Zooming in: The Slovak startup scene
Slovakia may not be Silicon Valley, but one thing can be said for sure – the potential of the local entrepreneurs is enormous. Bratislava, in particular, has a very vibrant startup ecosystem with major players supporting the creation and also growth of startups from all over the country. It’s also good to see the first success stories of the new ecosystem emerge and shine light for the newcomers.
A short walk down history lane
In the last four years, Slovakia has seen a rise of new organisations and initiatives oriented towards startups and entrepreneurs. It all started in 2010 with once very popular monthly meetups called Startupcamps where entrepreneurs, investors, event organisers and everybody in the startup ecosystem got together, drank beer and networked. Once the ecosystem started to expand, the first Startup Weekend Bratislava was held in 2011 and also the first Startup Awards, “the Oscars for startups”, followed shortly after, in November. In 2012, things started to really move. The Slovak government sent eight startup teams to Silicon Valley for acceleration; the first creative space for startups to network, educate, work and mingle called The Spot opened doors, followed by Connect, the first coworking space, in the fall of that year. Mozgohouse.sk (now Brainhouse.sk), a tech cowork/accelerator opened its doors, too.
. Only a few months ago, a successful startup consulting firm announced that they are opening a big startup venture fund called Neulogy Ventures that is starting to invest in their first startups right about now. Also, the government started to support the innovation and entrepreneurial efforts in Slovakia, for example by opening a state venture fund – the Fund of Innovation and Technologies (FIT).
In Slovakia, there are a number of entrepreneurs that are doing awesome work building world-class businesses. To name a few:
The biggest success story is ESET, major antivirus software that made it big some ten years ago when Anton Zajac opened its US sales offices and the team started selling worldwide. The company is still privately held, employing thousands and going strong. Anton Zajac is also becoming active in the Slovak startup ecosystem, supporting younger entrepreneurs and organisations involved with startups.
Michal Stencl managed to build amazing navigation software called Sygic that competes head to head with major worldwide players. Currently installed on millions of machines, employing more than 150 people and building new products to their line, Sygic is an example of how great execution brings great results.
Slovakia is also strong in game development, and the founders of Pixel Federation are an example of it. Filip Fisher and Simon Sicko currently employ over 100 people, have millions of users and have so far built three successful Facebook games – Trainstation, Emporea and Diggy Adventure.
WebSupport is also crushing it. Not only are they the biggest web hosting company in Slovakia, but they won at the Startup Awards 2011 with Nicereply.com and last year again with their other spinoff inHiro.com. Their founder Michal Truban is a supporter of the ecosystem and he is currently working on another startup that is still in stealth mode.
The Czech-Slovak team of Pavel Serbajlo and Dominik Balogh founded their startup M.Dot directly in Silicon Valley and managed to sell it goDaddy for over 15 million dollars in fewer than 12 months (read inventures’ coverage on them here). They are currently working with goDaddy and help startups that are new to the Silicon Valley area.
The Belgo-Slovak team of Vincent Touquet, Andrej Mosat (2012 StartupAwards.sk winners) and Alexander Krisko raised a six figures seed round for Vestigen, a personal diagnostics biotech startup, from GRID Investments. These guys are also behind Myspectral, whose Spectruino is currently flying in space with Nanosatisfi.
The founder of Synopsi.tv, Rasto Turek is no newbie to the Valley either. His movie recommendation startup is used among others by HBO; he is running his business and operations activities out of San Francisco, but has his development back in Bratislava.
Quality Unit has been flying under the radar more or less, but their affiliate marketing software Post Affiliate Pro is being used by tens of thousands of merchants worldwide making them number one or two on the market. Currently, they are trying to build their other product, customer support management software called Live Agent.
On the other hand, Datamolino has received a lot of media attention lately (including on inventures – here), as they recently graduated from the Wayra accelerator in Prague and announced a seed round of 500.000 euros. With Datamolino, founders Andrej Glezl and Jan Korecky are aiming to fix the hurdle of entering data into your accounting software from your invoices.
The conference communication tool Sli.do (catch up on them here), founded by Peter Komornik, won the Best New Event Tech Startup 2013 and has made news lately, as they launched the first Google Glass app for conference moderators and speakers.
Interesting to watch is also Aeromobil. A “flying car” that perfectly makes use of existing infrastructure created for automobiles and planes, and opens doors to real door-to-door travel. Founder Štefan Klein has devoted the last 20 years into making his dream come true. It is a dream that only few people believed in.
There are a number of other noteworthy startups that you can catch up on a little later this week, so stay tuned.
Apart from the successful entrepreneurs that are supporting the ecosystem, these guys are doing amazing work for it from their companies and organisations:
People like Michal Maxian (Startup Weekend), Vlado Vaco (Connect Co-working), Marek Kuzma (Startupcamp), Radovan Grezo (Startupcamp) and Juraj Kavecky (VTP Zilina) have been with the ecosystem from the beginnings.
It’s not that hard to start a project/startup in Slovakia, everybody speaks good English, Slovakia is part of the eurozone, has a somewhat of a stable economy and a lot of great tech talent. The good news is that it’s too small to launch a product for the local market so entrepreneurs think globally. The bad news is that there is still a lack of skilled business founders, entrepreneurs with the knowledge how to market online and sell B2B or B2C internationally, and we could also use some more attention from the officials.
Thankfully, organisations like SAPIE (Slovak Alliance for Internet Economy with their governmental discussions), The Spot (with their educational and matchmaking programmes), Startup Awards (with their promotional efforts) and a lot of others are working on making the Slovak ecosystem better, step by step, day by day.
Photo credit: Facebook, Matej FtacnikMatej Ftacnik is the co-founder of The Spot and as a founding member of Startupcamps, he has been involved with the Slovak startup scene for quite some time. Asthe winner of the 2011 Startup Awards, he traveled with nicereply.com to Silicon Valley, where he later also worked with Quality Unit. Currently, he is fully focused on The Spot and helping startups with biz dev, sales and distribution.