Vietnam has a huge young population that is very active on internet, mobile and with highly national enthusiasm for technology, startups and entrepreneurship, and as a result, vietnamese startup ecosystem is rapidly growing in cities like Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Da Nang, aiming to become a modern industrialized state by 2020.
In order to achieve that, the national government has planned to develop a functioning national innovation system, fostering its startup ecosystem and supporting the growth of innovation via Startups and SME's. The project has set the following targets for 2020:
Complete the main legal framework for a startup ecosystem; run an online portal for the National Innovative Startup Ecosystem; support about 800 startup projects and 200 startup enterprises, of which 50 will raise follow-on investment from private venture investors or will undergo mergers and acquisitions worth about 1 trillion VND (about 50 million USD). By 2025, the project is expected to have supported 2,000 startup projects and 600 startup enterprises, of which 100 will have raised follow-on investment from private venture investors, or will have undergone mergers and acquisitions worth about 2 trillion VND.
One key actor to support these goals is the Innovation Partnership Program (IPP), that is an Official Development Assistance (ODA) program financed jointly by the Governments of Vietnam and Finland. IPP has been supporting the project draft “National Program to Support Innovative Startup Ecosystem in Vietnam by the year 2025” by working with policymakers.
One of the identified top priorities along with the national government is to get in place a solution to enhance partnering, online information sharing, matchmaking, communication and benchmarking to mention. All of this should be done in a global context reaching out international innovation and startup networks.
Problem to solve
One of the key challenges in this work is to maintain a holistic picture of the constantly developing and evolving ecosystem and measure the results of different actions and sub projects and to share these openly for the benefit of everyone in the ecosystem.
Digital online services and solutions play a key role in scaling knowledge sharing and training functions, as well as to increase reach, accessibility and transparency of many of these service functions. Several actors within the ecosystem have identified online solutions as important element to bring reach, efficiency and scale to their services and for most basic online tools, like newsletters, event management, community management, application management, CRM etc. are crucial part of their basic operations. At the same time new talent, potential innovative startups, business angels, mentors, etc. are expecting to get all relevant information online and on time.
Due there is usually no single enabling or coordinating party taking holistic responsibility of the complex digital and online aspect of the ecosystem connectivity and development, the digital aspect of the ecosystem thinking and development leds this key dimension to be overlooked, and as a result, online presence and functions remain disconnected and siloed within the ecosystem. It’s also common that this problem is usually identified only at much later stage of the ecosystem maturity. After the ecosystem thinking have already spread in other cooperative levels and cooperative activities have really started to work, as that is the natural time when the sharing of the information related to mutual coordination, connecting service processes etc. are happening. At that point the problem with disconnected services and processes starts to be identified, along with realization to start harmonizing terminology and KPI’s of similar service functions across startup development phases.
Also typically at later ecosystem maturity level, it becomes more difficult to start replacing and connecting various existing digital tools, due software limitations, software license agreements in place, wanting to use familiar tools already in use etc., than it would be to have been able to start this connectivity thinking at the earlier ecosystem maturity level.
When the online and digital tools are considered and designed with more holistic ecosystem thinking and implemented and coordinated alongside with other ecosystem enabling and development actions, it is possible to avoid facing many of the problems later on and instead use the digital side to speed up the ecosystem development - and best scenario, to help a new or early maturity ecosystem to “skip ahead” several years of development.
Startup Commons team, due to our proven international track record on startup ecosystem development, supporting tools and holistic digital ecosystem solution used by ecosystems, was selected to carry out this national pilot project.
The collaborative work for Vietnam digital ecosystem is being conducted step by step in very transparent manner to achieve consensus and solid progress within the key stakeholders of innovation ecosystems and it has been splitted into three different phases:
From phase 1 in June, two weeks full of meetings, workshops and one-to-one discussions with local/national public and private players in the vietnamese ecosystem, some outcomes deserve to be highlighted:
As we are moving to actual pilot phase to implement digital ecosystem solution in Vietnam context, by setting up the base version with geographical scoping in Da Nang, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh ecosystems, along with Vietnam national ecosystem to showcase these local startup ecosystems and Vietnam as a whole also for further deployments, implement related communication framework and roles to support the platform at core level, define needed key operative roles needed to support the development and management of the different ecosystem functions at different levels, train and empower local teams and people to key roles to take “ownership” of the key functions, showcase how platform implementation and different development tracks can be managed to further accelerate the progress, and support in finding a good balance for PPP (Public Private Partnership) regarding the digital platform in different cities going forward. And eventually, to pass on the ownership and core responsibility of the platform the logical entity, entities or consortium to conclude the pilot phase.
The progress of the Vietnam Digital Ecosystem pilot will be followed closely on our blog.
If your city or your country has a current action plan in place to support entrepreneurship, startups, innovation and you want to enhance the use of data and evidence to improve startup supporting services, inform local decision-making and engage all key players that are part of the startup ecosystem concept, contact us and let's get started.
Asked for sharing his impression of the 2015 LOGIN Startup Fair, one of the biggest tech startup events in the Baltics held between 7–8 May in Vilnius, Marcin Hejka, Vice President and Managing Director of Intel Capital, Poland, revealed that he had observed “tremendous progress” in the Lithuanian market during the past 2 years. He also made a comment that “Lithuania has improved more than any other country in Central or Eastern Europe or even the most and has put itself very solidly on the map of important technological ecosystems in the region.”
Other investors also acknowledged achievements of Lithuanian entrepreneurs. “The Lithuanian startup ecosystem could be described in these five words: technical, perseverance, networkers, community, underserved,” shared Linus Dahg, Associate of Wellington Partners, UK. Yanki Margalit, social entrepreneur and investor from Israel, evaluated the projects presented at the fair even simpler: “Less marketing and more content.” Both of them agreed that Lithuania deserves more international attention (startuplithuania.lt, 2015).
This text is a step in this direction: it will present 5 facts about Lithuania which entrepreneurs and investors looking for new business opportunities should be aware of.
Fact 1: Lithuania’s competitiveness index is improving very fast. In the 2015 IMD World Competitiveness ranking of 61 selected countries, it ranks 28th. It is a 6-position improvement since last year. This is the best Lithuania’s result so far as well as the best performance in the region this year. Estonia has declined by 1 position to the 31st, Poland has moved up by 3 positions to the 33rd, Latvia has declined by 8 positions to the 43rd. Lithuania has improved its competitiveness index in 6 categories: (1) by 7 positions in the economic growth category (from 44 in 2014 to 37 in 2015), (2) by 12 positions in the business effectiveness category (from 35 to 23), (3) by 13 positions in the availability of risk capital category (from 24 to 11), (4) by 8 positions in the international investment category (from 49 to 41), (5) by 7 positions in the government efficiency category (from 32 to 25) and (6) by 15 positions in the ease of doing business category (from 32 to 17) (startuplithuania.lt, 2015).
Fact 2: “2014 was a record year for Lithuanian startups". This is how Enterprise Lithuania (2015) has summarised the results of the Startup Lithuania 2014 survey, which has evaluated the performance of 52 innovative IT startups. Last year they attracted EUR 46 million in investment, had 405 employees and paid over EUR 2 million in tax in total. In 2013 these figures were much lower: there were EUR 34 million in investment, over 200 employees and approx. EUR 0.5 million tax. In addition, 2014 marks some other positive changes: branches of Game Insight, WIX, Uber were established, the game industry was developing successfully and a life sciences startup ecosystem project was launched. For more information on the achievements of the Lithuanian startup community last year, please see the survey overview.
Fact 3: On 10 June the Sunrise Valley Centre for Technology and Innovation was officially opened. It is part of the Science and Technology Park (STP) of the Institute of Physics, Vilnius, which conducts research and experiments in applied sciences and facilitates integration of science and business by assisting enterprises in commercialising research results and coordinating activities of the Laser & Engineering Technologies Cluster (LITEK) (STP, 2015; litek.lt, 2012). The Centre for Technology and Innovation has already accepted 23 high-tech companies such as Ekspla, a laser technology company, Ferentis, a biotechnology company, as well as some companies specialising in optoelectronics, nanotechnology and bioengineering. In addition, the Centre complex has a modern laser centre and nanoengineering laboratory (Neverauskas, 2015).
Fact 4: Lithuania has one of the best Internet upload and download speeds in the world (Mančas, 2015). In the Ookla Household Upload Index, Lithuania is 5th with a 52.02 Mbps upload speed. It is the highest position in Europe. The EU average upload speed is 11.1 Mbps. In the Ookla Household Download Index, Lithuania’s result is also very high: it has been ranked 8th with a 57.93 Mbps download speed. It is the 3rd best European performance after Romania (5th position, 71.93 Mbps) and Sweden (6th position, 60.49 Mbps). The EU average download speed is 31.4 Mbps (16 June 2015 data).
Fact 5: Lithuanians are among the best educated European nations (Mančas, 2015). The 2011 Population and Housing Census by Statistics Lithuania shows that “one in five Lithuanian residents has a university degree”. The best educated age group are 20–29 year olds: 22.8% of them have higher education (The Lithuania Tribune, 2013). The 2012 Eurostat European Adult Education Survey (ADS), conducted in all the EU member states, also confirms that the Lithuanian society gives a lot of attention to professional qualifications. More than 75% of 20–24 year old local students enrolled in universities and colleges in the academic year 2011/12. The EU average enrolment rate was 64.1%.
For more information on business opportunities in Lithuania, please visit the websites of Enterprise Lithuania and Startup Lithuania.
Today, it's not hard to stumble across success stories of companies raising capital in alternative ways. By alternative, we mean not using banks or traditional lenders or even business angels. Since the financial crisis of 2007, anyone starting a business has realised raising capital is one of the hardest tasks and a critical area of the business plan.
This demand for alternative funding mechanisms has given a rise to a growing industry already estimated to be worth billions of dollars. According to recent research published by The Economist, in 2014 global investment in fintech reached $12 billion, up from $4 billion a year earlier. In addition, Goldman Sachs estimates that global revenues linked to the growth of fintech could be as high as $4.7 trillion.
Taking a step back, it's important to realise that funding is just one (important) piece of the puzzle. In addition to securing capital, there is a myriad of resources, services and environmental factors that are critical to startup development.
Timely access to professional services (such as legal, tax, accounting and developers / programmers) plays a positive role for startups to succeed. As a result, today we are witnessing the growth of ecosystems designed to support startups and small enterprises in many cities around the world. In dedicated areas or business hubs, incubators, accelerators and shared office spaces, knowledge sharing and mentor services form networks that support thriving business activity. These groups of experts assist startups and ensure they have access to timely knowledge and information they need, beyond capital requirements.
In addition, many governments around the world have rolled out new regulations covering equity crowdfunding or P2P lending and online digital investments. Governments are taking active steps to keep up with innovations in finance by providing frameworks and an environment in which operators and participants can transact safely and efficiently.
As startup ecosystems grow, so do the associated services that support them. At this highest level of small enterprise planning, neural networks or sophisticated platforms that monitor and manage them connect all stakeholders in real time and with access to critical business data. By using these networks, it is possible to better plan, measure and drive the growth of startups, identify bottlenecks and better allocate resources to them.
This is an edited version of an article originally published at http://www.growadvisors.com/blog/funding-startups-and-keeping-a-track-of-the-bigger-picture by Grow Advisors. You are free to re-edit and re-post it under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License terms by giving credit to the author with a link to www.startupcommons.org and the original post. Photo credit: Pictures of Money, https://www.cheapfullcoverageautoinsurance.com/. The photo was originally published on Flickr. It has been used to illustrate this text under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License terms. No changes have been made.
This is an edited version of an article originally published at https://blog.criterionconferences.com/socialtech/fintech-ecosystem-innovation-disruption-collaboration/#authorprofilebox by Dr Vijaya Thyil, Senior Lecturer in Accounting and Finance at Swinburne Business School, Swinburne University of Technology. You are free to re-edit and re-post it under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License terms by giving credit to the author with a link to www.startupcommons.org and the original post. Photo credit: Got Credit, http://www.gotcredit.com/. The photo was originally published on Flickr. It has been used to illustrate this text under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License terms. No changes have been made.
Technological innovations focusing on the financial industry have led to a rapidly growing new ecosystem called Fintech. A biological ecosystem generally comprises of organisms portraying continuously evolving relationships in a specific climate, leading to complex, non-linear structures. This is exactly what we are seeing with the Fintech entities. The economic climate is just right! The breakdown of trust due to the recent financial crisis has meant that society perceives a brick-and-mortar financial institution no different to a cloud entity!
Simultaneously, the extensive use of smartphones and Web 3.0, the uncontrollable rise of consumer debt levels and the massive increase of international financial flows have made the conditions ripe for Fintech to thrive. However, due to the recentness of this ecosystem, the timescale of the entities is in its embryonic stage. That is how quickly a Fintech is born; when and how it dies; how it exits, say through an IPO or acquisition; nested versus non-nested structures; the social impact of Fintechs and so on are continuing to be recognized as they occur.
We keep hearing the term ‘disruption’. Why?
At first glance, the emerging scenario appears quite simple: Fintech companies – mainly young, entrepreneurial startups – are producing innovative digital technologies to improve the customer experience, efficiency and range of the financial services such as lending, payments, retail and institutional investments, equity financing, and remittances. Entrepreneurship, financial development and digitisation are not new, right? Why then are we referring to a ‘disruption’? Well, the rapid speed at which the innovations are being created, commercialized and embraced by the society globally means that traditional business models of financial services are collapsing or being swiftly dismantled and recreated. One would expect the time period to be disruptive and groundbreaking.
How would you describe the collaborators?
While the convergence of entrepreneurship, financial services and digitisation necessarily means the involvement and collaboration of multiple entities, the synergy created by the Fintech ecosystem is much larger due to the fundamental, intrinsic and pervasive influence of both financial services and digital technology in our day-to-day lives. So we are seeing startups, seasoned entrepreneurs, local and foreign investors, venture capitalists, financial institutions, insurers, wealth managers, governments, telecom providers, retailers, corporations, consumers, educational institutions and specialist consultants who then get networked into hubs, accelerators, incubators and so on. The birth of new entities in the ecosystem occurs from both serendipity as well as planned innovations. The collaborations are customized, proactive and dynamic.
For instance, banks are working with startups to ensure that the innovations produced match their needs, and investors and VCs are willing to direct huge capital towards these startups because of high returns. Furthermore, financial institutions are also starting to provide greater funding for Fintech companies to get access to new products in a shorter timeframe. Governments are very supportive of Fintech due to the increase in jobs, skilled workforce and inflow of capital, and are trying to provide attractive environments for Fintech companies to thrive in.
In particular, how is the academia–Fintech collaboration occurring?
The academia’s collaboration with the Fintech ecosystem is occurring through several streams. The Entrepreneurship, Finance and Banking, IT and Communications disciplines are supplying the founders of Fintech startups. Universities and centres are providing mentoring programs and boot camps, sponsoring student-led Fintech clubs and allowing the use of their campus spaces for Fintech meets and events. Academic research is evolving around data analytics, cybercrime and fraud protection, network analysis and Fintech business models with new academic and practitioner journals being founded for disseminating the research. Technology companies in turn are partnering with Universities by setting up Chairs focused on expertise in finance, digital technologies and entrepreneurship to facilitate the rapid and smooth knowledge transfer and commercialization of academic research.
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In his case study of the impact of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2014 Global Report on South Africa’s entrepreneurship policy, Mike Herrington (2015), South Africa GEM Team Leader, says that initially all government agencies launched to promote small business development such as the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) had a “one size fits all” approach. Asked for a recommendation, his team suggested that 2 approaches should be taken: (1) opportunity-driven and (2) necessity-driven entrepreneurship. Later it also actively cooperated with SEDA and other agencies on developing instruments to better address different needs of local entrepreneurs. South Africa’s startup ecosystem could benefit even more if all new entrepreneurship policy projects were consulted with experts.
In addition, Herrington points out that more attention should be paid to education. Studies showed that there is a direct link between the level of education and entrepreneurship: the better society is educated, the more it is involved in entrepreneurial activities. Therefore, having one of the lowest startup rates among other developing countries – only 6%–10% – South Africa needs to revise its education system and offer more training opportunities, especially for the youth due to high unemployment rates. The data from Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) report on labour market dynamics between 2008–2014 show that there was an increase of the number of young people at the working-age: from 18.3 million in 2008 to 19.5 million in 2014. “Over this period, the number of employed youth declined by 467 000 to 6 million, while the number of unemployed increased by 319 000 to 3.4 million”.
Herrington also mentions that South African entrepreneurs need better labour regulations. For example, there are some legal restrictions on dismissal of unproductive employees. In addition, their work could be much easier and more productive if the IT coverage was better and the internet costs were reduced (Herrington in the GEM 2014 Global Report, p. 72–73).
On 10 November 2014, there was launched Startup Nations South Africa, a national startup ecosystem project. In her speech at the official opening ceremony, Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Small Business Development, identified another need of the local startup ecosystem: “We must consciously strive to build a nation of entrepreneurs and not a nation of job-seekers.” She also stressed that the country needs to develop entrepreneurship culture and closer cooperation at different levels of the ecosystem. In her opinion, this could help to easier solve problems and create a better working environment for entrepreneurs (Pillay, 2014).
In her article “An ecosystem in turmoil: inside South Africa’s startup problems”, published on ventureburn.com, Mich Atagana (2013) also mentions that local entrepreneurs need to cooperate more. Her interview with some local tech specialists shows that one of the biggest challenges which the startup tech community faces is a lack of healthy competition. One of her interviewees reveals that some of his colleagues are “overly protective of their ideas and jealous of others’ success”. However, there are some initiatives to change it. For example, Wesley Lynch, CEO and Founder of Snapplify, promotes the idea of healthy competition in his everyday work: he directs his clients to other tech companies whenever he sees that they can offer a better service. He explains his attitude simply: “Any negative competition is bad.” He also draws attention to competition between Johannesburg and Cape Town. In his opinion, local tech startups should compete at the international level or at least in Africa rather than with each other.
Looking for new investment opportunities for GrowLab and LX Ventures, Jonathan Bixby went on a business trip to South Africa at the end of 2013. He later shared his reflections on Techvibes’ blog. His post (2013) provides some useful insights into the country’s startup ecosystem from the Canadian entrepreneur’s perspective, which could also contribute to the discussion on local startup needs. His visit to Bandwidth Barn in Cape Town gave him the impression that “South Africa has an interesting startup culture.” He notes that some technology projects which he saw there would attract a lot of tech media attention and investments if the were done in North America. However, it is not the case in South Africa. Local entrepreneurs need to work very hard to secure income every month. He also observes that there is not almost any risk capital in a North American sense: it is rather the equivalent of private equity. South African startups can receive funding only if they have a high profit margin or property which could be used as collateral. As a result, the startup ecosystem in the country is developing quite slowly. Bixby suggests that in order to stimulate its growth, local entrepreneurs need a ‘safety net’. It implies that the financial support system – particularly venture fund criteria – should be reviewed.
What else does the South African startup ecosystem need in your opinion? Please share your thoughts.
This text is part of the 2015 Startup Commons Report: Startup Ecosystem in South Africa, introduced last week.
The author of the text is Birute Birgelyte, PR and Communications Trainee at Startup Commons. You are free to re-edit and repost this in your own blog or other use under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License terms by giving credit with a link to www.startupcommons.org and the original post. Photo credit: Diriye Amey. The photo was originally published on Flickr. It has been used to illustrate this text under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License terms. No changes have been made.
Startup Commons has launched a startup ecosystem report project. It will analyse a few startup ecosystems by continent. Firstly, it will focus on Africa. The first report from the African series is the 2015 Startup Commons Report: Startup Ecosystem in South Africa by Birute Birgelyte.
Report on South Africa in brief
Firstly, it will present the situation of entrepreneurship in the country in a historical context. Then it will analyse different aspects of the local startup ecosystem in 6 sections. The following topics will be discussed: (1) South Africa in the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) ratings, (2) entrepreneurship in the context of South Africa’s economy, (3) international investment in South Africa, (4) investment in South African startups and (5) South Africa’s international cooperation. Finally, the report offers a (6) discussion on the needs of the South African startup ecosystem.
You can download the report from here.
For further inquiries, please contact us.
This is the second part of the interview with Elitsa Panayotova, Executive Director of Sofia Tech Park, Bulgaria. She presents other Park activities and facilities. Later she describes her work at CEEDS’15, one of the biggest digital and tech events in Central and Eastern Europe which took place between 21–22 April in Sofia. She also shares her impression of the event.
The first part of the interview can be accessed here.
Sofia Tech Park will also have the Innovation Forum, which will host different meetings and events of the tech startup community: scientific conferences, industry panels, meetings with investors, etc. Is it already known who will be administering the Forum? Have any events been already planned?
Again: no. We will also have an operator selected for the R&D Forum. Of course, Tech Park will be assisting with ideas and contacts but we will have an operator that will be responsible [for everything – ed. note]. It will work under an R&D consortium that will manage the laboratories.
We are planning the first events for November but we haven’t set the dates. Probably in a month or two we’ll know the exact date of the opening and then the event dates. For two years, we have been organising events as Tech Park in different venues, mainly in Sofia: event centres, hotels and universities. This is part of the concept with which we applied for funding. The goal is to prepare the park ecosystem while developing its physical environment. Last year we had 3 or 4 events, this year we’ll have other 10. Basically once or twice a month we have events on different topics. For example, one event focused on intellectual property rights in the 3 areas that are focal to Tech Park [ICT, life sciences and energy – ed. note]. We had participants from all over Europe, the US and Israel.
Then we have an event this year that will focus on matchmaking companies from different areas. One of the topics will be: How could you find horizontal integration between software development and agriculture sectors? Another event worth attention will be about innovations in the form of design: how design brings innovations to different businesses. Also, we will focus on education, not on the institutional side of it but on global trends and how they could be introduced to our society. These are events that we are organising in parallel and once the Forum opens we will be able to host them there. This year we'll probably have one or two events outside Sofia and in the future we will also try to expand our activities to other cities.
How are you trying to attract local and international investors?
We haven’t started attracting investors actively. You need to know the opening date and Park mechanisms before you can address all players. Our focus is not only on national companies but also regional and international. We see some interest. As we speak, companies are sending us letters of intent. We have started communicating and reviewing some of them.
We have our first investor. It’s a local company called Walltopia. It is a world-leading producer of artificial climbing walls. It is constructing tailor-made buildings offices and the R&D Centre. That building will also house a lot of sport activities. We also have 2 or 3 multinationals with whom we are discussing setting up their operations in the Park. They are not newcomers to the market. We will start attracting investors actively at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
What are the eligibility criteria for investors interested in the research and development (R&D) and office facilities?
Their businesses should be in the 3 focus areas of Tech Park [ICT, life sciences and energy – ed. note]. We aren’t looking for companies that just sell technology or provide services. So one of the basic criteria would be R&D. Companies should also be innovative and contribute to the whole environment. We need to give a push to the ecosystem with innovative technologies.
What cooperation opportunities will be offered for international researchers?
As we speak, we are talking to several international research centres about projects that we’ll be working on together when the Park opens the doors. For example, our laboratories will participate in different research projects.
Sofia Tech Park is a member of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovations (IASP). What kind of support do you receive from the organisation?
The support is mainly information: contacts and information on how things are done. Definitely it will grow as we operate. There will be more exchanges in the network: requests for different services, products or projects. This will be very useful for us.
Between 21–22 April Sofia Tech Park participated as an exhibitor at CEEDS’15, organised by Webit. Could you describe your work there?
The point of our participation was to present the project on a larger scale: to get people better informed of what we are doing and what the Park will be about. Some of them could become our clients afterwards. Also, we established new contacts and got some useful information. Some of the event lectures were focal to many aspects of our work.
What is your impression of the event?
It was very well visited. There were a lot of interesting companies and lectures. There was a very informative lecture on global [digital and technology – ed. note] trends. I think it was a very useful event, an event on a global scale. I am very positively impressed. It is good to have such events in the region.
Would you recommend participating in the event next year?
We will definitely participate and are already planning to participate in a different way. Right now we are very cautious because we are not yet there: we are at the development stage. We hope that next year we will be better visible.
I think that Webit events have proved to be among the most important and interesting events in the area. They attract people and leading technology companies from all over the world.
This event was quite prestigious. Even if you look at the list of lecturers and panelists: it’s an amazing group. It was a very informative and networking event. People got to know each other. For example, people whom we met came to Bulgaria for the first time and weren’t aware of certain opportunities that are in stock for them here. So this was an event where you could come up and come out with specific results and contacts.
What are your future plans for cooperation with Webit’s team?
We have discussed cooperation. If next year Webit is again in Sofia, we’ll be glad to host it at the Innovation Forum. We’ve agreed that after the event in Istanbul in the autumn [the 7th Global Webit Congress, 7–8 October 2015 – ed. note], we’ll discuss in more specific terms how it will turn out next year.
Thank you for the interview.
The author of this text is Birute Birgelyte, PR and Communications Trainee at Startup Commons. You are free to re-edit and repost this in your own blog or other use under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License terms by giving credit with a link to www.startupcommons.org and the original post. Photo credit: Sofia Tech Park.
According to Elitsa Panayotova, Bulgaria – especially Sofia – has been leading in developing the startup ecosystem in South Eastern Europe for the last 2-3 years. Sofia Tech Park is an ambitious project which proves that: it is the first science and technology park in Bulgaria and the region. It is was launched in June 2012 with the financial support of the Bulgarian Government and the European Regional Development Fund. It is coordinated by Sofia Tech Park JSC, a state-owned company which set a goal to “advance research, innovation and technology growth in Bulgaria” through different projects in the areas of ICT, life sciences and energy. All the infrastructure should be ready by the end of the year.
The good news for entrepreneurs is that the Park will include an Incubator and Innovation Forum, which will host different high-profile tech events and meetings with investors. They could also benefit from modern office and sport facilities as well as cooperation with researchers and public servants who will be working just next door. Another good point is that Sofia Tech Park team aims to develop a network of partnerships with private and public institutions in order to create an innovation hub where they could work together on different projects or provide assistance. For example, it will be possible to get some expert consultations on commercialising tech products and services. The team has already established cooperation with Sofia University, the Technical University Sofia, Medical University and Bulgarian Academy of Science. The last piece of good news about the Park is its excellent location: it is in 6-8 min proximity to the city centre, airport, Bulgarian Academy of Science and Technical University Sofia.
In order to find out more about the project, I have arranged an interview with Elitsa Panayotova, Executive Director of Sofia Tech Park. She joined the team in June 2012 when Bulgaria’s Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism registered Sofia Tech Park JSC. In addition, I have also asked Ms Panayotova to share some ideas about CEEDS’15, which took place between 21–22 April in Sofia. It is one of the biggest digital and tech events in Central and Eastern Europe. Sofia Tech Park participated there as an exhibitor.
At what stage of development is Sofia Tech Park at the moment? What is the next step?
We are in the last phase of finishing the construction and then we will have to set up all management mechanisms. The park has to be completed as a physical environment and be functional at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
Are there any big challenges with the implementation of the project?
There are many different kinds of challenges. One of the purposes of Sofia tech Park is to overcome certain social and economic problems in Bulgaria. We need to bridge the gap between the academic environment and businesses because communication and technology transfer are not at their best. Finding a communication channel between them is one of the challenges. It is important for the project development because these players are key in setting the priorities.
There are also a lot of challenges that are linked to different EU procedures and approvals but they are not that important. Another challenge is related to setting up the mechanisms under which the park will operate. Each of the park units has a different philosophy in itself and management scheme. At the same time, they need to be able to work together. For example, for the laboratory complex we’ll have to set up a consortium that will include Sofia Tech Park JSC as the owner of the infrastructure.
Keeping the stakeholders’ interest and making them work together are also challenging. There is the startup community, businesses of different sizes and academia. We have on board 3 universities together with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences as project partners.
One of the goals of Sofia Tech Park which it would like to reach by 2016 is setting up the Incubator for start-up and spin-off companies. Could you describe in more detail what kind of project it will be?
There are 3 focal areas of Sofia Tech Park: (1) information and communication technologies, (2) life sciences and (3) energy. The target of the Incubator is to concentrate all startup activities under one roof, enhance and scale up new initiatives and also open up to other areas. Right now the accelerators and incubators funds focus on IT: applications and softwares. We want to expand to bio-technologies: startups could work together with the universities on different projects in the laboratories. We also want to create a hub for entrepreneurs and startups where they will be able to find assistance and cooperate.
Who will be in charge of the Incubator?
We will choose an operator. We are setting up some criteria and then will be looking for an operator in the second half of this year.
Has the Incubator project received a lot of interest and support of local and international entrepreneurs, startup support organisations (incubators, accelerators, etc.) and investors?
We have received some interest from different investment funds that would like to partner with us and have access to companies that will be in the Incubator and also from companies that would like to use the Incubator facilities. The interest will be rising during the opening stage and after the setup and announcement of the selection criteria. All of this will be happening in the second half of this year towards the end of the year. Of course, like with all incubators around the world, it won’t be overnight success. It will take a while until companies will start working and all the units will be functional.
The second part of the interview can be accessed here.
The author of this text is Birute Birgelyte, PR and Communications Trainee at Startup Commons. You are free to re-edit and repost this in your own blog or other use under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License terms by giving credit with a link to www.startupcommons.org and the original post. Photo credit: Sofia Tech Park.
Have you ever wondered how the startup ecosystem looks in South Eastern Europe? Belizar Marinov, Manager of Investment Projects at Eleven, an accelerator and venture capital fund based in Sofia, Bulgaria, gives a simple answer: “There are a lot of promising entrepreneurs.” Promising entrepreneurs? What does it actually mean? To answer that question, let’s look at some Eleven’s statistics:
To find out more about startups from South Eastern Europe, I have asked Belizar Marinov some more questions about Eleven’s work in the region.
How would you briefly describe the startup ecosystem in Bulgaria?
The startup ecosystem has been developing very quickly in the past few years. There were a few organisations which started all events and gatherings. With the help of young entrepreneurs and the introduction of funds of Eleven and others, the startup ecosystem saw a really big push and development.
Currently, Sofia is a very active startup place and it attracts entrepreneurs from all across Eastern Europe. There are many regular events and a number of organisations and NGOs that work actively in the field. We see that corporate sponsors support the ecosystem on a regular basis. We also have a few coworking spaces which gather startups and are venues for many events.
What inspired to launch Eleven?
Eleven was launched because we had belief that there are a lot of promising entrepreneurs in South Eastern Europe who can really benefit from having financial support, our accelerator programme and mentor network. Many of our founders are first time entrepreneurs and we really believe that we provide not only money but also support which is relevant for this startup stage.
In what ways has Eleven helped to improve networking conditions for Bulgarian startups?
The network that we create at Eleven is at the centre of what we do. We have a network of 250 mentors who participate in our mentoring sessions on a regular basis. Also, as an investor, we act as a connector between our startups and many contacts in relevant industries both here in Bulgaria and abroad.
In addition to that, the founders themselves are a big network. There are over 300 founders, 150 startups and 20 different nationalities. We also regularly organise business trips abroad, which help our startups to meet relevant contacts.
What local startup activities and events do you support? What are your own initiatives?
As an active part in the Bulgarian ecosystem, we support a lot of events such as Startup Weekend or other type of startup competitions. There is an initiative called Pre-accelerator, which is run by one of the entrepreneurship NGOs here. We support them by giving mentorship and fast access for their alumni to our selection process. Once in a while, we host events in our coworking space and provide meeting space for some organisations in our office. We are ready to help whenever there is a need.
What are the biggest challenges that Bulgarian startups face? How do you support them?
The challenges could be related to the small market of Bulgaria. We see our role in helping startups to accelerate and become international. The local market is not big enough to grow a prosperous technology startup so our support is needed.
In 2012 the European Commission (EC) and the European Investment Bank (EIF) provided Eleven the Entrepreneurship Acceleration and Seed Financing Instrument, worth EUR 12 million, under the Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises (JEREMIE) Holding Fund. What results have you achieved? What are your expectations for the future?
Currently, we are working on a 10-year mandate. This is a standard mandate for an early-stage venture fund like ours, meaning that during the first few years we are investing those EUR 12 million in about 100-110 projects. During the later years, we are going to manage their portfolios. Up to now, we have made nearly 110 investments. In May we are going to accept the 9th class of startups into our coworking space. This will be the last class for this EUR 12 million fund so in the future we are planning to raise another fund which will support and continue our work beyond 2015.
Our biggest achievement is a community that we have created by supporting over 100 companies. Half of them are Bulgarian teams, half of them are international teams. 2-3 years from now we expect to see some first big exits. We have not made a big exit so far since our first investments are just 3 years old.
What kind of support does the local startup ecosystem receive from the public and private sector?
There is no doubt that the equity instruments that have been created through the JEREMIE Holding Fund are the most notable public initiative. Apart from Eleven and our colleagues from LAUNCHub, there are a few other funds which target at investments in more advanced projects. These are instruments between EUR 50–100 million that are available to entrepreneurs. Some of them are entirely public money like ours, some of them are a mixture of public and private money.
In terms of private support for entrepreneurs, there is a number of tech companies that actively support events in the local ecosystem. These are some international companies like Microsoft and some Bulgarian technology companies like Telerik. Many of them also provide a lot of free services for our startups on a centralised level. For example, F6S.com connects accelerators across the world. All member accelerators have access to a lot of free perks and services for their companies such as hosting and cloud infrastructure. It could amount to USD 200 000 per year. Each year one of our startups can benefit from it.
You operate not only in Bulgaria but also in the region of South Eastern Europe. Does your work in the neighbouring countries differ anyhow significantly from your local activities?
Our office and coworking space are based in Sofia but we are very active in the neighbouring countries too. We don’t have permanent team members there but we travel a lot and organise local meetups. We make some selection in Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, etc. We organise many activities there with some local founders. They act as ambassadors to Eleven: they help and represent us in the local ecosystems and refer a lot of projects to us when it comes to selecting projects for investment.
Could you share any success story of a startup which took part in your accelerator programme?
We have a number of interesting stories. For example, we have one startup that works on software for human resource management. They use algorithms to process a lot of resumes. Their software tries to make a fit based on some job criteria and culture. This is something that is really recognised as being useful to HR professionals. They have received over USD 500 000 of funding, moved their office to New York and actively work with big clients. The company is called Match.io.
We have another interesting story of 2 founders. One of them was very young: he was only 16-year-old when we first invested in the company. The other founder was a serial entrepreneur. They created a company called Emailio, which aims to create a new mobile e-mail app. They got accepted to Y Combinator, a famous accelerator, received its funding and now are based in Silicon Valley. From over 100 companies it has supported in 10 years, the company is the first from Bulgaria and with the youngest founder ever.
How does the membership in the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) benefit Eleven?
Being a member of the Global Accelerator Network is very important and beneficial for us. It provides an opportunity to exchange the best practices and organise some events together with accelerators all across the world. This is very helpful because our industry is developing very quick: what was the best practice one year ago now is outdated. That’s why we want to stay on the [cutting – ed. note] edge of what is going on in our industry and to have a network which supports us in what we do and which we could extend to our founders.
Thank you for the interview.
This is originally written by Søren Berg Rasmussen, Project Coordinator at Enterprise Services, City of Helsinki. You are free to summarize and repost this or other use under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License terms by giving credit with a link to www.startupcommons.org and the original writer.
When I was first introduced to the Startup Commons platform, my initial feeling, like for so many others I reckon, was a lingering question of why I would need yet another social media platform. How would this be any different than LinkedIn or Facebook? And, moreover, why would I want yet another online profile that I would need to maintain, update and keep relevant? I already have so many that I need a list in order to remember which ones I have joined and what my user credentials are.
Of course I understood the difference in terms of how the Startup Commons platform was made with the purpose of serving startups in mind. But still the question lingered: “Why couldn’t this be done in one of the very many already existing platforms?”
Luckily it only took me a few minutes of talking to one of our ‘gurus’ here at Enterprise Helsinki, Mika Valtasaari, before I understood the golden opportunities provided by the Startup Commons platform, the genius of the shared source and the open mind of the founders. I needed a place to develop a matching system in combination with a network environment for a mentoring programme, and the Startup Commons platform seemed like just the place.
Startup Commons 101
Basically the Startup Commons platform provides the opportunity to set up a customized network in which different user types such as startups, VCs, talents, etc. can find each other. It also allows the users to move between different networks, and soon it will also be possible to share information between networks on the admin side of things. This is the part that seems very identical to what hordes of other network platforms also do. However, the keyword here is customized. Each network can be customized to provide exactly the functionalities needed to serve its own specific purpose. It can be as simple as the ability to set up events and invite participants in the network. Or it can be as complicated as a system with a number of user types being matched to each other or to the services or events in the network most relevant to them and their specific needs.
Our needs: serving the whole community
I needed two things when I first approached the Startup Commons platform. First and foremost I needed a matching system to make my life easier when deciding which mentee candidates were best suited for the mentors we had in our pool. The challenge was that we had hundreds and Excel only provided so much overview.
The other challenge was how to coordinate different mentoring programmes, so that when one would find good mentor candidates, these would not be lost due to the limitations of the programmes but rather be shared with other programmes that might need them. The Startup Commons platform was already developing a CRM system. All I had to do was to tweak it so that network admins could share complete CRM systems and/or individual entries. Combined with the option to create tags and notes for the entries, this is now being developed to be a tool for very in-depth sharing and coordination between network CRMs and the efforts being put into searching for mentors. Take networks which are not competing but complementary, and then replace the word mentor with companies, clients, customers, etc. and you will see the value: contact markup to avoid repeat calls or to direct contacts from a network which was not relevant to them to a network providing what they need; improved contact information reliability as a result of several network admin owners’ updating the shared contacts when using them, and much more.
In essence, it is a simple fix with huge potential.
Matching with Startup Commons
Even bigger potential lies in the matching system. The system is built on the simple idea of comparing choices selected by users in forms. The forms are created dynamically by network admins and can contain any type of questions. The matching takes place between options on single answer and multiple answer lists, where the admin presets the matches and assigns weights to each matching option. This means that anything can be matched because forms can be created for information about anything. It also means that the matching can be customized when setting weights, so that admins can determine relevance levels for individual answer options.
We can therefore now set up a matching programme within a Startup Commons network where we can match mentors and mentees registering for our programme and filling in the two forms. We can also set up a matching programme for determining the necessary services needed for a growth startup to move from stage -1 to 0 by letting startups fill in a form which we then match to services potentially needed in each stage on the startup development path. We can also create a matching system for finding the right talents from, for example, a pool of long term unemployed to available jobs. Or make a matching system for finding the most suitable startups for our pool of VCs. Etc., etc.
Because of the flexibility of using custom made forms, we can essentially match anything. The only limitation at this stage is the inability to match free form text inputs. But this is something we will start tackling in the near future when we also begin to develop a method for validation of form input such as user skills.
The beauty of the system
The Startup Commons platform provides endless opportunities for any development because we let it. Anyone who chooses to use the system can have their own customized version developed, while still maintaining the ability to connect to other networks in the platform, as long as the functions are compatible.
The fact that the system is a shared source also means that whatever we create here for our specific purposes becomes available for anyone else in the system who might need it. It also allows for a continuous development to take place, where other users of the system see possibilities we did not realize.
Because of the flexibility of the platform and the openness with which it is being developed, the business value for any organization choosing this path is almost endless. Choose a closed system only available to your employees and management team, and your users can still enjoy both the benefits of your own tailored system and the width of other networks available in the platform when moving freely around with their user profiles. Set up a network where by filling in a simple form your customers receive instant matches with the services you provide. And remember that while it might seem a hassle to have yet another user profile or system to manage, most of the information you have made before on LinkedIn or Facebook is easily imported when first entering the system.
To my mind, the Startup Commons platform is no longer just another network like LinkedIn or Facebook (I guess it actually never was). It is more than the sum of the two with the added value of you being able to decide what you want the system to do for your business or institution.
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