The startup scene in Romania: €11.3m raised & €72m in exits in 2016 alone

This analysis of the Romanian startup ecosystem showcases investments, exits, key startups, founders, and important actors that you need to know if you are or if you are planning to become a startup founder.

Additionally, my hope with this document is to create a better positioning of the Romanian startup scene, more transparency within the ecosystem while highlighting the current state and showcasing comparisons between different markets. Consider it a 10-minute crash course on the local tech scene.

Investments

Capital raised in Romania in Q1 2015 — Q1 2017. Find all the companies here.

In comparison with Romania's neighboring countries: in Serbia €1.7m were raised in 2 deals, in Hungary €10.7m in 6 deals and Ukraine €8.2m raised in 19 deals. Bulgaria or Moldova had almost no investment activity last year. The analysis has been built on public data. It is not exhaustive and cannot be considered as such.

Companies that received capital last year in Romania include:

  • Elefant, €5.5m
    Elefant.ro is your family online mall.
  • Omniconvert, €1m
    Omniconvert is a CRO software that can be used for A/B testing, online surveys, traffic segmentation, and web personalization.
  • SmartBill, €1m
    SmartBill is a cloud invoicing software.
  • Smartdreamers, €700k
    SmartDreamers is a recruitment platform that simplifies the connection between growing companies and candidates.
  • SymphoPay, €600k
    SymphoPay connects all payments terminals of a merchant to a central platform transforming them into smart marketing machines.
  • FashionUp, €500k
    FashionUp is an online fashion retailer.
  • Wizmo, €500k
    Wizmo is a new online property platform open to both residential and business segments.
  • Cyberfog, €500k
    Cyberfog is a hardware & software deception technology in the cybersecurity space.
  • Urby, €300k
    Urby delivers your suggestions daily, with stuff to do and places to go in your city.
  • Calendis, €300k
    Calendis is an appointment scheduling tool.
  • ReFlex Help, €200k
    Reflex.help helps patients be healthier with a mobile app dealing with motion detection technology for physiotherapy.
  • ENTy, €50k
    ENTy is a high-tech wearable device that tracks the internal ear's balance and checks the spine posture in real-time. They are the winners of the 2016 Microsoft Imagine Cup competition.
  • InnerTrends, €50k
    InnerTrends is a data analytics tool that helps SaaS companies improve the onboarding experience for new users.
  • uRADMonitor, $33k
    uRADMonitor is a pollution measuring device.
  • 101Trandafiri, $10k
    101Trandafiri focuses on orders of flowers online.
  • TypingDNA, undisclosed
    TypingDNA specializes in typing biometrics research and 2nd-factor authentication.

Although Pegas Bikes, Tracia Caravan, and Noah Watch received an investment last year, they are not in the tech field and will not be counted.

Besides the above mentioned local companies, here are some startups with Romanian founders launched abroad:

  • Databrics [US], $60m
    Databrics is a cloud-based big data processing using Spark.
  • Branch Metrics [US], $35m
    Branch is a deep linking and business analytics platform.
  • Midokura[US], $20m
    Midokura is a Network Virtualization Solution for OpenStack
  • Knotch [US], $10m
    Knotch provides real-time intelligence on branded content.
  • Vector Watch [UK], $5M
    Vector Watch designs and develops wearable technology to simplify lifestyles.
  • BigStep [UK], $2.2m
    Bigstep is a big data platform.
  • StatusToday [UK], $1.3m
    Driving data-driven business decisions through AI.
  • Tidemark [US], undisclosed round.
    Tidemark focuses on corporate performance management software.
  • NutoVox [US], undisclosed round.
    NotoVox develops software for accurate medical coding by medical professionals.
  • Index.io[US], part of YCombinator
    Index listens across all public data for events relating to your live accounts and contacts in Salesforce. When something relevant occurs, it drafts an email for you.

Many other bootstrapped companies are set to flourish soon or are already doing great. For a long time, there has been in Romania a lack of risk capital. The culture of becoming a tech founder was not mainstream due to few role models and success stories. This is about to change as the number of successful exits increases and external capital flows into the country.

The number of tech companies will grow as the possibilities to self-learn how to start a startup, build an app, or a game, while dealing with marketing, computer science, machine learning, electronics, cryptography, self-driving cars, or deep natural language processing are improving. It is also much easier than a decade ago to connect with the ever-growing number of investors and founders that are defining future industries.

The venture firms Catalyst Romania, Gecad Ventures, and 3TS Capital Partners made the large rounds possible. eMag became a corporate investor leading the round in Zitec. In terms of pre-seed, the MVP Academy and Spherik Accelerator helped some of the early-stage deals happen.

In terms of funding by source country, most of the capital came from Romania. However, there are capital inputs from Hungary, Poland, Israel, Austria, and the UK in the above-mentioned startups. A huge amount of work needs to be done here to attract foreign capital into the country.

There is a solid activity in eCommerce, cybersecurity, hardware, games, and marketing as key industries. A new wave of startups are entering the SAAS, fintech, healthcare, agritech, consumer apps, big data, HR, and artificial intelligence industries.

Although there are big players in automotive (Dacia, Ford, Continental, or Daimler) and aerospace (Airbus), new players in these industries are still to emerge. I hope to see some corporate accelerators launch since there is a lot of talent, potential available, and massive history of 100 years behind the aeronautics and automotive industries.

The Coanda- 1910, the world’s first jet aircraft created by Henry Coanda.
Marta Double Phaeton 1910, made in Arad.

Market

Romania has a market that is difficult to ignore. It is the seventh most populated country from the EU, with 19.760m people, 3.9% of the EU's total population, after DE, FR, UK, IT, ES & PL. It has 426.000 active businesses that employ 2.71m professionals. IT firms account for more than 6% of Romania’s GDP. 100.000 engineers are working in outsourcing, 11m internet users, 7.93m smartphone users, and the internet speed ranks #9 globally. On top of these, there are 17.000 startup fans on the Romanian Startups group.

Opportunities have never been greater since the cost of starting a company has been reduced. Rent is cheap, and spaces to lease aren’t hard to find. As the web gets bigger, the world gets smaller, and mobile adoption is exploding. Scaling a company costs money, and traction is the new intellectual property.

With large companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Intel, Google, or Oracle attracting and hiring a large portion of the talent available, in a country where salaries are low, money matters. New international players are like Uber or BlaBlaCar have tapped into the market recently. For sure more will come, and hopefully, they will invest in new entrepreneurial campuses and startups.

According to the 2016 StackOverflow Developer Survey Results, developers value salary in Romania, more than other employee benefits compared to more developed countries.

There are more than 7000 computer scientists that speak English graduating every year from Romanian universities. Romanian students rank very high at international math, science, or IT Olympiads, however, you will not hear about university endowment funds or venture funds yet.

Innovation happens all around the country. These companies are headquartered mainly in Bucharest, Cluj, and Timisoara. There are also companies located in Brasov, Oradea, and Ploiesti. We will hear about them in the future. Some of the rising stars in different locations include:

  • Bucharest. The capital of Romania hosts a lot of activities. Dagadam, an incredibly high-quality smartwatch, or Hubgets an instant communication tool for business are relevant names.
  • Cluj. The hub has about 61 startups, including Parking Plus, a smart parking solution, or moqups a streamlined web app that helps you create and collaborate on wireframes with >1m users. The hub is growing steadily, and a lot of knowledge is shared in the dedicated FB group. And if you are not into startups, you will have a good time at the Untold Festival.
  • Timisoara. In the city, you can identify about 71 tech companies. Symme3d, a multi-functional 3D printing platform is having incredible traction while 123ContactForm makes data gathering as easy as 1–2–3.
  • Brasov. The highlights of this center include Lumma, the premium grips, and lights for bikes, Mondly the app that helps you to learn more languages, Flashnet, a smart city company focused on smart grids and street light management or Sensytouch multi-touch devices are names to watch out. AllView the smartphone producer has seen already seen great progress reaching €60m yearly revenues.
  • Oradea. In the West of Romania, you can meet the Paymo team, which develops a project management tool used worldwide.

As the number of startups in these ecosystems grows, so does their ability to gain a bigger market share. The concentration of talent, capital, startups, companies, and events around these hubs are increasing. These are clear signals of success.

Enrico Moretti, author of The new geography of jobs states that “the knowledge economy has an inherent tendency towards geographical agglomeration. The success of a city fosters more success, as communities that can attract skilled workers and good jobs tend to attract even more.

Venture Capital

Gecad Ventures is committed to supporting early-stage entrepreneurs to achieve their business vision. Their commitment, experience, and perseverance fuelled the creativity of some of the most exciting startups in Europe. They focus primarily on software and hi-tech companies, including FinTech, security software, cloud technologies, eCommerce, and wearable. Gecad Ventures has successfully exited from three of its major investments: Microsoft acquired RAV Antivirus in 2003, ePayment by Naspers in 2010, Avangate in 2013 by Francisco Partners, Axigen by Modulo Consulting in 2014, Coinzone by Coinify in 2015, and Vector Watch by Fitbit in 2016. Radu Georgescu created the fund.

3TS Capital Partners is one of the leading European technology-focused private equity and venture capital firms. 3TS provides expansion capital and buyout funding for small and medium-sized businesses in growth sectors including Technology & Internet, Media & Communications, and Technology-Enabled Services. 3TS investments in Romania include Marketizator, Smart Bill, LogMeIn, Avangate, or Internet Corp. 3TS is administrating as fund manager Catalyst Romania.

Catalyst Romania is a private equity and venture capital fund designed for Romania, initially supported by 3TS Capital Partners. Their portfolio contains 123ContactForm, Elefant, Vola, Simartis, AvocatNet, Vector Watch, or GreenHorseGames. They typically invest in the range of €200,000 to €2 million to support early-stage growth and development. In 2016, Catalyst got the investor of the year recognition at the Central European Awards and invested in 5 companies: SmartBill, Omniconvert, Vector Watch, SmartDreamers, and Elefant. Marius Ghenea is the partner at Catalyst.

Earlybird is a venture capital investor focused on European technology companies. Founded in 1997, Earlybird invests in all growth and development phases of a company. Amongst the most experienced venture investors in Europe Earlybird offers its portfolio companies financial resources and strategic and operational support and access to an international network and capital markets. Their investments in Romania include dcs plus, TJobs, or UiPath (co-investment together with Credo and Seedcamp). A key partner is Dan Lupu.

International investment firms like Accel and Atomico have now in their teams' Romanian professionals such as Luciana Lixandru, Andrei Brasoveanu, and Elena Mustatea.

Seed programs

MVP Academy acceleration program supports exceptional founding teams to define their product and go-to-market strategy, build their team, generate early traction, and obtain pre-seed or seed financing. Alumni’s include: InnerTrends, ReflexHelp, TypingDNA, SafeDrive, or Axosuits. Bogdan Iordache, Mircea Vadan, and Daniel Dragomir can guide you on being part of the next program. They have just announced the finalists for their latest batch.

RiskyBusiness is a new acceleration fund located in Cluj that is targeted towards pre-seed support, and an innovative step forward in supporting the growth and sustaining of Romanian startups. Jennifer Austin leads the program.

Spherik Accelerator is not just a business accelerator, but a community for tech startups. The program supported firms like Printivate, Primul Medic, or Planable. Located in Cluj within the Liberty Technology Park, startups grow side by side SMEs and large multinational firms, exchanging culture, ideas, and fostering innovation.

Carbon supports indies so that they have their breakthrough in the world of gaming. Link Twin and Tap Busters are two projects they are incubating.

Innovation Labs is a pre-acceleration program for students and young professionals that want to build successful tech startups.

RICAP helps innovators in Romania unlock the business potential of their technologies and take them to international markets.

Romanian founders have also been accepted to programs like StartupBootCamp such as Woogie, Hub:Raum where companies like CTF365 or DeviceHub participated, or Highway1 where Lampix got selected. Hopefully, these accelerators or others like Techstars or EntrepreneurFirst will open one local branch in the future.

Angels

In terms of angel investing Dan Calugareanu (Axosuits, CyberSwarm, DCommander, InnerTrends, bookblog), Adrian Gheara (Axosuits, TypingDNA, 123ContactForm), Andrei Pitis (Clevertaxi) or Malin Stefanescu (Greenhorse Games, Smartdreamers) are some of the names to know. They have seen some interesting opportunities at the post-seed, pre-A level. They are part of the TechAngels group.

“Romanian startups seem to tackle more ambitious projects than before, moving beyond outsourcing or cloning international projects locally. I finally see those “impossible projects” and the entrepreneurs crazy enough to pursue them getting financed by local investors. There is still a gap in the financing, between the angels and series-A it’s still hard to find financing, but I’m sure this will correct soon, as money always follows the talent.” Adrian Gheara, Tech Startups Advisor & Investor

Crowdfunding platforms

Kickstarter and Indiegogo helped Romanian founders to launch new games or hardware products:

  • uRADMonitor, a pollution measuring device raised $33k,
  • Gibbou Cthulhu Adventure got €50k,
  • The award-winning Lumma bike grips and lights raised $67k.
  • NSKN Games succeeded for a series of board games: Mistfall: Heart of the Mists $134k, Simurg 88k, Shadowscape $89k, In the Name of Odin $84k, and they just ended a campaign for Exodus: Event Horizon $70k.
  • Sand Sailor Studio got £28k for Black The Fall game.

Although operating abroad, Jooki the Jukeboks for kids raised $66k, THINO a device to charge your phone got 33k, and FLARE the smart home security system got $265k. In 2015, Andrei Chivote Amărășteanu raised $1.3M with Lampster while Antonio Meze also had a successful campaign with Meze Headphones raising $50k. Hopefully, the Romanian tech startups will soon tap into Equity crowdfunding and start raising >€1m rounds.

App economy

Romanians started to build strong apps that get millions of downloads. Mondly languages is an app that offers 34 languages in 500 bite-size lessons and 14 conversational modules. Redraw, an app that has gathered more than 6.5 million users, with close to 600,000 of those using it every day, gives extra powers to your keyboard.

Conferences

The best way to meet the founders that are building the Romanian champions of tomorrow is to attend HowToWeb in Bucharest, TechSylvania in Cluj or specialized conferences like Dev-Play focused on game development.

In the clip below you can watch Robert Knapp, a native German, founder of CyberGhost explaining the advantages of creating a company in Romania:

Robert Knapp, CEO CyberGhost at How To Web conference in Bucharest

Bucharest is seeing traction in terms of meetups and tech communities, as spotted in the State of European Tech by Atomico and Slush. And this means that talent is hungry for education in innovative topics.

Bucharest saw an increase of 96% in the number of tech meetup groups from 46 to 90 last year.
In Bucharest, there is an increase of 93% in the number of participants at tech meetups from 2015 to 2016.

Competitions

Startarium, the city of entrepreneurs, was a great opportunity for 80 startups to pitch while raising awareness of the new generations of entrepreneurs. The winner team was Tracia Caravan, a new tourist and caravan factory.

Tracia Caravan

Innovation Labs is the mentorship and training program for young people passionate about creative technologies and entrepreneurship. Last year's program winners include uRADMonitor a pollution tracker product, or ENTy a high-tech medical device.

uRadMonitor Environmental Device

Startup Spotlight — brought 50 startups from Europe to attend tailored mentoring sessions and pitch at HowToWeb conference. Winners include SafeDrive, ENTy, or Symme3D.

Startup Avalanche from Techsylvania offers a very cool place where innovation gets showcased and wins a trip to Silicon Valley. The winner from last year is Planable.

Coworking spaces

You just spotted some signals of success with your new project. Maybe it’s time to move to a more collaborative space, where you can get honest feedback from other folks like you. You should check TechHub, Impact HUB in Bucharest, or ClujHUB in the second biggest startup city. Many others launched across the country that you should check. If you are a designer, architect, or maker you should visit NodMakerSpace.

Media

Not enough publications cover the Romanian tech scene, however, you can find out the latest innovations on start-ups.ro and Startupcafe.ro in Romanian language or tech.eu, 150Sec, and Goaleurope in English.

Exits

  • Provus Group was acquired by Wirecard [DE] for €32m
    Provus is a payment processing company.
  • TotalSoft by LogoSoftware [TR] — a €30m exit
    Totalsoft is designing, implementing, and outsourcing IT solutions.
  • Imobiliare by Ringier [CH] for €10m, following the acquisition of eJobs
    Imobiliare is an online real estate marketplace.
  • Printivate by 3D Hubs [NL]
    Printivate automatically optimizing your 3D models for 3D printing.
  • Netcity Telecom by DirectOne [RO]
    The operator of the underground fiber-optic infrastructure network of Bucharest
  • Inotec by Zitec [RO]
    Inotec provides marketing, design, and development services.
  • Noriel by Enterprise investors [PL]
    Noriel is a leader in the toy market and baby products.
  • PCGarage by Emag (following the acquisition of FashionDays)
    PCGarage is an online IT&C marketplace.
  • Smartree by Cylatrea Investments [CY]
    Smartree offers Payroll and HR Software.
  • Click4Fashion by FashionUP [RO]
    Click4Fashion is your new online fashion store.
  • Freshome exit to Soda.com [US]
    Freshome is an online magazine focused on interior design and architecture.
  • Kepler Rominfo by Alten[FR]
    Kepler Romainfo is a Romanian IT company providing software services.
  • Ascendia went IPO (€3.9m market cap), after the debut of Bittnet (€5m market cap) in 2015 on AeRO*.
    Ascendia operates in the field of eLearning since 2007.

According to tech.eu, in Europe, there were 658 tech exits worth €160 billion (venture or non-venture backed companies, plus IPOs). The full list of Romanian exits is available here.

“Romanian IT industry has come of age and should step off the “outsourcing plate” where the added value of the local talent is usually bought cheap, packaged nicely, and sold by others elsewhere at a higher price. The Romanian creative industry must emancipate and promote its own ideas and solutions directly to the world. Maybe we lack the courage yet, however this can be cultivated through “Indigenous” success stories.” Valentin Muresan, co-founder of Movidius a mobile vision processor company that got acquired by Intel.

Another three important exits of startups founded by Romanians are Vector Watch to Fitbit, and Brainient to Teads in the UK, TalentBuddy to Udemy in Canada, and Movidius to Intel in Ireland. These exits are unlocking new opportunities for the founders to become angel investors or LPs in various funds such as Bobby Voicu for SOSV or Andrei Dunca and Sergiu Biris (two co-founders of LiveRail that got acquired by Facebook) for Risky Business, while early employees to become the founders of the startups of tomorrow.

Romania is well known for its IT business, however, the prevalent thinking is to build everything internally. Because of the dynamics of the tech market, enterprises should consider seriously M&A strategies to attract more opportunities while expanding in more markets and industries. Some companies started this already: BitDefender purchased French company Profil Technology and Qualitance acquired San Francisco-based LaunchPodium.

These exits are a testament to the increasing interest and confidence of investors in Romanian startups.

*AeRO — the Alternative exchange in Romania — is the equities market segment of the Bucharest Stock Exchange Alternative Trading System (ATS). AeRO is designed to list early-stage companies such as start-ups and SMEs that are looking to finance their projects, growth stories, increase their visibility, and contribute to the development of the business environment. AeRO was launched on February 25th, 2015. It was established by the Bucharest Stock Exchange to provide a market with less reporting obligations for the listed companies, but at the same time with sufficient transparency for investors to motivate them to trade.

To understand the roots of two of the most successful Romanian tech stories, I include two interviews to inspire you further. Bitdefender is the most efficient antivirus available today worldwide and Emag becomes one of the biggest online retailers in South-Eastern Europe. Success takes time and a lot of work as both companies were started in 2001.

The Bitdefender journey, shared by the CEO, Florin Talpes
The eMag story shared by its CEO, Iulian Stanciu

There is no wonder that the first or second generation of Romanian immigrants had a huge impact abroad. Names like Eduardo Saverin (co-founder Facebook), David Markus (VP, Messaging Products, Facebook, former President of Paypal), Safra Catz (CEO, Oracle), or natives like Laszlo Bock are crusaders of the global tech industry.

Conclusion

Will 2017 be a better year? It started with Zitec raising €1.7m, however, more effort needs to be made to stimulate the startup culture, the availability of early and growth-stage capital, and the involvement of large enterprises.

The Romanian startup ecosystem will grow, the uncertainty is the speed at which it does. There is still a long way to go in assuring a flourishing environment. A proactive approach by all the local actors is encouraging for the future.

Will we see the first investment round greater than €10m this year or a €1B exit in five years in tech? It is possible. Now it is the best time to start building your startup and start investing within the country. It will encourage new talented people to start their own projects, and investors to take advantage of the current opportunities and the ecosystem to grow faster.

Many professionals helped with putting this analysis together. I would like to thank you all, especially Yoram Wijngaarde and Julien Puls from Dealroom, to track all the rounds, Tom Wehmeier from Atomico for editorial advice, and Vlad Andriescu from Start-up.ro for constantly publishing good stories about Romanian founders on his blog.

Policy maker and entrepreneur creating value by approaching problems from an interdisciplinary perspective using new technologies.