BR’s Foreign Investors Summit Day 3 – Ionut Constandache (Ebury): “Companies have started fighting over employees more than they’re fighting over clients”

Anca Alexe 01/11/2018 | 10:12

The third day of the Foreign Investment Summit will take a look at the kind of growth companies need to achieve and the means to achieve that. We’re discussing about the collaboration between corporations and startups that has become crucial for innovation and growth; we’re also acknowledging the Romanian star cities who’ve taken a lead in attracting investments and discuss best practices. As an important ingredient in Romania’s growth, we’re taking a look at the Romanian entrepreneurial ecosystem and its readiness and urge to play internationally.

See the event agenda here.

Keynote Speech

Emanuele Musa – Co-Founder | Babele

  • We organize entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship programs
  • 40+ innovation programs, 1,000+ social business models, 136 countries
  • Startup & corporation – a love story
  • 80 percent of corporates believe startups have a positive impact on innovation
  • 90 percent of existing corporate-startups collaborations will scale in the future
  • 46 percent of startups who have not worked along with corporations are interested in doing it
  • Explosive collaboration – startups lack access to clients, capital, resources; they have flexibility, action-oriented mindset; small teams, young people, energy, passion, willingness to risk, achieve disruptive innovation
  • Corporations have resources, capital, users, distribution power to grow successful innovations fast; long decision making processes and strong sense of hierarchy, which can become very political; strict power structure, risk adverse
  • Different forms of collaboration –
  • Startup pitches and prize events –
    • Pros: allows company to get better brand visibility in front of startups; understand what startups are doing
    • Con: a superficial way to engage
  • Innovation in bootcamps – e.g. Caterpillar organising hackathons in San Francisco – making sure teams participating are a good fit for the problems companies want to solve
    • Pro: exposure to plenty of different ideas
    • Con: no time to explore all the different solutions – hard to get from idea to actionable follow-up
  • Startup accelerators/support programs
    • Pros: the most effective way to engage with startups
      • in UK – EY, Barclays; Italy – Electrolux with 5 different accelerators; cheap R&D initiative
      • used by UN to achieve Sustainable Development Goals
    • Con: accelerators are costly – take a long time, need good mentorship from companies
  • Partnerships & collaborations
    • Best in Europe – Daimler’s program in Stuttgart – Startup Autobahn – startups invited to a pitch event and get all directors from Daimler and other companies in the area to look at startups and engage in discussions aimed at creating a collaboration/pilot for a year – once you go there, after the pitch event you assist experimentation and pilots run throughout the year between startups and Daimler – Daimler forcing itself to work on this for one year and making sure it comes up with a prototype
    • Climate-KIC – Europe’s largest climate tech accelerator – expert coaching, pitch training, workshops
  • Investments & acquisitions – corporate venture capital – many organisations purchasing startups
    • Pro: allows diversified portfolio of companies creating value for organisations
    • Con: costly; company working on its own
  • Pain points in startup-corporate collaborations
    • Startup’s stage of development not matching expectations of corporate partner
    • Corporations moving like elephants – long cycle times and slow decision-making
    • Poor communication & changing contact points and unclear processes
    • Various cultural problems and cultural issues
    • Risks
      • Startups getting engulfed by one customers, premature scaling, waste of resources
      • Corporates: reputational damage, lost investment, misaligned employees, unsure outcome
    • Challenges
      • For startups – duration of sales cycle, client’s protective middle management, insufficient resources, trust without references
      • For corporates – not-invented-here problem, managerial support, soloed approach, understanding change
    • Best practices
      • Making sure process is as simple as possible
      • Clear entry process for startups to work with corporate
      • Relaxed KPIs – hard for small organizations to track KPIs as well as large ones
      • Involving top management in collaboration with startups
    • Big companies must embrace intrapreneurship to survive
      • Corporations have noticed the need to stop working through slow, organic innovation and start taking a bigger leap of faith and investing in disruptive innovation
      • From waterfall planning to agile planning – outcomes seen at each stage rather than all at the end
    • Five big steps
      • Campaign to present the intrapreneurship programme
      • Open ideation (online)
      • 2/3 days bootcamp/hackathon
      • Incubation
      • Acceleration
    • Physical shared working spaces will become commonplace to facilitate growth and break down barriers
    • The most interesting example of intrapreneurship in Romania is happening at Carrefour – big ideation challenge among employees in Carrefour Romania and providing resources for the best ideas

Panel Discussion | Multinationals harnessing growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem

Catalin Calota – Account Manager | Mastercard Romania

  • This week MasterCard brought to Bucharest an event focusing on innovation. The company also has programs supporting entrepreneurship at an international level.
  • Innovation is in everything we do. We want to preserve the intrapreneurial spirit. As any big corporation, though, we have our limitations. That is why we want to receive support from the outside, from people who think differently and can bring a different perspective. Our programme dedicated to startups gather such players and helps them through different stages, from incubation phase to helping them scale.
  • Revolut is something that came up of Start Path, our program. Last year we had 10 or 12 initiatives active in recognition and funding for SME. We supported Pago – an aggregator of payments and Volt – an app with a friendly platform to send money peer to peer using a phone number.
  • With tech startups we work one-to-one or according to verticals.
  • Change is fast and inevitable. But perhaps not everyone is convinced about this. There are pockets of people who think they are safe. But the measure in which we are able to adapt to this determines our future path. If we don’t adapt well, there will be innovation events that are done for marketing alone.
  • In essence, what startups want from us is some help from the big brother. Being in a starting phase, they encounter a complexity that they are not well equipped for. Often they have already found funding. But they come to us for advice on what questions to ask and on regulatory or compliance issues.

Dan Oros – Marketing Manager | Google Romania

  • One month ago we started an incubator for startups and also help people code.
  • Our business model is one that makes it possible for us to succeed when startups succeed. We want as many startups as possible to succeed, because they use our products. A lot of companies see startups as a competitor but we see them as a partner.
  • We are looking for gaming startups for our Warsaw-based program. And we are receiving applications by 16 November.
  • The most important thing startups want from us is know-how. Our business model is based on helping these startups grow, choose markets based on data and not on intuition and access to products. Depending on the development phase, they should look for Grow Romania, Atelierul Digital – initial phase. And of they are further down on the path, they should get in touch with someone from the Google team.
  • We have a tool that tells you where your product is sought for, based on searches. This tool, called Market Finder, is free but it is under utilised by Romanian startups.
  • Although a startup is not active in technology, knowing how the online works is crucial for them too. And we offer tools to them too.

Claudiu Vrinceanu – Advisor and Co-Founder | RISERS NET

  • Risers Net aims to help people with experience from middle sized Romanian companies to become entrepreneurs. Startup reach helps Romanian entrepreneurs act global. The scaling possibilities of Romanian initiatives are still small and here there is need for support.
  • There are the big corporations that have their programs – also in Romania. There are also companies that have global programs and the third category of companies are still testing partnerships at headquarters’ demand. The question is : how can we push corporations to do more in Romania?
  • Some players on the market, such as eMag , which, after the Naspers investment, has started expanding in the region. UiPath as well, which can be an example for internationalisation. They have a great team of intrapreneurs that should actually teach in universities.
  • In March of this year we held in Madrid a mission of Romanian startups that met with local professionals.
  • eMag is getting involved in internationalisation. It initiated a project where 15 startuppers from Romania met with Bulgarian counterparts. We also established a connection with the Swiss ecosystem.
  • Central authorities can help support the interaction between companies and startups. For instance, Israel has a local Startup Nation program and a bank.

Dan Nechita – Co-founder and President | Smart Everything Everywhere

  • I don’t believe that the role of multinationals is to grow startups. The role of startups is to prove they have market traction and that they have a good product. The relationship between them is a market-driven one. The right relationship is that of brokerage between them.
  • At a global level there are funds and Romania is one of the countries that benefit from that. Winners of pre-pre-pre seed funding What I am interested in As a facilitator my interest is to make sure that the money is given to people who want to create products.
  • We are at the crossroads between startups and corporations but there are also many external factors that influence what Romania produces in terms of startups. In the scaling up phase Romanian startups have a problem. The balance is defined by the variables that are active on the market. We should consolidate corporations’ standing to grow, because then they become interested in innovation and in entrepreneurship. Romania is still at an initial stage. Romania has produced UiPath, Bitdefender before and Gecad. But the startups talk has only been going on for the past 10 years. On the startup side, we are on the up.
  • Bitdefender, eMag and now increasingly UiPath have started initiatives to support local startups.
  • I salute the fact that more and more universities – from Timisoara, Sibiu, Bucharest and Cluj are getting involved in entrepreneurship. We have started a partnership with the University of Bucharest.
  • What the state can give to the mix is predictability. What do you do when you realize one day that you must pay 50 percent more on wages? You leave the country. But startups are more vulnerable. Then, the authorities can help with education.
  • What we did when I was working for the central administration was to facilitate the access of startups to contracts with the state.

Florin Grosu – President | Young Leaders Club

  • Our NGO is made up of people who, alongside their day job, help people become entrepreneurs.
  • 60 percent of corporations, we believe do marketing, not real innovation. It is a norm for everyone to say they are doing innovation. Everyone works with KPIs. Innovation managers are evaluated according to the number of startups they have met with. There are other corporations that don’t do that. So there can be a gap. Because innovation officers must become afterwards champions of innovation. But they must be seniors and have traction inside the company. It is a beautiful thing to say you are doing innovation but they need to find shortcuts in the decision-making process. The difficulty comes when you need to separate a marketing-driven initiative from an innovation-driven one.
  • At a certain point, a Dutch bank wanted to innovate and they decided they didn’t know how to do it. When they announced this, they received offers and took on some people who didn’t have experience in fintechs. In 80 percent of the cases, the event was focused on entertainment. So the problem here is that many of these companies choose to do a marketing stunt.
  • We advise startups to go abroad as fast a possible and preferably, their first client should not be Romanian. Rather than ‘conquer’ the Romanian market and then expand.
  • FrontDesk Pro wants to disrupt Oracle, the big market leader with a guest management solution. It was developed as part of the program we developed with Golin.

Irina Roncea – Deputy Managing Director | Golin Bucharest

  • Our role as communicators is to bring companies and startups together.
  • At the end of the day, every startups dreams about becoming a big corporation.
  • Why do companies get involved in innovation? The reasons are not good or bad. They are diverse. There is a big need for education. As long as startups need to get in touch in corporations and communication helps with that.
  • Due to their position, corporations can bring topics to the agenda.
  • I see the relationship as a partnership. I would even push it further, to the education. There is a pool of people with good ideas that are in high schools. All corporations have a big role here in educating people to look towards the innovation space. The private sector and NGOs are leading the education initiative. But I expect that, in the next 10 to 15 years, schools and formal education will introduce classes.

ModeratorMatei Dumitrescu – VP TechAngels & Director | Founder Institute

Panel Discussion | Why invest in Romania now. Companies that entered the Romanian market recently discuss growth opportunities

Irina Scarlat – Country Manager, Romania | Revolut

  • I love Romania but I do believe that we have a biased perception of what it is and the opportunities it offers – in tech particularly, Romania is very interesting, but more for selling tech products than actually building development and product centres
  • Romania has advantages for selling tech products – eastern but not too far east, you’ll have a first mover advantage with your product – Revolut for example launched in May and since then we’ve acquired 90,000 users – market is growing fast, we’re the only fintech currently operating here, huge advantage
  • But Romania’s not as appealing for opening a development/product center – despite good universities, there are still workforce issues – people don’t have knowledge for product management/marketing – an innovation center would be challenging in Romania
  • Lots of companies built development centers here, which increased salaries a lot, so Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, have become more appealing – but our skills and language capabilities are still providing an advantage for Romania
  • We see Romania as a consumer base – marketing our product with local teams built here working to market the product, but these offices are rather growth and business development offices rather than operational center
  • Is Romania that interesting? It depends on what type of company you’re trying to launch, what your objectives are – for an automotive company, it might be very interesting. For a tech startup, maybe not so much.
  • I think we are at fault here too – one perspective is very pessimistic – expensive workforce, bad fiscal environment; on the other hand, there are people who say Romania is fantastic for any type of business. The truth is something in between.
  • There’s no global educational program in Romania that builds product managers and product marketers – they can only learn in companies – we should focus on developing the competitiveness of our people and do our homework
  • There are a lot of e-learning opportunities out there for those who want to learn – invest in your own education, don’t just expect your employer to do so, because in some ways this is wrong
  • We should value our employees and pay attention to who we’re hiring – there are a lot of entitlement issues, bad mentalities, and a bad hire is, at the end of the day, a bad investment
  • I think we’re trying to retain employees at all costs, and we’re all unhappy with each other

Dragos Gheban – Managing Partener | Catalyst Solutions

  • Companies come here, establish centers – usually sales, marketing, distribution for products/services- once they understand the market better, they become interested in bringing new segments to the region
  • In other scenarios, companies first bring R&D centers and then bring other types of business – financial services, accounting, sometimes sales, support, etc. Some of them have all their business in a central locations, while others are scattered across the country.
  • There’s definitely a shortage of talent in technology but not just in Romania, but also across the world – since you can work remotely in tech most of the time, you’re competing with employers from other countries too, not just those in Romania
  • In terms of tech, the shortage is here to stay because the imbalance is so big on a global scale – fortunately for us, there aren’t many other options out there where it’s easier to recruit tech talent
  • Part of the solution are employers – we can’t rely solely on the education system – many companies are investing in education to train more people
  • The job of attracting talent in the company is getting more complex every year, the role of employer branding is growing in this sense

Ivan Mihaylov – Director Sofia Technical Center | Visteon Corporation

  • In tech companies, it’s not about the number of people – for example, our project aims for 400 people up to 2020 – but it’s also about the intellectual property and added value for the business and the society
  • Investors look at potential: Romania is extremely well-positioned in the automotive market, especially at the high-tech level, it has an extremely high education level, good quality of people
  • Entrepreneurial environment is also important for us
  • When we talk about growth, in terms of potential, developing knowledge – we have a positive view of Central and Eastern Europe rather than on Western Europe
  • There’s another aspect we should not forget – avoiding to overheat the economy through a huge influx of companies creating huge demand
  • Another paradox: western companies trying to move east and develop something here because they have expectations for cost, talent – but we all know it’s actually very difficult and it’s a question of how well the business case is done – you need to have the right expectations and then you won’t be disappointed – if you spend enough time and do homework you can achieve this.
  • Education is the most important thing, from every perspective – it’s our duty to invest in people, in their further training and education – but sometimes we as employers need to compensate even for basic training that should be acquired in school and university – we are working with educational institutions to force them to listen and understand what the business environment needs
  • Unfortunately, the trend is that we need to invest more and more into compensating the gaps in education, which sometimes makes us wonder whether we’re spending enough time on our actual business or whether we’ve turned into training organisations.

Ionut Constandache – FX Dealer | Ebury

  • Ebury is a British fintech companies that started out about 9 years ago, currently in 20 countries in Europe, Canada, Asia, Australia
  • Ebury was planning to open a regional development hub since a couple of years ago, but couldn’t find the right country manager – now that has changed, we have found a great person to lead our operations here.
  • The biggest opportunity Ebury saw in Romania is addressing business corridors between East and West – a lot of clients from Western Europe who are exporters-importers with very tight business connections with Turkey, China etc. – a good opportunity to address something that wasn’t really happening yet in Romania
  • As a group we work with over 25,000 companies and trading in over 140 currencies
  • In the next couple of years, we’ll try to make some educational efforts for Romanian companies who are used to working with banks – in our opinion, banks have left a very big gap on the market with very expensive services – we address both SMEs as well as large corporate players
  • Opportunity came from the need for financial education, for products that fit the Romanian market’s needs
  • Ebury is currently developing in Romania only through sales – our main offices are in the UK, Spain and Malta – our plans in Romania is expanding our sales team, building new relationships with clients and acquiring more margin from the market because there’s a lot of potential there – but we’re not trying to develop something new in Romania for infrastructure, products, etc. because we already have that elsewhere – Poland, Czech Republic, Greece
  • We want to see what’s specific for the region here and develop some tailored products for the local market
  • If your objective in Romania is having local exposure with a local approach and your plans to develop in this part of Europe are big you need to be here not just for a couple of years.
  • We’ve started to fight over employees more than we’re fighting over clients

Moderator – Mihai Ivascu – CEO | Modex & CEO and Founder | MoneyMailMe

The Innovation Labs Project

Horia Velicu – Head of Innovation Lab at BRD – Groupe Societe Generale

  • I believe that there are a lot of actors in the innovation ecosystem. The actors have their competencies and know their area. But the problem comes when you try to link them.
  • The industry, somehow counterintuitively, is helping the startups that will later disrupt them.
  • We started cooperating two years ago and didn’t have a vertical for financial services. We did a research in the company about the problems we wanted to solve and eventually we found two teams that wanted to tackle this type of challenges. One of them helps clients do more business together. You very easily fall in the trap of outsourcing. But that is not entrepreneurship. That is not innovation. We have the MVP in the future and . The second one is a more AI oriented solution. Being a bank and having to use a lot of files, this takes time and there is not management queue. This is not necessarily optimum. You end up focusing on unsuccessful cased while putting on hold the successful ones. This is a program with companies that have to process complex data. We are also waiting for the MVP.

Daniel Rosner – Progam Manager | Innovation Labs Romania

  • We have very good developers, but we don’t have a lot of tech startups and we are working to change that at a national scale.
  • Ours program started at Polytechnics University of Bucharest six years ago.We are bringing together young, enthusiastic people active on different markets.
  • We recruited two teams for a month long entrepreneurship program and supported them with resources.
  • What we lack in Romania is people with good skills needed to identify which products work on the market. We would like to see also more tech products. We are famed as a country of programmers and the IT sector provides a big percentage to the GDP with the smallest workforce. But these are foreign companies, not Romanian-own companies.

Harnessing Startup Innovation for the Triple Bottom Line: PepsiCo & ReUse Hub

Walentin Stefanov – East Balkan CFO | PepsiCo

  • Everyone knows about the recycling problem in Romania – there are many legislative issues which don’t encourage outside investors
  • We’ve tried to do something big involving several players on the market, but we’ve seen it’s very hard to link the agendas of everyone involved
  • We’re trying to create hubs for startups, especially for products, R&D, tech processes, core business
  • Our theme is somewhat different, as we’re focused on recycling-related startups, but it’s a good opportunity
  • PepsiCo & Impact Hub’s project ReUse Hub hasn’t been promoted very much – internally, our objectives included CSR, but the main focus was raising awareness and bringing as many partners as possible, collaboration, testing new ideas even though some of them might not be successful
  • We also wanted to promote Romanian entrepreneurship and help projects scale nationally and internationally
  • My favourite projects – for example a bag that could be used with online shopping – which could be provided by the producer and returned int he system as many as 20 times; online shopping is increasingly popular; the second project involves 3D printing, a very promising area at the moment; the third was related to RFID – having a small tag on each product that helps track the supply chain and helping producers, retailers and consumers receive alerts and avoid throwing away as much food as we do right now.
  • I think our programme will result in ideas that will turn into viable business ideas, will gather funds from us and other players, will create a know-how that will continue to exist after the project and I like to think more such programmes will be created and more partners will be attracted on this very important topic, and we will become the clients of those startups that we’re helping develop right now.
  • We don’t have a selfish goal that only concerns ourselves, but something with a larger scope that works to raise awareness and interest in this topic

Moderator: Lucian Gramescu – Innovation & Incubation Manager | Impact Hub Bucharest

Panel Discussion | The need for Romanian companies to go global and play internationally

Matei Dumitrescu – VP | TechAngels & Director | Founder Institute

  • The role of a mentor is to understand very well what the startup does. And the startup needs to be honest with itself. If they are a hairdresser’s shop, the probability that they will go global is very small.
  • We have invested this year in several Silicon Valley startups. They were all tech start-ups. But we’ve also invested in a bio farm in Romania.
  • The startups that enter our program must have an idea of the global problem they want to solve. But when they want to solve a problem then the measure of success is the impact on society. If it can solve a problem in the society then that’s good.
  • As an investor, I invest in startups that have an impact before profit. That is why I don’t look at the global potential. I don’t like hunting for unicorns. Do you know how many unicorns there are now in the world? 279. There are more lottery winners in Romania than that.

Calin Vaduva – CEO | Fortech

  • We are an outsourcing company working for markets such as the US and Germany. I agree that not all companies need to go global, but all companies need to grow. To do that, you need to leave your comfort zone. Romania is a small country and growing outside of the borders is a challenge.
  • Scaling can be done the easy way or the hard way. The hard way is doing it yourself. You can make your own investment, make an acquisition, or you can be bought.
  • If you’re small and you’re an entrepreneur, going global by yourself is difficult.
  • Ou biggest challenge now is to recruit. Also to develop account manager, business development managers with global experience. If you want to sustain yourself, you need to grow. In this case, the market is limited. You need to go global. For us, the most important thing is to go abroad and grow there.
  • When you design a business, although you are a cafe or a hairdressers,’ you should think big. To dream it big.
  • The team and the execution are very important. And I praise those who come up with an idea and a product and bring it to market.

Xenia Muntean – CEO & Co-Founder | Planable

  • I agree with Matei that you should think of a global strategy only if it makes sense. We wanted to sole the problem of how marketing people work on content. And this is how the SAS model was identified.  As you advance, As a SAS B2B you realize that you are more relevant on certain markets. Most of our clients come from the US, the UK and South America.
  • As we have an app that creates a lot of content, it is used for spamming. And we must make sure that, just like Facebook, we take care of that. Expanding in Asia, such as China or other countries, would mean to integrate with their social media networks.

Mihai Ivascu – CEO | Modex & CEO and Founder | MoneyMailMe

  • In our industry one year is a long time and you must change fast the strategy. We adopted the slow growth strategy. We launched MoneyMailMe and Modex. We split our time between London, Bucharest and Silicon Valley.
  • We asked ourselves: what are our chances of competing with those already on the market? We are not fintechs against banks, but fintechs with banks and e-itailers. We can get access to their numbers but via other methods.
  • When we entered blockchain, we went to an area that gave us the best juridical status, the UK – Gibraltar where distributed ledger operations are best regulated. Now the plan is to scale to markets where we believe the technology is needed.
  • We can say we are global on blockchain development but also funding for SMEs. We developed the product with the idea to be global. Everyone had people that made the work on the ground, building the community. We started off with six and now we’re over 52. We’re going through a Series A funding with the group.
  • We should think about giving something, and not only asking. For instance, for a startup in manufacturing, to give away merchandise to be tested abroad, to raise the interest.

Dragos Doros – Tax Partner | KPMG Romania

  • The market is changing and we are investing in startups that make products useful for us. A small company is sustained using your energy and soul. After that, to grow it you also need a brain. Then, you need the money. There are very good ideas that floundered because there was no money for them. But then, if you go to the supermarket you will find products that are bad but are still there. They do that because they have the necessary framework.
  • Up until now, foreign companies came to Romania and used here the methods they were familiar with and failed. Because they did not
  • Romania is a fiscal jurisdiction that is more competitive than the countries around it. 10 percent on revenues and 16 percent on profit. In Romania, small taxes, legislation on holding and several others -make it a good destination. But Romania lacks a institutional thinking of a country that exports capital.
  • Bulgaria is also close by, as is Hungary, but Romania remains a strong destination. In our practice we have companies that want to localise their revenues here.Many countries are after tech companies and want to tax them. There is a EU initiative run by the French prime minister that says that big tech companies should be taxed.

Gabriel Istoc – General Manager | B-team Consult and Services

  • I was an employee and advanced to partner. Now I am an own shareholder.
  • I joined Romanian Business Leaders, which has a summit where a community of 300 entreoreneurs vote on initiatives. Perhaps many of you have hear about Repatriot, Antreprenoria, and more.
  • I saw that many entrepreneurs were afraid. The idea was to launch Startup Bridge and help entrepreneurs learn from others and enter foreign markets. Not necessarily global, because there are products that work on certain markets. If you have a competitive market then you can go on the market.
  • We had Qualitance, eMAG and more companies that came and held talks. But there is no coherent policy, and we must find ways to make central authorities believe that Romanian entrepreneurs can go abroad and bring money home so they can fix the trade deficit, which will affect us sooner rather than later.

Moderator – Diana Popp – Co-founder & Vice President | Smart Everything Everywhere

Close ×

We use cookies for keeping our website reliable and secure, personalising content and ads, providing social media features and to analyse how our website is used.

Accept & continue