BR SPECIAL. Five business angels poised to fly in 2019

Newsroom 12/02/2019 | 07:30

With many startups seeking finance, innovative entrepreneurs seem fortunate: if they convince individual investors to inject money into their idea, they win an angel – a business angel. With just 50 business angels active in 2017, Romania still lags behind its European peers, but there are signals on the market that local business investors are willing to put their money into valuable and innovative ideas this year too. Business Review presents five of the most active local business angels to go into 2019.

By Anda Sebesi, Ioana Erdei, Aurel Dragan

Related: 7 things all entrepreneurs should know about angel investors

According to the European Business Angels Network (EBAN) Statistical Compendium, the size of the visible and invisible business angel market in Europe increased to EUR 7.3 billion in 2017, up by 9 percent from 2016, keeping it the main equity market for early stage SMEs and European startups. By comparison, angel investment in the US has reached an estimated USD 23.9 billion dollars. The business angel community in Europe grew to 337,500 investors, who closed 39,990 deals in 2017. EBAN is the pan-European representative for the early stage investor, gathering over 150 member organizations from more than 50 countries. Established in 1999 by a group of pioneer angel networks in Europe with the collaboration of the European Commission and EURADA, EBAN represents a sector estimated to invest EUR 7.5 billion a year, and playing a vital role in Europe’s future, notably in the funding of SMEs. EBAN fuels Europe’s growth through the creation of wealth and jobs.

Within the visible market, the United Kingdom continues to be the leading country with EUR 107.7 million invested in 2017 and EUR 98 million in 2016. Germany comes second with EUR 77 million of angel investment in 2017, followed by France and Turkey with EUR 63 million and EUR 52.3 million respectively.

The same source says that despite the strong performance of mature markets, it is important to highlight the continuing success of smaller players such as Estonia and Poland, noting the growing prominence of younger angel communities, which tend to have higher investment-to-GDP ratios than older established angel communities.

While the UK continues to lead the European angel market with its EUR 107.7 million of investment in 2017, up 9.2 percent from 2016, Romania still lags behind it and its other more developed European peers, with just EUR 3.4 million of investments in 2017 made by 50 business angels (BAs). By comparison, in the same year in Bulgaria 105 BAs put up EUR 7 million, in Hungary 120 BAs invested EUR 4.4 million, while 201 Czech business angels stumped up EUR 6.1 million.

Rene Schöb, KPMG Romania’s head of technology steering committee and the creator of the KPMG Startup Grow Pad, told Business Review last year that it is more important for an economy to have many successful startups than unicorns, because startups that create jobs and are stable bring a lot to the economy. And this is a huge opportunity for angel investors to see the potential of startups and inject their capital.

In other words, there is still plenty of room to encourage the business angel community in Romania. To this end, in January, a group of Romanian entrepreneurs from Timisoara launched a platform called Growceanu, a concept which aims to develop the entrepreneurial and startup environment, making the match between investors and individuals with business ideas. Growceanu, which is connected to the European network ESIL (Early Stage Investing Launchpad) is comprised of business angel investors active in the high-tech sector. They bring their financial, professional and business contribution and offer access to their personal business network to startups that have a high potential to grow and become profitable in the future.

“Our proposal is to create a community of those who are interested in investment opportunities in businesses with high potential for development. Through Growceanu, we build a process and an ecosystem which will measure and diminish the risks associated with these investments. With a common effort, we will be able to ease the access of a larger number of local investors to startups,” says Ciprian Man, co-founder of Growceanu and entrepreneur. Throughout their initiative, Valentin Muresan, Adrian Erimescu, Dan Bugariu, Radu Ticiu and Ciprian Man, the founders of the initiative, intend to create solutions for the development of entrepreneurship in western Romania, determine the creation and implementation of public policies that are favorable for the entrepreneurial environment and ease the access of regional startups to business angel investors.

The Statistical Compendium of EBAN also shows that European investment per deal still remains considerably lower than in the US (EUR 180,000 in the EU in 2017 versus USD 380,000 in the US). Individual angel investment per funding round is at an average of EUR 25,400, with a very wide range of typically EUR 10,000 to EUR 500,000, depending on the country.

As for their average age, the CEE region has the youngest business angel investors – between 40 and 45 years old – compared to France’s average of more than 60.

Similar trends can be observed gender-wise in Central and Eastern Europe, which boasts the highest ratio of women investing as business angels (about 30 percent). In Western Europe, women angel investors still represent a fraction of the angel community, about 11 percent.

FinTech and ICT take the vast majority of investment from business angels (25.2 percent and 21.3 percent respectively). However, 26 percent of respondents to surveys and interviews seeking to find out what they look for, indicated that they have no specific sectoral focus and mainly invest in the team, the idea/team product or the market. Interestingly, sectors like healthcare and media keep gaining popularity in the angel community, which has resulted in the formation of sophisticated communities and networks of investors.

As for the timeframe of their investments, business angel investors mainly have long-term investment horizons, hence the name “patient capital”, with holding periods of the investment of five or more years. This trend highlights the implicit idea to build longer-term partnerships within the investment case.

Asked what were the main risks that prevented angels from investing in both tech and non-tech startups, the EBAN Compendium shows that respondents focused on market demand and competition, team structure and ability to execute, and, finally, the valuation of the company.

Notably, whereas entrepreneurs tend to focus on the product/technology, investors are more interested in  knowing if there is a market for the product/service and if the team is capable of executing their business idea. Therefore, if entrepreneurs focus more on the market in their business plans and presentations, they might increase their chances of getting funded. It seems that valuation is considered “excessive” more often in non-tech deals than tech deals. This phenomenon could be related to the scalability of tech projects, which justifies their higher valuations.

 

Dragos Anastasiu, the inspiring entrepreneur

Total investments: tens of thousands of euros

Total companies: 5

Successful investments: Euromoving

Since starting his first business in 1995, after having graduated from the University of Medicine in Germany, Dragos Anastasiu has built one of the largest international transport companies in Romania from scratch. But aside from managing the group, Anastasiu is also focused on helping emerging entrepreneurs.

He is the executive director of the Romanian-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry and has been part of campaigns to support entrepreneurship among young people as well as to convince Romanians living abroad to return home and start businesses. Along with Marius Ghenea and Cristina Batlan (owner of Mussette), he was one of the first business angels in Romania and hosted the TVR2 show Arena Leilor (Lions’ Arena) which invited up and coming entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas in front of an audience of investors.

He has developed ten lines of business, in tourism, transport, car rental, hotels, taxi, flight ticketing and coach transport. The head of Eurolines has an “obsession” with keeping his employees happy and is looking to constantly keep his management teams engaged and independent.  Anastasiu’s vision has paid off as his companies lead the local tourism market.

His group is currently the only one in Romania that provides the full array of tourism services and Anastasiu’s priority is to further develop the services culture in Romania. Eurolines Group comprises 22 companies whose turnover climbed 25 percent to EUR 150 million in 2017. Some 650 people are currently employed by the group, whose brands include Eurolines, TUI TravelCenter and Nova Travel Danubius, just to name a few.

In an interview with Business Review, he reveals he has invested tens of thousands of euro in startups. A relevant example is Euromoving, a removals company in which he invested EUR 25,000 in 2010, and acquired 60 percent of the business. This was actually the first company he had invested in as a business angel.

In the future, he sees potential in industries such as IT and services. He considers the economic environment in Romania more open and prepared every day for investments by business angels.

In 2011, Dragos Anastasiu makes a bold decision and changes the company’s strategy by buying Danubius Travel. He also signs a partnership with TUI Travel, the world leader in tourism.

“What I managed to do here in 22 years I couldn’t have done in Germany in 222 years.” In October last year, the entrepreneur launched TravelBrands, a six-agency chain that aims to attract low-income customers.

ABOUT DRAGOS ANASTASIU

  • Executive director of the Romanian-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry;
  • Member of the Romanian Business Leaders Association;
  • Owner of Eurolines group;
  • Ex-president of the National Agency of Tourism Agencies in Romania.

 

Matei Dumitrescu, the millennial investing in the new generation

Total investments: EUR 300,000

Total companies: 20

Successful investments: Cosul de Legume, Biodumbrava, Wireframe

Matei Dumitrescu has been an international angel investor, startup mentor, and investment advisor since 2013. He started his mission as a business angel by investing in startups from different industries such as music, trading and software. “I invest in projects that have a positive impact in society; my motto is purpose before profits,” Dumitrescu told Business Review in an interview.

He has also mentored hundreds of up and coming entrepreneurs from Malaysia to Brazil. His first investment as a business angel was in a company called Cosul de Legume, the first startup to promote Romanian organic products on a large scale.

In spring 2018, alongside other business angels and venture capital funds, he invested in eight Silicon Valley startups.

“In six years, I have invested more than EUR 300,000 in over 20 companies, from a simple idea to a ten-year-old firm. There are also several startups that I have joined as a minority shareholder and managed to attract investors,” he said.

His notable investments include Connect Hub, one of the first co-working spaces in Romania (a total investment of EUR 50,000 with another business angel; he made his exit in 2015), and Wirefame, an AI based SGI platform (total investment of EUR 150,000 with GapMinde).

“I have invested from a couple of thousand euros to hundreds of thousands of euros in one business. It brings me great joy when I can convince other investors to join me in believing in the potential of a startup. In spring 2018, along with another seven investors, I invested in a group of Silicon Valley startups,” Dumitrescu told BR.

His plans for 2019 depend on his “discoveries”. “A business angel doesn’t have a strict investment plan like a venture capital fund. I may not invest anything or be in over my head and try to bring other investors with me,” he said.

He admits he is easily convinced to invest in startups that come up with a solution to a problem that people face every day. “The bigger the problem, the more efficient the solution, the bigger success a business has,” he said. When asked to describe the business environment in Romania, he replied that Romania offers great opportunities. “We don’t have a history of investments, but we are working on it with the authorities.”

ABOUT MATEI DUMITRESCU

  • International angel investor, startup mentor, and investment advisor;
  • In 2018 voted Investor of the Year in Romania at the Central European Startup Awards, and competed in the regional Grand Finale in Warsaw;
  • Mentor for hundreds of startups, from Malaysia to Brazil;
  • Investor in dozens of companies from Silicon Valley to Romania;
  • Recently he has invested in WireFame, an AI based CGI platform, and in BioDumbrava (organic agriculture);
  • Vice president of TechAngels, the first and strongest Business Angel Investors Network in Romania.

 

Radu Georgescu: Failure is the greatest thing there is, you do not learn anything from success

Estimated total wealth: EUR 45 million

Estimated investments: several million euros

Successful investments: Vector Watch, Smart Bill, TypingDNA

Radu Georgescu is one of the most famous entrepreneurs in Romania, and one of the oldest, as he opened his first business in 1992, and one of the best-known, since he sold RAV antivirus to Microsoft in 2003.

“In 1992, I set up the first GECAD company, and in 1994 we began developing RAV antivirus, as well as three other software products that weren’t too successful. Well, actually they were failures. This is another entrepreneurship lesson learned: not all projects have the same chances to succeed. With RAV, however, we struck gold. In 2003, we had more than 150 resellers in 60 countries and, that same year, this technology attracted Microsoft’s attention, the company with which I eventually negotiated the sale of RAV,” says Georgescu.

It is a lesson that he still gives to young entrepreneurs. “Failure is the greatest thing there is. You do not learn anything from success. It’s very easy to say ‘success doesn’t matter and failure is good’ but I think everyone owes himself or herself an experience of failure. Hopefully, your first failure is a bit of a success so it can fund your next success,” adds the entrepreneur.

Over the years, Radu Georgescu has had more successful sales and exits. He sold ePayment, known today as PayU Romania, to Naspers, and Avangate to the American investment fund Francisco Partners. He opened Gecad Ventures in 2016 in order to have a better identity as a venture capital fund. Georgescu turned business angel before as he made money from its business. “Almost 25 years after I set up Gecad, we succeeded in bringing it to another stage in 2016 when it became Gecad Ventures, thus officially a venture capital firm that is investing in a broad range of companies with high growth potential, with the ability to innovate and deliver new ideas and products in their market,” says Georgescu. As an investor in new ideas and someone that sees over 2,000 ideas in a year, he chooses depending on a set of principles. “Vision, ability to execute and chemistry. This means we share the same values. Vision is important. They need to answer the question ‘why.’ But then, the most important thing is the ability to execute. The big companies in the world are not those that had the idea, or the vision. They are those who executed brilliantly. And, yes, there needs to be chemistry as well,” he says of his criteria for investing.

Among the investments he has made, Vector Watch, which makes a smartwatch with a battery that last for 30 days, is one of the best-known globally. TypingDNA is another investment of his, a security company that provides identification and authentication services using artificial intelligence algorithms that recognize the unique way a person types. This “biometric typing” is the newest way of secondary authentication in online transactions, meant to improve and replace todays methods (SMS, token etc.). Smart Bill was another investment he made, along with the fund Catalyst Romania. The company, which has developed a billing solution and is a local SaaS (software as a service) provider, got EUR 1 million to continue developing. Another important investment is Sympopay, a solution designed for retailers who want to integrate all partner banks into one single payment terminal.

“I think an entrepreneur is a problem solver. He or she has or gets a vision and knows how to solve the problem,” says Georgescu.

The advice he would give to young entrepreneurs is: “Go for global companies. I wouldn’t do a company for my neighborhood, nor my city, but for the world.”

 

Marius Ghenea, the entrepreneur that grew business wings

Total investments: EUR 20 million

Total companies: 25

Successful investments: ADD Mirror, Viking Profil, PC Garage

Marius Ghenea is an entrepreneur who has accepted all the business challenges he has been given. He has started afresh and reinvented himself several times and, during his career, managed to develop a total of 25 businesses and invest around EUR 20 million. He started his business angel career in 2007, on the Lions’ Arena TV show. One of his first investments was in Add Mirror, an indoor media company that he sold to the then market leader.

“In the beginning I tried to invest in all kinds of businesses in different economic fields. I think this was my biggest advantage as a business angel. As I gained more experience, I understood the importance of specializing in specific areas. After I invested in services, distribution, retail, media companies, and I started focusing on the IT industry,” Ghenea told BR.

As a business angel, he has invested in ten companies, according to an interview he gave to Business Review. “As a growth-capital investor I have also invested in another ten companies. Counting the companies, as a serial entrepreneur, I have invested in a total of 25,” he told BR.

Ten years ago he invested EUR 253,000 in PC Garage, an online IT store. In 2016 he sold the company to eMAG, the biggest marketplace in Romania.

Also, 12 years ago he invested in Viking Profil, a metallic tile manufacturer. In 2008 he sold the company to the biggest player in the industry in South-East Europe, the Polish company Pruszynski.

“In the past, I have invested in Romanian companies through 3TS investment fund. In 2019 we are ready to invest around EUR 40 million in Romanian tech companies. The first EUR 10 million is already invested,” he outlined.

Looking to the future, he thinks that creative business has the most potential. “I think that Romania has clear advantages in this area: creativity, specialized human resources, the possibility of scaling the business, and last but not least, the need for small initial investments,” he noted.

According to him, there are no official data on the total value of investments made by business angels in Romania, especially as some of them can be easily mistaken for investments made into new companies by the three Fs – family, friends and fools. “In my experience as a business angel and venture capital investor, I have always had beside me around 20 business angels, which clearly shows that Romania has big potential but also shows that most business angels prefer to share the investment risk with others,” Ghenea said.

He underlined that legislation governing this type of investments is blocked by the lack of implementation methodology. In spite all this, the Romanian business environment is friendly to this type of investment because there are very few alternatives for high net worth individuals. “The stock exchange market lacks liquidity, investments in different instruments are limited, and yields very low. This is why placing money as a business angel is attractive in Romania, because it offers investor the upside of getting shares and extra decision making benefits in a company,” Ghenea commented.

 

Mihai Rotaru: Overnight success takes seven years!

Estimated Clever Taxi Exit Value: EUR 3 million

Estimated investment: several hundred thousand euros

Successful investment: Appsulate

In 2011, Mihai Rotaru, along with Alexandru Dumitru, created the mobile app Clever Taxi. It was a solution for the ever-growing urban transportation scene and helped customers find the closest taxi to their location. In six years, the app has taken over 40 million orders for taxis in 20 towns and cities.

The pair sold Clever Taxi to giant German corporation Daimler Mercedes in 2017, for over EUR 10 million. The app created, called Mytaxi, is now able to develop at a European level. “We have many specialists who are helping us in the development process. The urban transport market in Romania is quite large, reaching about EUR 1 billion. Interestingly, it is growing steadily, young people are buying fewer cars and choosing to proceed with leased transport solutions (in one form or another). With this strategic acquisition, Mytaxi accelerates the international expansion of the ‘taxi order’ application in Europe,” said Rotaru, after negotiations that lasted nine months.

He stepped down as CEO of the company, but didn’t retire. Instead, he decided to become a business angel and invest in local startups. Apps like Martketplace, which gathers offers from different companies, and artificial intelligence are the domains where he first started to look at for ideas.

The startup Appsulate, winner of the Start-up Excellence Award at Innovation Labs 2018, was chosen for an investment. “Appsulate caught my attention with a very well-formed team and the innovation it proposes,” said Rotaru, who added that he sees high potential in becoming a cyber-security leader. Appsulate allows access to applications that contain sensitive data through secure high-visibility and protection against malware attacks and prevents data loss or theft. The apps run in the cloud, but also by inserting a USB stick. The platform offers advantages to both companies and employees, facilitating flexibility and autonomy in the work schedule.

“The startup environment in Romania is fairly restricted and people go very fast from one to the other. I think the best way is to have open talks with everyone. However, I always enjoy talking with people in this field to change ideas, not necessarily to invest or find an investor. We are not very many and in the little one here it would be good to talk to each other because people can exchange interesting ideas,” says Rotaru.

Still, he advises young entrepreneurs not to expect overnight success and not to give up after a year if the business doesn’t go as it should, according to expectations. “Overnight success takes seven years to become real!” says Rotaru, quoting a business angel motto.

ABOUT MIHAI ROTARU

  • Business angel, investor;
  • In 2011 founded Clever Taxi, the e-hailing app that become that most used in Romania; in Bucharest, the app is used by 1 in 4 customers;
  • From February 2008 owner and CEO at Code5 Media;
  • From May 2010, owner and CEO at Squeely;
  • In 2017 sold, together with partners, Clever Taxi to Daimler Mercedes, but stayed with the company to help it develop further;
  • In August 2018 announced an investment in Appsulate, the cyber-security company that won the Start-up Excellence Award at Innovation Labs 2018.
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