It has the highest number of technology workers per capita, close to 64,000 specialist IT workers, and counts Avangate and UberVu among its most recent exit successes.
These factors, combined with an enviable tax regime; as low as 0% for IT workers, have conspired to help create one of Europe’s hottest start-up scenes; Romania.
Now the country’s tech hub is drawing serious international attention, and according to one Romanian entrepreneur, Florin Cornianu, CEO and co-founder of123ContactForm, within two years it will be seen as a true rival to London as the hotbed of European talent.
“In Romania, people are used to starting with nothing and growing something from that. We’ve had no government initiatives to help us set up our businesses,” he says. “But now number of elements are coming together, including recently exited entrepreneurs becoming angel investors and VCs to help other founders grow their companies.”
What is emerging is a strong culture of programming, innovation and incubation. A number of highly rated universities in cities such as Bucharest, Timisoara, Cluj, Iasi, and Constanta provide a regular source of talented people and drive tech innovation.
“We have also seen an influx of major corporations which inspire, partner with and buy from start-ups, and also offer a safety net for entrepreneurs with paid employment opportunities,” said Cornianu.
The Romanian start-up ecosystem now boasts numerous incubators, co-working spaces and dedicated events to help emerging entrepreneurs. The largest dedicated tech conference in Eastern Europe, HowToWeb5, is held in Bucharest.
However, Cornianu insists that the Romanian start-up scene has always had a global outlook. It had to, he says, in order to succeed.
“It makes business founders resilient, teaches entrepreneurs not to rely on handouts or support, and encourages greater achievement,” he says. “We are now seeing an increasing number of successful businesses growing out of this environment.”
123ContactForm, which enables people in any location to build any kind of web form with no programming knowledge, is a case in point. Bootstrapped in 2008, it has experienced 100% year-on-year growth since its formation and added close to 200,000 new customers in 2014 alone.
Half of its paying users come from the US, which represents around 40% of its overall users. The UK is home to 5% of its free users and 6.5% of its paying members.
“It is possible to be successful without large investment, but it does take hard work,” he says. “The most important thing is to build and scale the right team – and to keep an international outlook. At first, it might have been a disadvantage for us to be from Romania, but now it is an advantage as we expand our great team.”
Other Romanian tech trailblazers include ThePoleSociety.com which offers a mobile application for finding information and promoting special events, and this year launched in Brazil.
Twotap.com, launched earlier this year, is an automated checkout solution that allows consumers to buy any product from any retailer on any mobile app or website. In August it secured a $2.7 million seed round from some high profile investors, including Khosla Ventures and Green Visor Capital.
Renderstreet.com and Moqups.com are also making progress in overseas markets, while one to watch is VisionBot, a pick and place robotic machine designed by a maker for makers to place surface-mount devices (SMDs) onto printed circuit boards (PCBs), affordably.
It promises to solve one of the biggest challenges for electrical engineers, makers, hackers, and hobbyists; the huge costs of turning their electronic prototype into an industrial product. Visionbot creates a manufacturing line for turning prototypes into industrial products that are in medium-quantity.
London’s Silicon Roundabout may have had the lion’s share of attention as a tech capital, but as it becomes increasingly saturated, other European locations are vying to offer the start-up appeal that even Silicon Roundabout can’t match, the tech capital of Europe could soon be much further east than East London, says Cornianu.
“The future is definitely bright for the Romanian start-up scene,” he said. “The number of people involved in start-ups is growing every year, more and more kids are showing an interest, and of course we’re creating more successes. The more of those we have, the better our chances of taking on London, Berlin, and yes, even Silicon Valley.”