans are this way, many are missing the “sales” side of their business. I heard over and over again how a customer’s problem was going to be solved technically – when in reality the tech is amazing– it’s the presentation that is lacking.

What many European startups are missing is the ability to sell their product well. During my meetings with startups, I asked many of them what was the vision for their startup, with the answer typically being around how the product has some cool feature. To sell investors, customers and partners, Central European startups need a vision about how they’re going to change the world – and why anyone should care about their startup – because unless you sell me on your vision, no one else is going to.”

 

The Need for More Institutional Investors

During his presentation at Node5, Riley mentioned the increasing role that accelerators have played in recent years as drivers of investment. Considering that startups have an average lifespan, according to Riley, of a little less than 8 months, early stage investment is one of the most common points of failure for startups across the board.

Former SY Executive in Resident Phillip Staehelin

Former SY Executive in Resident Phillip Staehelin

Riley discussed efforts that other accelerators, like Y-Combinator and Techstars, have made to bridge this gap in early financing, either by increasing the availability of convertible notes for companies who attend their programs, or by creating follow-on funds for their own startups.

Shifting Roles of Accelerators

Riley also discussed the shifting roles of accelerators on an east to west axis. Accelerators in Eastern and Central Europe continue to function much as those in California and Western Europe have for over a decade, as nurturing environments for entrepreneurs to grow their networks and experience level, as they test out and perfect their products and go to market plans.

StartupYard mentor Amit Paunikar

StartupYard mentor Amit Paunikar

But as accelerators in the West have matured, and competition has become more fierce not only between startups, but also between accelerators (as well as now between accelerators and other early stage investors), they have also continually provided more funding, been more selective, and offered less and less in terms of the kind of support that accelerators had been known for offering. Workshops, training, and team building have been reduced in favor of more intensive mentoring, and more focus on pitching and business planning.

This confirmed the experiences that Ales Teska of TeskaLabs, one of our startups from 2015, described in making the transition between StartupYard, and TechStars London. Riley pointed out that in countries with fewer institutional investors, and less “startup IQ,” awareness of how to work with and deal with startups is still a major roadblock to success, for which more “hands on” accelerator programs are still needed.

The Role of Mentors

According to data the GAN collects, up to 90% of startups accepted at accelerators are recommended by members of the accelerator community, particularly by active mentors. This again confirms our experience at StartupYard, where many, but certainly not all of the standout applications have come from personal referrals.

StartupYard FastLanes 4 Companies from Bucharest

As part of our 6 city StartupYard FastLane tour, we visited TechHub Bucharest last week, “FastLaning” 4 companies, which is more than in any other city but Prague..” StartupYard has now FastLaned 15 companies in 4 cities, with two more cities, Krakow and Warsaw, coming up.

TechHub is an international ring of startup incubators, whose mission is to help startups “start up faster.” The space they have recently occupied near the center of Bucharest is perfect for startups. It’s compact, but with a comfortable atmosphere, and plenty of space for events, meetings, and work.

Energy And Atmosphere

Just as we had encountered in Kosovo and Bulgaria in the past few weeks, there is a very positive creative energy among Bucharest’s young startup community- a sense that anything is possible, and that growth and dynamism in the tech industry is just getting started.

There was also a healthy variety to the pitches we heard, and the founders we talked with while visiting over several days. We heard pitches in e-health, gaming discovery, fintech, e-commerce, and IoT, among other domains. Each of these ideas was original, and not a local “me too” version of a popular global product. Of the entrepreneurs we talked with, most had a global focus, or at least an eye towards international markets, which showed that Romanian startups are gaining the confidence and the appetite for the world tech stage.

“Cheaper,” is not the Pitch

A pleasant surprise for me on this tour has been that “the cheaper version of X” has not been included in any of the pitches we’ve heard throughout Central and Eastern Europe. A stereotype of only a few years ago, that this region produces cheap knock-offs of popular concepts, banking on the lower costs of development and deployment to compete with international products on the local level, seems to be fading quickly.

The region is of course still cheaper to develop in and represents a strong pool of low-cost talent for western companies, but the startupers we’ve met this year are not as interested in carrying over this mentality into their startups. Instead, they’re focusing on the quality of their products, and their ability to compete head to head in the global market on innovation and creativity. There are probably still many local clones, and they have their place, but significantly, these are no longer the companies coming forward to apply for StartupYard.

It’s Still All About Communication

George Dita, of TechHub Bucharest, who has also invited StartupYard back to participate in HowToWeb’s Startup Spotlight in November, made an interesting comment while we chatted about the local startup scene. “You can see this progression from West to East,” he said: “If you start in the US, or UK, the sales and communication skills are the strongest, but as you move East, that goes away. In Eastern Europe, technical talent is incredible, but sales and marketing are missing.”

This observation has matched our experience so far, but that is in itself a great opportunity for StartupYard. We can act as a gateway for the amazing talent and the ambition of Central and Eastern European startups who lack the background, culturally and experientially, they need to compete with other global players. We see ourselves in that role even more these days, given the success of TeskaLabs, a StartupYard company that was recruited in TechStars London while still attending our program.

As we say, you can teach an engineer sales, but it’s much harder to teach a salesman how to think like an engineer. Startups in Central Europe have tech talent coming out of their ears. The only barrier to competing in the west is confidence and competence in communicating, and selling their ideas. We hope to continue replicating successes like TeskaLabs in the future.

We think it’s very important in today’s startupland to have sales and marketing as fundamental part of the team and the company from day one, but we can work with teams that need to foster that part of their business into something that really performs. They only have to get why it matters, in order to learn how to do it. That is a transition we have seen happen with startups from this region.

What we see, time and again, is entrepreneurs who can’t communicate their ideas effectively, but more and more, we see that they are aware of this, and are working hard to get better at it. That tells us that there are many exciting things coming up from Eastern Europe in the future, and we’re excited to be in the middle of the transformation.