This week, StartupYard welcomed about 35 of its mentors on the Riverboat Labe, for a 2 hour cruise on the Vltava, in the heart of Prague. The event was cosponsored by our partners, French accounting and legal consultancy Mazars, who operate in The Czech Republic, and have pledged their services to our upcoming cohort of startups.
Mentors from such companies as Seznam, Google, Microsoft, Avast, Ysoft, Rockaway Capital, and Credo Ventures, to name just a few, were in attendance as well.
Since late last year, StartupYard MD Cedric Maloux and I have been working on making StartupYard more of a public resource for Startups and investors in the region; for example, with our SOS program, our public events, and on this blog. As one of our mentors noted to me during the cruise, StartupYard, especially now with the demise of Wayra’s Prague operation, is the sole “full-fledged accelerator,” in the area, providing an intensive mentorship based program. This makes community building and trust among our core of active mentors more important than ever. We remain one of the few communities solely focused on developing startup culture in the Czech Republic, and in the CEE region.
Given the degree to which we rely on our mentors, this event was, we think, a decidedly successful opportunity for them to let us know what they want from their mentorship experience. Aside from networking and finally putting faces to the names that all of our mentors recognize from our blog, our emails, and our public events, our mentors got the opportunity to share their ambitions for this community with the whole group of active mentors. Here are a few of the key insights we gleaned from the event:
CEE Startups Suffer from Chronic Low Visibility
As Daniel Hastik mentioned to me during the event, and as others also expressed, StartupYard’s enduring mission has to be focused on selling CEE startups, and the region, to western investors. While Silicon Valley, New York, and London are glutted with cash; much of it going into huge valuations on “unicorn” startups, CEE startups are consistently cash strapped; despite a high level of technical execution, an attractively low cost base, and a raft of great business ideas floating around.
StartupYard’s own experience in the last year has been proof of this trend. Even though Czech applications accounted for less than half of our total for the 2015 open call, we selected, on their merits, 6 out of our final 7 startups from the Czech Republic. The majority of these startups are already generating revenue, and have clients in place, yet their access to western investment has been limited to non-existent. StartupYard has seen, from our talks with foreign corporate partners and investors -especially those in the UK and France- that there is a growing interest among outside investors in the region, but that investors have little access to good information about local startups. StartupYard and other accelerators and incubators have a vital role to play in bringing standout entrepreneurs onto investors’ radar in the west. And that’s exactly what we plan to do in the coming months; it is one of the purposes of our first ever Investor Week, in which visiting investors will have a chance to see the potential in local startups.
A Responsibility to Give Back
Also commonly expressed among our mentors, who are composed of entrepreneurs, corporate partners, investors, and domain experts, was a feeling that they were responsible for giving back to the CEE region, and the Czech Republic, by sharing their knowledge and their experiences with younger entrepreneurs. Among our mentors are some of the key creative and entrepreneurial leaders of the Czech technology sector, and that is an economy that had to be largely rebuilt at the time that many of these people were starting their careers. Now those people are among the first in decades to have the opportunity to invest in future generations of entrepreneurs.
These mentors have participated in bringing the Czech Republic back towards the incredibly high level of efficiency and creative energy that it experienced during the first CzechoSlovak Republic (1918-1938), after 50 years of war, invasion, and stagnation under communist rule. The Czech Republic’s transition to a market economy since 1989 has been viewed as a model for the region, and these businesspeople and engineers forged that model themselves. So while the Czech Republic largely missed the computer revolution of the 1970s and 80s, its first generation of truly self-made entrepreneurs fought mightily to regain that ground, and is just now reaching middle age, and looking for ways to foster innovation in the younger generations of inventors and business people. An enormous store of talent and experience is now at the disposal of young entrepreneurs in The Czech Republic, and in many ways, that has not been the case in nearly 70 years.
— StartupYard (@startupyard) February 18, 2015
Also among our mentors, such as our Executive in Residence Philip Staehelin, Skype Product Manager Amit Paunikar, Zentity CEO Abhishek Balaria, and public speaking trainer Jeanne Trojan, are foreigners who have dedicated many years, or decades, to their adopted country, and are keen to see the generation of entrepreneurs coming forward take the next steps toward fulfilling the region’s enormous creative and business potential.
Local Innovation Remains Important
Most of our mentors have been a part of successful ventures in the Czech Republic, and local innovations and improvements in the local economy remain a point of interest for most of them. While our startups aren’t working on local products, StartupYard’s central mission includes improving conditions for startups in Prague. We are also planning a few other exciting events and initiatives, but we’re not ready to announce them… yet!