startups And Financing
Something tangible is happening. Romania has ranked second in CEE to have created the most startup value since 2000, according to Dealroom. It's among the milestones on the road to becoming a country that can breed successful tech companies, as the startup scene builds on past successes. With a tech ecosystem worth €31 billion, Romanian founders have long recognized the importance of going international.
UiPath's IPO earlier this year has definitely contributed to the public validation of Romania's startup scene and the need to support more companies that aim big and work hard. The country's particular strength lies in enterprise software, process automation, developer and collaboration tools, software development, cybersecurity, and marketing & sales, creating value and attracting VC funding.
"The local startup investment ecosystem has improved dramatically in recent years, with the frequency, scale, and volume of deals generally increasing. Founders have become more ambitious and often start regional or global companies from the beginning, rather than purely local ones. Repeat founders are increasingly common. This year's IPO of Romanian-founded UIPath on the NYSE at a valuation of over $30 billion was a landmark transaction for the region. As a result, we also see Romania getting more attention from cross-borders investors," said Andrei Dudoiu, Managing Partner at SeedBlink.
With SeedBlink, we aim to identify and support the startups that are generating buzz through the value they add to the ecosystem - made from flawless execution and innovative ideas. To celebrate our national holiday, we have put together a collection of quotes from renowned local innovators who have put Romania on the international map.
AROBS is one of the most important software development companies in Romania and has been expanding since 1998, as it started as IT outsourcing company in its early years. Today, AROBS has software development teams and offices in 7 countries in Europe, America and Asia and owns several software products used by companies in Central Eastern Europe and Asia.
Voicu Oprean - Founder at Arobs, on organizational culture: "The market for services and software products will continue to grow, depending on our ability to ensure the fastest possible growth and how we manage to impose quality as a key competitive advantage over other competing markets in Ukraine, Bulgaria, Moldova and beyond in Asia and South America. At AROBS, we see ourselves as native Europeans and internationals by training. Behind these words lies our culture, our vision of work and quality."
Avangate, the global eCommerce and billing platform for software, SaaS and digital solutions, was founded by Romanian entrepreneurs Radu Georgescu and Cristian Badea and acquired by investment fund Francisco Partners in 2013. The company later bought 2Checkout, a global payment processor. Avangate has created an international e-commerce platform that helps software and SaaS ("Software as a Service") vendors sell their products in the cloud in any country, regardless of the business model (i.e. downloadable or not, licenses, etc.) and regardless of the sales channel: direct, through partners or distributors.
Radu Georgescu, founder of Avangate, about the impression Romania has left on Diwaker Singh: “I have been with Diwaker in the States for a few days. Do you remember Diwaker Singh, the former CEO of Zapp? The man came to Romania for a year in '98 - to organise an investment he had worked for, the acquisition of Telemobil. He stayed for a couple of years because he had work to do, but then he stayed because he fell in love with Romania. He is Indian and English according to his citizenship, he has a house in London and Bucharest, two children who speak perfect Romanian and who prefer to spend their holidays in Romania, although they can travel practically anywhere in the world.
_And then comes the question "Where are you from?". I was really curious to hear his answer: he always says loudly and clearly, "I am from Romania!" And then he starts talking about the country - not about how X is arguing with Y, not about how votes are counted, not about the quality of roads or lack thereof (though these are topics he would not avoid if specifically asked for his opinion), as we probably would. He would talk about the quality of the people here, about their warmth, about their inventiveness, about the beauty of the places and the hospitality you will not find anywhere else, about the Danube Delta, the Maramures, Bukovina, about how much the country has developed in the last 10-20 years, about how much there is still to do and about opportunities (not necessarily business opportunities!). He talked for hours about the country in a way that made me want to write about it. He really feels what he's saying, and he makes you feel it too. And, more importantly, he does not lie! Like I said, he mentions the bad things too, but he mentions the good in a special way._”
Bitdefender is a Romanian cybersecurity technology company headquartered in Bucharest, Romania, with offices in the United States, Europe, Australia and the Middle East. The company was founded in 2001 by the current CEO and main shareholder, Florin Talpeș. Bitdefender develops and delivers cybersecurity products and services, including endpoint protection, cloud and managed security, antivirus software and IoT security.
Florin Talpes – founder of Bitdefender, on leadership: "A technology company could not be as innovative if it did not have many leaders. It does not work with one leader.
You have to bring that vibration down, get others to vibrate. My role is more to motivate people, to help them do as well as they can, and to align with a strategy. But we do the strategy together. I also sometimes say that my role is that of a chief dreamer. Everyone is thinking about what we are going to do in the next year, in the next 2-3 years. I am one of those people who thinks: what are we going to do in five or six years? In the beginning, it's dreams that we collect from the other dreams as well, after that we start directing them into long-term goals, which then become short-term goals... That's the way of dreams."
Brainient and its smart Romanian engineering team came up with the idea to increase the engagement and performance of online video ads by making them more personalised and interactive. The advertising startup was founded in 2009 and has raised $2.65 million from investors including Seedcamp, 500 Startups, and Credo Ventures. In 2016, Teads announced the acquisition of UK and Romania-based Brainient, a startup founded by Emi Gal, who is a fixture in the London tech scene.
Emi Gal - Founder of Brainient, on startup teams: “Our engineering team is based in Romania, which has allowed us to hire brilliant engineers much more cheaply than in London. We would not have been able to do that without the wonderful collaboration tools that are out there - from Skype to Hangouts to Trello and so on. Startups today can be both global and local from day one thanks to things like the App Shop or Skype In. The world is not flat, but the internet is and that has helped us a lot.”
Catalyst Romania, one of the leading technology-focused venture capital firms in Romania, launched its first EUR 15 million fund in 2012, as the first fund of its type designed for Romania. The firm launched a second growth capital tech fund for Romania, with a first initial closing with institutional and private investors in November 2020, followed by a second closing in April 2021. The Fund approaches now the target size of EUR 40 million.
Managed by Marius Ghenea & its team based in Bucharest, the fund will continue to make early growth capital investments in SMEs based in Romania and other countries in the region.
Marius Ghenea - Managing Partner at Catalyst Fund Romania, on the strengths of the Romanian startup ecosystem: “One of the strengths of the Romanian startup ecosystem is the talent for IT and technology, and we are talking here about this particular area of startups, which is even more dynamic.
I think that soon we will be able to say that there is no business left that has nothing to do with technology and the Internet, because eventually, even more, traditional companies will have to reinvent themselves in this regard. This is an advantage and a strength of the Romanian entrepreneurial ecosystem because there are many young people who have a good knowledge of technology and who can benefit in this way not only as employees in an outsourcing company or an IT, but also by developing their own entrepreneurial project.”
Dendrio represents the reunion of three companies well-known on the Romanian market: Gecad Net, Bittnet and Crescendo. Dendrio is the smart guide that leverages existing technologies and identifies new technologies to provide a competitive advantage to its customers: price, reaction speed, safety, and optimization. In this way, it facilitates the business Journey. The company sold its Autodesk division to local topography engineering company Graphein for 2.2 million lei (444,600 euro) in October 2021.
Cristian Herghelegiu – Founder of DENDRIO, on the imperative of digital highways: "There is talk about digital highways, and from the information, we receive from the European Union, we can even talk about some supra-highways. We are leaders in the field of cooperation and communication, so we can say that digital highways are working. But we have to ask ourselves what kind of cars are driving on these highways. From our point of view, as a country, as a company operating in the private sector, it is extremely important that all the services we use have a digital touch. They may never be 100% digital, but they should be as digital as possible. "
DRUID was co-founded in 2018 by Andreea Plesea, Daniel Balaceanu, and Liviu Dragan, who is also the CEO. The Druid is a smart chatbot that helps employees, customers, and partners to communicate digitally. The bot is set to be human-like and intuitive. Every team member can have a dedicated Druid assistant that will provide a familiar user experience across all lines of business, tasks, and devices. The aim is to reduce non-productive time and overall costs while increasing data quality. The Romanian chatbot platform received a Series A investment of €2M at the beginning of the year to expand internationally.
Liviu Dragan – Founder of Druid, about being an entrepreneur in Romania: "Being an entrepreneur in Romania, in my opinion, is very enjoyable and I do not think there is a country right now that challenges you more as an entrepreneur than Romania. Romania is a country with poor infrastructure, it is a country where there are no masters of information, there are many areas, green fields that allow the entrepreneur to be born.
As an entrepreneur, when you embark on a new adventure, the first thing you have to remember is that your idea has to be feasible, it has to be a pragmatic idea, it has to be a smart idea, that is, you have to close your eyes and see how it develops. and that it is feasible in a short time.
The second point is funding. You need funding. In Romania, there is money to create a start-up and you need to get this funding. This funding is a sales process where you sell your story and someone has to trust you and give you the money. It's a test for you as an entrepreneur to see if you can get this money.
And third, you have to create a story. That story feeds you as an entrepreneur, motivates the people you work with, excites them, and also needs to be lived by the customers to move them because it's a deep and very beautiful story."
Everything changed when the Internet went from dial-up to broadband. Elrond brings broadband power to the blockchain. More specifically, Elrond brings a 1000x improvement in throughput, execution speed, and transaction costs. It also improves user experience and lowers barriers to entry for network participation through low computational requirements and deployment costs. Elrond has achieved a market valuation of $1 billion in just under 3 years. This makes Elrond the company with the greatest chance of becoming the second Romanian unicorn after UiPath.
Beniamin Mincu – Founder of Elrond, on the Romanian support: "We have a very active community of people in Romania who have invested different amounts, supported us over time, and been there for important events or things. We are happy for their support and at the same time, we believe that they have understood some very important things. If we look into the future, it is clear that blockchain technology will not only not disappear, but together with cryptocurrencies it will find more and more application and use in the economy. Therefore, I think it is a very wise decision for anyone who has some wealth to store some of it in this technology, just as they would store it in gold or in an extremely promising material that brings with it some properties that were impossible until a few years ago. "
eMAG is a Romanian company owned by Naspers that engages in the online sale of IT appliances and components, electronics, home appliances, personal care items, automotive products, sporting goods, books, music, movies, furniture and household products, as well as gardening, pet supplies, children's items and toys. In July 2012, Naspers, a South African investment fund with annual sales of over $5 billion in the media, e-commerce and Internet sectors, acquires 70% of eMag shares, while Iulian Stanciu remains CEO of the company.
Iulian Stanciu – Founder of EMAG, on continuous learning: "Learn, read, take courses. The scale of knowledge has greatly evolved. You can not achieve much by studying just in college. You have to learn throughout your life to differentiate yourself, otherwise, you are just selling your work. Agility, constant adaptation and continuous investment are very important. There is no comfort zone. If you stop investing, you will go under. The competition is extraordinary."
FintechOS is on a mission to transform how people engage with the everyday services they need. Launched in 2017, FintechOS has built a low-code platform aimed at larger banking and insurance companies to help them build new services and analytics on top of and around their existing infrastructure. The startup has raised in April 2021 €51 million in a Series B round of funding, at a valuation of $220 million. More than 40 institutions run on FintechOS, including Eerste Bank, Societe Generale, Scotia bank, Hyperion Insurance Group, Vienna Insurance Group and many more.
Sergiu Neguț - Founder of FintechOS, on business: "I believe that business is a craft, not a science and that there is great economic value in summarising the academic knowledge required for a bachelor's degree with a method that is well-known in countries where economic education is better rated than in Romania. At the same time, we combine this with the experience of companies built locally, in Romania, by Romanians, for the Romanian market. It makes a difference if we learn business to write an essay for a subject or if we learn to run a successful business, ours or those who hire us are two complementary paradigms."
Fortech is one of the largest software service providers in the Transylvania region, with regional offices in Iasi, Oradea and Brasov and a number of 1000 employees and cooperation partners. Thanks to its continuous activity over the last 18 years, the company enjoys the recognition of IAOP, EY, Forbes and has been repeatedly included in the top list of Deloitte, which lists the fastest-growing companies in Central and Eastern Europe. Recently, Fortech was included by Bosch in the list of preferred suppliers worldwide.
Calin Vaduva – Founder of Fortech, on trust: "With some of the shareholders, we founded Fortech. Those who claim they knew in advance what to do and how to do it, that they learned it from books or on TV are wrong. It's just a good feeling, a lot of work and perseverance. [...] The hardest part was overcoming the preconceptions that you can not trust someone in Romania. But I had some relationships that I maintained, people who knew and appreciated me. Problems always pop up, but we managed to find solutions. It was a time of organized and persistent execution. I have an exceptional team that I have always trusted and they have not let me down. "
GloriaFood is a Romania-based startup that has developed a SaaS platform: a holistic online ordering solution that allows restaurants to easily create websites, branded mobile apps, order menus and accept online payments.
GloriaFood was founded in 2013 by German entrepreneur Oliver Auerbach and Romanian entrepreneur Mihai Anghel. The startup is present in more than 150 countries and serves more than 22,000 restaurants. US multinational computer company Oracle acquired Romanian startup GloriaFood in 2021.
Oliver Auerbach, founder of GloriaFood, on launching a business in Romania: “_For us, Romania is home. Bucharest is one of the most suitable places to found an IT start-up, there are specialists and the necessary infrastructure. As far as bureaucracy is concerned, it is relatively easy to start a business in Romania. I can not say that we have exceptional tax opportunities or entrepreneurial drive, but it's not bad either._”
Alexandru Costin - Founder of InterAKT, on what makes Romanians stand out from the crowd: “_Statistics show that intelligence is roughly equally distributed around the world. Contrary to popular belief, Romanians are not smarter. We had a very strict education system that produced very good professionals. Intelligence is evenly distributed everywhere, but our population of 20 million is incomparably smaller than that of India or China. We have strengths. Romanians are hardworking, want to stand out and impress. I try to inspire by example, and the Romanian campus has a reputation for people striving to find unconventional solutions. I believe that all Romanians have this urge to do more, to give more than is asked of them._”
LiveRail (acquired by Facebook in 2014)
Founded in 2007 by Sergiu Biris and Andrei Dunca, along with Mark Trefgarne, LiveRail is known in the ad tech industry as a platform for video deals. It helped publishers make money from their videos by matching them with advertisers through an automated bidding process. LiveRail helped publishers sell their ad space to the highest bidder and provided analytics to optimize ad performance. In 2014, Facebook bought LiveRail, a video ad sales company founded in Romania in 2007, for an estimated $400-500 million.
Sergiu Biris - Founder of LiveRail, on moving to another country and entrepreneurship: “I never had the need and was not attracted by the idea of going to another country. I see many opportunities in Romania and in the development of a global company that has grown here locally.
_My advice to entrepreneurs is: get rid of your job now. That is the first step. Second, forget about having large sums of money. It does not work that way. You need good people who are committed to the business. I believe in this idea - everyone has a small stake in the business. A simple idea has no value. An idea that is put into practice is valuable. And if you fail, it does not matter, keep going!_”
Mondly is an EdTech company developing a freemium language-learning platform that includes a website and apps with free and paid courses for 33 languages. The company also offers virtual and augmented reality courses. Mondly was founded at the end of 2013 by Alexandru Iliescu and Tudor Iliescu, graduates of the Transilvania University of Brașov.
Alexandru Iliescu - Founder of Mondly, on business patience and giving something back: “Having little money may make life difficult at first, but it will be a priceless time to look back on. Later, when you have to manage bigger budgets, you'll already know how to make the most of every penny. No one is saying how much fun it will be.
The most rewarding part happened in stages. At first, we were happy that people had downloaded the app and liked it. Then we slowly realised that our product was actually changing people's lives. We have hundreds of thousands of success stories in our 1,000,000 reviews. The third stage is the growing team that succeeds in making the impossible possible, and the fourth is that you can make a difference in your country and your hometown.”
Founded in 2018, MorphL specializes in predicting customer behavior on e-commerce websites and offers several ML models that enable personalized recommendations, related products, and more. MorphL, a Google Digital News Initiative-funded startup, has developed a new suite of API-based artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) models that enable developers, data scientists and marketers to predict user intent, personalize online experiences and create targeted offers.
Ciprian Borodescu – Founder of MorphL, on the stoic take on business: “As someone said to me - 'you were lucky, but luck caught you at work'. Somehow, sometimes you forget about these aspects when you are in this whirlpool of things, where there is a lot of excitement and also fear - but what kept us going was the confidence that at a certain moment we can achieve such success.
All we control is the beginnings of things. The way we start and we control our first move.
_We can make the pitch, but fortune controls whether it’s accepted. We can plan the trip, but not when or if we arrive. This Stoic tenet inspires me and the entire team to do our very best each day and balance focus with leaving the door open for opportunities to surprise and delight us._”
RAV Antivirus was founded in 1994 to primarily meet the growing security needs of internet service providers and Linux users. Within just a few years of its inception, RAV established an impressive global presence and became the anti-virus of choice for millions of users worldwide. RAV’s state-of-art technology and development talent attracted the attention of Microsoft which was scouting for the appropriate technology and team to launch its security initiatives. In mid-2003, RAV’s technology and development team was acquired by Microsoft in a transaction that made headlines in the technology space and firmly positioned Gecad as a major international technology company.
Radu Georgescu – Founder of RAV Antivirus on the prospects of the Romanian startup ecosystem: “The ecosystem of high-tech startups in Romania is in a very good phase, and the outlook is also optimistic. It has developed tremendously in the last seven years, on the one hand, because of investment funds, and on the other hand because of business angels or people who want to invest in technology.
_People who want to invest in technology have become very important from the generation of entrepreneurs who have already sold a business. There has been a critical mass of technology companies sold that has generated a lot of knowledge, a lot of networks and money among the founders, the entrepreneurs and also the next level of people. That money is flowing back into the system._”
TypingDNA was launched in 2016 and provides an artificial intelligence-based solution that recognizes users based on the way they type on their keyboards. TypingDNA provides additional security solutions that use the biometric fingerprint of a person's typing style. Simply put, they analyze the way we type to find patterns that then create our own "typing identity." This can be used to replace passwords or strengthen the security of a password. The Romanian startup has received €6.2 million in 2020 funding from Gradient Ventures (Google's AI-focused venture fund), Techstars Ventures and Gapminder.
Raul Popa – Founder of TypingDNA on developing new technologies: “I think I have always had the mind of an entrepreneur. TypingDNA was born from a seed planted almost 15 years ago when I learned that you can learn a lot about someone by analysing their handwriting. A few years later, I came across some interesting research projects that confirmed my initial thoughts about typing. Cristian Tamas and Adrian Gheara were instrumental in turning it into something of real commercial value.
It’s important to get a first client that’s willing to test your newly developed technology. It’s especially valuable if they’re widely known, and in the e-learning space, they’re one of the best-known players. We practically got to the biggest ones, they were willing to test it, and we got our first paying client.”
uberVU is a global technology company that provides social media marketing solutions. The company is developing a SaaS-based app designed to make the lives of social media marketers easier by combining powerful monitoring capabilities, smart data analytics, and elegant reporting features to display insights such as influencers, stories, and trends in one easy-to-use dashboard.
uberVU, now a subsidiary of HootSuite, was founded in January 2008 by Dan Ciotu, Dragos Ilinca and Vladimir Oane in Cambridge, United States.
Vladimir Oane, co-founder of uberVU, on mentors: "Unlimited access to information can turn any holy monster into a mentor. We can study the life of Edison in detail, tons have been written about Steve Jobs, we can watch all of Feynman's lectures online, and they are an inexhaustible source of information and inspiration. This source of information from books and movies was the most important influence for me.
Radu Georgescu sparked my interest in entrepreneurship when I was a first year student at the Polytechnic. Vlad Stan explained to me for the first time the concepts of ethics and collaboration between founders. These are just two examples that come to mind, and I can probably find inspiration in many heroes of the local tech market."
UiPath is an American global software company for robotic process automation (RPA) founded in Romania by Daniel Dines and Marius Tîrcă and headquartered in New York City. The company's software monitors user activity to automate repetitive front and back-office tasks, including those performed using other business software such as customer relationship management or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. In December 2020, the company filed confidentially for an initial public offering and became public on April 21, 2021.
Daniel Dines - Founder of UiPath, on the talent pools of Romania: "Romania is one of our most important talent pools and remains a key market for our development teams, along with India and the United States. Even though UiPath is now a multinational company, I am proud of our Romanian heritage and the way the country has developed over the last two decades. It has become a major technology hub, producing some of the best talent in the world."
Vector Watch (aquired by Fitbit in 2017)
Vector — a smartwatch with an e-ink LCD screen — broke the mold with 30-day battery life and a smartphone control app that worked across iOS, Android and Windows phones. It also created its own smartwatch operating system, and released an API to developers, allowing them to create their own apps and faces for the watch.
Launched by Pitis, and based out of Romania, Vector was in stealth for two years prior to launch last year, powered by only a $2 million seed round from the Gecad fund. Pitis was formerly an angel investor in Clevertaxi and I-Rewind, and co-founder with Bogdan Iordache of Tech Angels and Innovation Labs in Bucharest.
Andrei Pitis – Founder of Vector Watch, on the vulnerabilities of the Romanian ecosystem: “The general problem of the Romanian ecosystem and entrepreneur is the lack of courage and opportunities. Many come up with ideas that are only applicable in the Romanian market, which they say could be applicable in other markets, without looking.
They say that if they succeed here, they will surely succeed in another country. They are not. They have to go the other way, look in England and then in Romania if they want to start in another country. But they just do not trust them because they can and do see the problems very locally.
_That's not to say that there are not local problems that need to be solved. But the users and the international market are so big and you can add value to customers from all over the world with a Romanian startup and it's really worth trying._”
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