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Time Washes History Away in Romania

Jonathan Ortmans @jortmans

Romania

Nov 13, 2012

Romania

Today I have been in Bucharest, Romania where I had the pleasure of meeting with others on our Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) Romania Board before delivering the keynote speech during their Innovation Challenge, an event to identify a one-year initiative to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Romania.

Romania is a tough contestant in the global race to build the best startup ecosystem. The New York Times reported last October about the country’s sparkling startup scene and its pool of technology talent. With many heavy initial barriers, particularly breaking the mindset shackles of the communist regime that ruled until only two decades ago, Romania has proven to the world that building such an ecosystem is now simply a matter of commitment. Romania sets a positive example particularly for transition economies.

A key to making further progress in the entrepreneurship global map is to unleash youth entrepreneurship, leveraging the fact that cultural barriers are fading away with each younger generation. We are proud that GEW/Romania is led by Junior Achievement which enjoys strong, broad-based support in the country among sophisticated startup types. Younger creative spirits will drive the bottom-up push Romania needs to remove any remnants of top-down, anti-entrepreneurial policies. While corruption continues to hamper progress in the policy realm—particularly Romania´s weak judiciary system that increases the cost of doing business for entrepreneurs—it will be the performance of a new generation of well-educated Romanians who as they absorb a startup culture will set an example to leaders to up their game. For now, GEW/Romania’s strategy is simply to do good work and educate government leaders so that they soon come knocking on the doors of this powerful movement, offering genuine support for initiatives created by an entrepreneur-led startup community.

Education is therefore of utmost importance. According to serial entrepreneur, author, professor and angel investor Marius Ghenea, who I met today and who has been on the Romanian entrepreneurial scene since 1991, the education system still shows vestiges of inertia when it comes to business education. Entrepreneurship classes are compulsory in Romanian high schools, but practical experience is missing, according to Ghenea, who has been proposing earlier and more hands-on exposure to entrepreneurship for the young.

Impatient to wait for top-down action in this regard, many entrepreneurial leaders have taken matters into their hands, as expert architects of startup communities advocate. Ghenea, for example, among other teaching assignments, teaches at the Romanian School for Startups, and Eusebiu Burcas founded the country´s first independent financial education program and supports Romania’s Business Mentoring Program. These initiatives and many others that I was briefed about this afternoon by our Board have attracted students from neighboring countries and interest in Romania as a startup ecosystem overall.

The private sector also has a lot invested here, with Microsoft, Intel and Oracle visible when you drive in from the airport and working in close proximity to the thousands of Romanian tech startups that breathe innovation into their companies. These entrepreneurs flood Startup Weekend Romania with creative ideas that can challenge the top technology businesses in Europe.

While much progress has been made, more work remains. At the GEW Board meeting today I was humbled by a diverse and very experienced, talented and globally connected group of startup champions. Leonard Cornoiu walked us through Banca Transilvnia’s commitment to funding startups— something rare for an industry that requires loan collateral. Ana-Maria Andronic joins as an attorney with Biris-Goran focused on supporting startups with legal and tax advice – especially around angel investments and intellectual property. Bogdan Iorache, known as the Chief Miracle Maker, brings everything startup tech in Eastern Europe to the table—including his successful How to Web effort in Romania. Roxana Vitan even visited with the Kauffman Foundation in the U.S. to develop sophisticated science-based entrepreneurship programming in Romania, and Startup Weekend’s East European lead, Anca Foster, bases her regional operations from Bucharest. 

From the enthusiasm I sensed both at the Board Meeting and at the GEW Romania Innovation Challenge, despite my testing the mood to the contrary, Romania is rightly committed to developing a top-class entrepreneurial ecosystem—but from the bottom-up!  Take note.

Next report – Copenhagen!

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[photo credit: camil tulcan]

tags: Business Mentoring Program, junior achievement, Ortmans, School for Startups