A year or two ago, an emerging startup in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) might well have considered a move west – with Berlin being a popular destination – for the next stage in its development. But startup activity in the region is most certainly on the up, and entrepreneurs are surely thinking twice about packing up and leaving.
With so many different countries, the CEE startup scene is understandably fractured, but there is cool stuff going on all over the shop. Take, for example, StartupYard, which claims to be the oldest seed accelerator in Central Europe. Launched in 2011 by a group of entrepreneurs including founders from Seznam.cz and Node5 as well as angel investors and VCs, StartupYard is focused on data, mobile and analytics ideas from across the region.
It has just kicked off its fifth program, with backing from private and European Commission funds effectively tripling the funds available to applicants compared to previous rounds. Ten teams will be selected (you have until December 15 to apply) for the three-month program, which offers €40,000 up front for 10 percent equity. StartupYard is also part of the CEED Tech accelerator consortium, which is backed by the EC to the tune of €5 million – with €250,000 on offer in follow-on financing to the CEED Tech startups which show the most potential.
So far, the accelerator has funded and accelerated 29 companies from countries including Russia, Romania, Kosovo, Hungary, Serbia and Croatia.
Managing director Cedric Maloux said that StartupYard is particularly looking for projects in analytics, fintech, e-commerce, B2B, location based services, and security: “The last accelerator round produced some fantastic products, and really impressive teams, and with triple the initial investments, we’re looking forward to attracting some of the best talent in the region.”
As a native of San Francisco, Lloyd Waldo, the community manager at StartupYard, has a unique perspective. He told Silicon Allee: “CEE is really interesting for startups. There is a ton of activity, particularly in SAS products, and the advantages are obvious for anybody that visits. Costs are really low compared with Western Europe, and in the Czech Republic, incorporation and hiring or freelancing is really easy, with a huge talent pool of engineers and designers here, who work for less, meaning you can be really agile with a small company.”
Waldo said that a team of engineers and designers costs half of what it would in London and Paris, for example; you could staff a team of engineers and designers in Prague for probably half the cost of doing so in London or Paris, even less than in Berlin, with comparably high living standards.
“Money doesn’t fall from trees like it does in San Francisco,” he added, “but there are a lot of people looking for smart investments here. And the advantage of being a smaller market is that angel investors and VCs here are really interested in being involved with the startups they fund, and taking them through their progressions.”
For example, Gjirafa.com is a Kosovan/Albanian search engine which was part of a StartupYard program earlier this year, after which it has raised further funding providing evidence, Waldo said, that “there’s clearly a demand for great ideas in developing markets. Things are more wide open, and there are more niches to fill in the market.”