As in the previous 2 years, it’s time for a review of the past 12 months. In general, I feel that Cluj ecosystem is settling down; the “brownian movement” with support initiatives for startups seems clearer now and I believe we’re entering a phase of growth in which the “actors” are already known and they will keep on playing and improving their role.
In the following lines, I tried a classification based on the size and overall purpose of these initiatives and, then, a reminder of several startups that got noticed in the last year.
Regarding events we should note the emergence of several new concepts, so that almost every month was taken by one of them:
Startup Pirates Cluj (http://cluj.startuppirates.org/) - its first edition took place in February 2014. It was a week-long event with international mentors and workshops designed to give participants a clear vision of what lean startup is. The following topics were addressed: business model, customer validation, pitching, marketing for startups and investment. Basically participants came with startup ideas and during the event they worked on developing it under the guidance of those 20 mentors.
In March we had the well-known Startup Weekend Cluj (http://cluj.startupweekend.org/), at its third edition. Beyond the large number of participants, surprising was that all the 4 winning teams were led by women, which could mean a step towards a maturing ecosystem and a gradual increase of female involvement (frequently discussed issue in more advanced ecosystems, there even exist investment funds focused on supporting female tech entrepreneurship);
Transylvania Demoday (http://startuptransilvania.ro/demo-day/) has counted two editions last year (in April and in December) and consisted of a session of 5-minute pitches plus questions from the jury. Each edition has gathered around 10 local startups invited to pitch.
Techsylvania (http://www.techsylvania.co/) positioned itself as an event with international perspective, focused on innovation in hardware technologies (examples of devices that could be tested at the event: jawbone, Google Glass, Pebble, Sphero, Onyx Beacons, Leap Motion, Withings, EyeTribe Tracker). An interesting part of the event was the hackathon on wearables and connected technologies, in which teams could develop solutions to various problems based technologies mentioned above. A new edition of Techsylvania will take place in early June 2015.
Another event, but this time dedicated to students was 3 Day Startup Cluj (http://cluj.3daystartup.org/). In addition to its focus exclusively on students, it is distinguishing by the fact that participants are selected after an application and a face-to-face interview, with a limit of 40 places. Similar in structure to other weekend events (pitching, selecting ideas, forming teams and then working, pitch and judging), does not focus on MVP development, but rather on business validation, mainly through interviews with prospective customers and feedback from mentors.
In November, IT Days (http://www.itdays.ro/), 2nd edition, had one of its tracks on entrepreneurship. Thus, in addition to several pitches of startups, university research projects with potential for business spin-offs were presented as well.
Startup Live Cluj (http://startuplive.in/cluj-napoca/3) was the last weekend-based event of the year and it was closely connected with Transylvania Demoday; some of the ideas presented there were included in the pitching session of the Demoday.
Counting as events, but this time smaller and with higher occurrence, we should mention the explosion of meetups with focus on various topics related to technology and startups. So, every week, this fall, we had at least 3 meetups on topics like: Agile Development, Growth Hacking, Bitcoin, How to Start a Startup Lectures, SpartUP, UX/UI, Startup Lounge, Mobile Monday (http://clujstartups.com/#events). Most of them took place at Cluj Hub and were promoted mainly through meetup.com. Of course, we must mention here TSM’s launch events, which addressed tech startups theme as well (thanks to Ovidiu).
In terms of programs, thus lasting at least several weeks, we can mention three initiatives:
Tandem by GRASP (http://tandem.mygrasp.org/) was organized by the Global Romanian Society of Young Professionals, lasting 8 weeks and having a format focused on non-formal entrepreneurship education with the aim to lead participants through the process of defining the concept of business model, pitching and developing a prototype.
Simplon Romania (http://ro.simplon.co/) organized with the support of Cluj Cowork and lasting for 6 months, started in October and aims to educate participants on how to develop a tech product (even if they don’t have any technical experience) and how to launch it on the market. Basically, it is a mix between an incubator and programming school. Having a community orientation it also hosted meetups opened for other startup-interested people.
Spherik Accelerator (http://spherikaccelerator.com/) had its first application period in October and seven startups were accepted to attend the 4-month program. Startups received office space and were included in a series of workshops and mentoring sessions. The accelerator is a non-profit; for the services offered it takes only 3.14% equity only if the startup obtains funding in the following year. So after the program ends, Spherik will actively help startups get a round of funding and any subsequent accelerator profits will be reinvested in the program.
In addition to these programs, we have to mention Startcelerate as well (http://startcelerate.com/), an initiative born in Cluj, but present mainly in UK, it aims to connect IT companies that have resources available with startups and investors who need those kind resources. To this moment, a series of pitching and matching events were organized, including Cluj, and others are planned for the near future in several European capitals.
In the last year, we also had a few startups that were awarded or accepted in various international acceleration programs:
CallerQ (http://www.callerq.com/ - “we help sales professionals to increase the efficiency of prospecting and provide analytics to sales managers”) participated in Warp Krakow program, supported by Hub:raum
Asiqo (http://asiqo.com/ - “mobile application that enables brands to interact with their global audience through advertisements”) - meanwhile closed, won Telekom Innovation Contest for startups based in Romania.
Evolso (http://evolso.com/ - “The dating app giving power back to the ladies”) participated and got funded by StartupYard Accelerator (Czech Republic);
ZenQ (http://zenq.co/ - “ze way to say thank you and appreaciate your friends”) was incubated in TechPeaks (Italy) soon after Startup Weekend;
Project Wipe (http://www.projectwipe.com/ - “electronic glasses that help people with visual disabilities în orientation and obstacle avoidance”) qualified in the Startup Spotlight finals (@HowToWeb)
TeenTrepreneur (http://www.f6s.com/theteentrepreneur - “virtual financial educațional game”), after participating in Startup Pirates și Startup Weekend, will be incubated by Watson University Accelerator (Colorado, USA) in 2015.
Beyond the well known exits - Skobbler and LiveRail (acquired by Telenav and Facebook respectively), we can mention several other startups that are growing quickly or/and have proved some steady revenue:
DollarBird app (http://dollarbird.co/ - “smart calendar app for managing personal finances”)
Microstockr (http://www.microstockr.com/ - “app that helps you track sales on major microstock photography websites”)
TinTag (http://www.thetintag.com/ - “rechargeable tracking device for your lost items.”)
Moqups (http://moqups.com - “Online mockups made simple”)
Onyx Beacon (http://onyxbeacon.com/ - “iBeacon CMS for retailers RSS Feed.”)
Rebs (http://crm.rebs-group.com/ - “Specialized software for real estate agencies”)
HipMenu (https://www.hipmenu.ro/ - “food ordering mobile app”)
Squirrly (http://www.squirrly.co/ - “content marketing tool allowing you to optimize content and measure its success.”)
Of course, in addition to the initiatives and startups mentioned, this spring we will have a few more support initiatives, on which you’ll be able to read in the coming articles.
by Ovidiu Mățan
by Cristian Raț
by Radu Ometită
by Călin Biriș