BR INTERVIEW. Techsylvania to bring investors managing funds worth billions of dollars

Aurel Dragan 23/04/2019 | 07:00

Techsylvania is one of the most influential events in the IT industry, taking place every year in Cluj-Napoca, and it will reach its 6th edition in 2019. The event that will bring over 3,000 attendees in June will also have many investors coming who will try to find investment opportunities. Business Review talked to the organizers to find out more about these investors.

What are investors’ expectations at Techsylvania?

At first, the investors coming to Cluj-Napoca are curious to discover the Eastern European tech ecosystem, with professional developers building products for global companies and young entrepreneurs creating a buzz in the world. They look at the event as a gateway to this part of Europe.

”It’s a conference where people from one of the emerging hubs in Eastern Europe are very eager to learn and to tell and to show. If you want to understand Eastern Europe, you should visit Cluj,” says Yossi Vardi, Angel Investor (founder of the Israeli Tech Ecosystem).

”It’s kind of a transformational central event for Eastern Europe, lots of Romanian companies, but also companies from all over the world, which is wonderful; the content is stronger than I’ve seen at many other tech conferences,” shows Max Niederhofer, general partner at Sunstone Capital (Europe’s consumer-only venture capital firm has raised over USD 500 million in committed capital across four fund generations).

”Come see specifically how technologies are evolving here and who are the people building on it, because it is different than what I see in Silicon Valley,” says Di-Ann Eisnor, former director of Growth at Waze.

Kaidi Ruusalepp, founder & CEO of Funderbeam, the world’s first primary and secondary marketplace for early-stage investments, secured by blockchain, was also impressed by the “pool of talent” she encountered here.

Basically, they expect to meet talented people from the IT and non-IT sectors and to better understand the ecosystem. In Eastern Europe, in countries like Hungary, there are 8 professional developers per 1,000 inhabitants, while in Romania 6 out of 1,000 people are professional developers, according to The State of European Tech.

How many investors has the event brought over the years?

More than 100 investors have come to Techsylvania since 2014. During the first five editions, we welcomed representatives of international funds and companies managing venture capital funds of over USD 10 billion. At the 5th edition, investors who managed funds of USD 3 billion came to Cluj-Napoca due to the event.

In 2019 we are pleased to welcome the world’s largest technology investment fund. Sakshi Chhabra Mittal, the VP of Investments at the SoftBank Vision Fund is coming to the 2019 edition. She’s managing SoftBank’s USD 100 Billion Vision Fund, which has shaken up Silicon Valley and the entire technology world. Also joining Techsylvania in 2019 is Fang Yuan, VP at Baidu.ventures. She’s managing a USD 500 million fund with a focus on AI & Robotics. Serial technology entrepreneur and angel investor, Adam Jackson, co-founder and CEO of Braintrust and also co-founder of Doctor On Demand, which raised USD 165 million, will be on stage in June.

What are their main interests?

Every investor gets a 360-degree experience at Techsylvania. They are involved in the Hackathon, the Startup Avalanche and they also share their experience on our main stage. We want to connect them with every participant, giving them the chance to discover more of the ecosystem. This way, we are also creating endless networking opportunities with our attendees.

A part of the investors are looking to connect with startups, VCs and CEOs of global companies and discover new ideas. Others are hoping to tackle the Eastern European ecosystem and meet professional developers. For example, Jaco Fok chose Techsylvania for these exact reasons. As Chief of Innovation at OMV Petrom, he was looking “to help his company become more innovative and do more” in this sector. He was a judge at the Hackathon and also at Startup Avalanche. His experience brought valuable insight to both teams and the events connected him with the innovation ecosystem he was looking to tap into.

Ashley Carroll, partner at Social Capital, a venture capital fund running $1.2 billion, joined Techsylvania 2018 to meet entrepreneurs and other investors. “We launched a global investment platform and through that, we saw hints of really technical teams in Eastern Europe and I decided to come here in person and witness the ecosystem, meet some entrepreneurs and investors,” she explains. With these interests in mind, she got involved in the Startup Avalanche competition, but she also spoke on the main stage.

So, for every investor the experience is different and we try to shape it around their stated interests. Startup Avalanche is the perfect place to discover innovative ideas that have already been transformed into a business and the Hackathon is the perfect event for developing an ingenious and yet still new product.

What is the value of the investments made following the event?

Techsylvania grew into an amazing networking hub. The event is defined by the endless interaction opportunities between attendees from different fields, companies, countries, and investors, CEOs of IT & digital companies, banks and pioneers of growing startups. This key element provided the right context for Newton Howard, Director of the MIT Synthetic Intelligence Lab, to find a new team in Romania and create Laif Science. The 27 engineers working here are further developing his brilliant research. And all started at Techsylvania. This is just an example.

In 2018, the event also featured the launch of a new fund and a program for startups: TastyBrands.vc, which invests in HORECA innovations and operations, and a security incubator.

Moreover, through Startup Avalanche, 720 startups applied to Techsylvania. In collaboration with the Risky Business team, 48 projects from 20 countries were selected for the semifinals, one was bought – the virtual cash register Ebriza raised EUR 300K in funding led by a Romanian bank;  another 10 had major investments and 17 other concluded partnerships. This means that 1 in 5 startups accepted in the competition got an investment after their participation at Startup Avalanche.

What is the influence these investors have on the market?

“Startups should be competing in the marketplace, should be talking to investors, raise the money, build the product”, said Max Niederhofer, former Techsylvania speaker. An investor makes any startup founder work harder hence the perspective of attracting funding.

An angel investor, a serial entrepreneur, the representative of a multi-billion fund can shape a startup from the beginning just by sharing their experience.  The insight can provide key features that could take the product out of the project stage and into the market.  This is exactly what Startup Avalanche is all about.

Our partners from Risky Business work with the semi-finalists so they can improve their pitch and investment plan. The process also includes sessions with local angel investors, so the teams can fully prepare. The startups do it all for the chance to impress the jury. With this in mind, we can say that investors play a key role in the development of the startup ecosystem.

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