The Call For Leaders interview series reached its third phase, with the established 3Q format having received a revamp for 2021. The original Call For Leaders 3Q and its sequel, Call For Leaders – Back in Business, have seen us talking to quite a diverse roster of business leaders in Romania, representing top companies and various industries. For the most recent inteview, the C4L 3 questions were answered by entrepreneur & business angel Malin-Iulian Stefanescu, President of TechAngels,
After a difficult 2020 year, how do you think business optimism will be influenced in 2021?
In the Romanian tech startups community, the difficulties of 2020 boosted a spirit of increased collaboration and creativity. From our perspective, as an association of individual investors supporting this environment, we could see from day one a commitment to do whatever possible to keep the ecosystem growing.
I was quite happy with my colleagues in TechAngels when they decided we do not stop but increase the number of pitch days, allowing more start-ups to present their ideas and receive our support. We added a few tools and found ways to get to know each other better (even if challenged by the fast growth of the group) and also added international startups pitches. In other words, if life gives you lemon, ask for a tequila!
At our year-end review we discovered that more than 1100 hours were spent in coaching and mentoring sessions by our angels, we also had an important increase in numbers- practically doubling membership. In terms of results, the investment pace was maintained, around 75 companies being funded, although the amounts invested were lower, showing certain prudence. Our estimation is of around 4 million euro invested in startups with at least a minimum viable product prepared. I hope that once the sanitary situation is improving all this effervescence will be increased. 2021 year stared on a high note with a series of industry events where our members are involved as mentors and with a constant growth in membership.
How will your association be involved in the development of your industry, and also in the recovery of other sectors which were affected by the pandemic?
TechAngels is in a privileged position due to the fact that the association is interested by one of the most active economy segments. Tech solutions are no longer tech only: they touch and improve the activity in all the sectors – surprisingly, even the public sector is now considering technology.
We are an important link in this ecosystem because we are the first fuel to boost the development of a startup. Once founders’ families and friends dry out, there is usually no institutional investor interested to invest – and this is when we come in. And yes, we have to be aware of the needs of different industries in order to support the right startups for their needs.
Our members are individuals and their approach to projects is very diverse. Moreover, they come from different sectors, there are investors in the group coming from agriculture, banking, textiles and consultancy, not only from technology. This makes a hell lot difficult to coordinate the activity but it serves the purpose in the benefit of the startups which can find more possible partners all in one place.
We are more and more active in offering advice and support, our members are also playing a constant role in projects meant to support the development of the start up community. We are by definition a group which is sharing knowledge and this way we grow together and we help others grow.
How will you approach innovation and new investments in 2021?
We are here for innovators and their innovations; thus, we’ll keep them as close as possible. In our area of interest most solutions are new or are trying to solve an existing problem in a new way. However, what we are looking for is well targeted innovation so that the startup is solving a clear need, is able to grow, to scale up, become bigger, expand, etc. We look to all the aspects of the innovation: Is there a good team behind the idea? The product may be excellent but is there a market for it (now or, at least, soon)? How big that market is? Is there a good sales and marketing strategy? We have these discussions with the founders and most of the time I could see that the investment decision is based on the openness of the founders to learn and build on and around their ideas. I expect the level of investment to keep its pace this year, as in the previous, and maybe, as the sanitary crisis diminishes, to see an increase of the amounts invested as a group. Now it is already clear there will be more angel investors in Romania and we are looking forward for the new accelerators and the new funds to keep the pace!