Photo credit: Mina Nacheva

published 11 Nov 2013 by Mircea Goia 6 minutes 32 seconds to read

The Romanian startup scene - yesterday and today

It's been six years since I last did an evaluation of the Romanian tech startup scene and boy, did it grow in the meantime! Some startups I presented there are not relevant anymore (and some have closed shops). But a whole new round of startups has emerged and they continue to grow.

Romanian startups guest post Mircea Goia Romanian Week series

It's been six years since I last did an evaluation of the Romanian tech startup scene and boy, did it grow in the meantime! Some startups I presented there are not relevant anymore (and some have closed shops). But a whole new round of startups has emerged and they continue to grow.

Spending too much time on Google for my first article I thought it would be better to just have a central place where all Romanian startups are gathered, along with their founders and, on top of that, together with events and accelerators/incubators. This is how the idea of RomanianStartups.com came about.

As of today, RomanianStartups.com amasses 139 startups, 286 founders, 24 events and 2 accelerators/incubators. It's a far cry from about 15-20 startups, which I managed to find in 2007 and not all of the actual startups in Romania are in this newly built database.

The hub for Romanian startups is, obviously, the capital – Bucharest. The second place has to go to Cluj-Napoca in the heart of Transylvania and the third  - Timisoara (in the West of Romania).

In contrast to 2007, the Internet penetration among the population has more than doubled, from about 5 million to 10-12 million people, which makes up 45% of the total population and the broadband connection, almost 30% lower than the European average (in 2007) made big progress in speed, propelling the country among the top 5 in the world and the second in Europe (averaging 37 Mbps download speed, with peaks jumping over 100 Mbps).

Coupled with the engineering tradition in the country and with more openness of the tech sector, Romania has seen an increase in the number of tech startups.

The established players

One of the largest companies that has emerged and evolved in the last 6-7 years was Avangate and its founder, Radu Georgescu. Avangate was launched in 2006 as an online payment service, which grew to over 3.000 corporate customers in 2013 and was sold just recently to Silicon Valley's Francisco Partners.

Radu Georgescu is one of the most accomplished tech startup founders in Romania at this time. Before selling Avangate, he sold RAV (Romanian AntiVirus) - the #2 antivirus software in Romania - to no other than Microsoft (which incorporated it in its products in 2004). He also sold ePayment.ro, an electronic software distribution platform, to Allegro/Naspers.

Many young Romanian entrepreneurs have followed his lead. uberVU.com, a social media analytics and engagement platform, founded in 2008 by Vladimir Oane, Dragos Ilinca and Dan Ciotu is extending its headquarters to London and the US.

And they are not alone.

More recently, Anymeeting.com was founded in Los Angeles by Romanian entrepreneur, Costin Tuculescu, and is already giving a headache to giant web conferencing companies.

Mavenhut.com - a Facebook gaming startup founded by Bobby Voicu, Cristi Badea and Elvis Apostol with headquarters in Ireland and Bucharest is making a splash in the industry by having a game title in the Top 100 Top Grossing Apps on Facebook.

Although not well known, Liverail.com (co-founded by one of the founders of Trilulilu.ro – the Romanian Youtube, Andrei Dunca) is competing with the big boys when it comes to video advertising, having Sony Pictures, CBS, Cnet, Zynga sau Electronic Arts as customers and being ahead of Hulu, Tubemogul, AOL in video ads serving. In this area, another established Romanian startup is making waves: Brainient.com (founded by Emi Gal).

Wufoo may be better known in the online world of form builders, but the Romanian startup 123ContactForm.com (founders: Tudor Bastea and Florin Cornianu) is a strong competition for them.

If Romania has already a Youtube-like service called Trilulilu.ro, it also has a Pandora-like service and it’s name is Zonga.ro. Zonga is a Trilulilu project launched in 2012.

Accounting went to the cloud too, so there’s Smart Bill, for example, which already has thousands of customers in Romania.

If you are in a need of a taxi service CleverTaxi.com can help you find a cab around the world. This service is a result of one Startup Weekend, held in Bucharest in 2010.

Freshome.com is one of the most known publications in the world related to architecture (founder Cristian Mihai Micle).

The newcomers

Among these established startups, the newcomers are hurdling in. Some of them are:

  • Splinter.me  (resume builder for designers and developers) – founder: Adelina Peltea
  • Monitor Backlinks (backlink monitoring for SEO) – founder: Razvan Girmacea
  • Omnipaste (copy & paste between your devices) – founders: Ciprian Stavar, Alexandru Calinoiu, Adrian Nistor
  • Squirrly (content marketing for SEO) – founders: Florin Muresan, Calin Vingan
  • Green Horse Games (the makers of the Carscup game) – founders: George Lemnaru, Alex Stroe
  • RenderStreet (render farm for Blender) -  founders: Sorin Vinatoru, Marius Iatan
  • Gameleon (game tools maker) – founders: Adrian Calotescu, Mihaela Epuran, Victor Popescu, Vlad Alexandru Radu
  • Rently (helps you find your dream apartment quickly and easily) – founders: Dumitru Sirbu, Catalin Pintea, Felix Kerekes, Gabi Nagy
  • TheShopPage (making Facebook stores beautiful) – founder: Iulian Dragan
  • Tastytrip (experiencing traditional food of foreign countries) – founders: Sorin Buiac, Dragos Rus
  • Appscend (all-in-one mobile application platform) – founders: Sebastian Vaduva, Gabriel Dobocan, Andrei Marinescu
  • CrestemIdei (a Romanian version of Kickstarter) – founders: Catalina Amihaiesi, Judit Katona, Oana Man

And many others…

The investors

One thing Romania doesn't yet have are startup accelerators/incubators like those in United States (YCombinator, Techstars, 500startups). As a result, some startups are trying to get accelerated/incubated somewhere else in the region, like Bulgaria – Eleven and LAUNCHub have already funded several Romanian startups: txtFeedback.net, Gameleon.co, UseTogether.com, KeenSkim.com, Quizens.com. Other accelerators where Romanian startups were present are Seedcamp, Startupbootcamp, Startup Chile, Oxygen, Ignite100, Springboard, Bootup Labs, Grow Labs, Rockstart, HealthBox, Mozilla WebFWD, Selr8r.

But it looks like things are starting to change in this area, too. Recently, two incubators have emerged, although they don’t quite operate like those in Silicon Valley: Gem Foundry (founded by the founders of Gemini Solutions) and Mincubator (founded by the leading Romanian press agency Mediafax Group). They are very new and don't have anything in their portfolios yet.

Geekcelerator, founded by Vlad Stan and Catalina Rusu, is an investing studio (not really an accelerator in the true sense of the word) specifically targeting startups that help other startups through the tools they make. They invest not only in Romanian but also foreign companies.

There is also an interesting project where a Romanian is both a co-founder and COO (Dan Dascalescu), and that is Blueseed.co. This entity would work like an accelerator, but is based on a ship, stationed in international waters and very close to the San Francisco area. Being in international waters means that the founders of startups based on that ship won't require visas to enter the US, and because it's close to the shore, it means the investors can meet them in no time.

There are some angel investors in the country, most notably Radu Georgescu, Andrei Pitis, Lucian Todea in tech, and Bogdan Manoiu and Marius Ghenea in other fields, but their investing activity seems small, at least for now.

There is also some venture capital activity coming from abroad, like 3TS Capital Partners which has invested in Romanian tech startups like Avangate, InternetCorp. Yet, in general, Romania still lacks a strong support of angel and venture capital specifically directed to the tech sector.

Conclusion

Looking back to 2007 and comparing it to 2013, the startup ecosystem in Romania has grown a lot and we expect this trend to fasten its pace as more young people – but not exclusively – become more educated about it. Hopefully, more investors (private and institutional) will enter the game, too.

About the author:
Mircea Goia is a web consultant and web developer, with an interest in entrepreneurship and filmmaking. He was born and raised in Romania, but moved to the US in 2005 where he has been living ever since. Mircea is the face behind the online platform romanianstartups.com.  

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