School for Startups was one of the main partners of How to Web 2011. We had the great opportunity of having both main S4S mentors as speakers at the conferenece. Doug Richard delivered one of the most appreciated keynote speeches and Marius Ghenea held the workshop with the most attendance rate on Early Stage Investments – we had to bring in extra chairs to the room! 🙂
We also had the pleasure of asking them a few questions regarding the School for Startups program and their experience so far with the entrepreneurs attending. You could read how the conversation with Doug Richard went in a previous article, here’s the interesting talk we had at the end of last year with Marius Ghenea.
How to Web: How did you get to be part of the School for Startups program?
Marius Ghenea: I met with Doug Richard a couple of years ago, I knew of him from the Dragons’ Den business show in the UK, as he was one of the original Dragons there. I thought it was an interesting coincidence, as a “Dragon” met a “Lion”: I am one of the “lions” in the same Sony Pictures business show in Romania, called “The Lions Arena”. He told me about his entrepreneurial school from the UK, Schoolforstartups, that they were running for a few years as a social program, with huge success. Together with Peter Barta, the Executive Director from FPP (a fund investing in entrepreneurial development in Romania), we thought this would be an excellent opportunity to bring Schoolforstartups to Romania and to expand it regionally in the SEE: for the next year, we are opening the participation to participants from Bulgaria, Serbia, Moldova, Ukraine, etc.
How to Web: What does S4S bring new to the Romanian startups scene?
Marius Ghenea: The great thing about S4S is that it brings a solid British curriculum together with Romania (and South-East European) localization and customization, for the specific needs of the entrepreneurship in the region, topped with real, practical, serial experience from Doug and myself, and the other lectors from the course. I believe it is the only program of this kind in all countries in SEE.
How to Web: How is your interaction with the startups attending the program? Were there any past participants that you chose to continue working with after the program ended?
Marius Ghenea: The first year of the program in Romania was 2011, we have only finalized it at the end of November, so it is too early to talk about follow-up for the participants, but what I can say is that quite a few participants stayed in touch throughout the program, even outside the classes and mentor-calls, and I tried to help them with advice, contacts, feedback.
How to Web: What do you look for when you’re first evaluating a startup? What draws your attention?
Marius Ghenea: I am first looking at the people: entrepreneurs and their teams. With an excellent team, one can surely improve on an imperfect business plan, but with a team without merit, even the best business planning will fail in delivering a successful entrepreneurial project. Secondly, I look at the market opportunities: is this a growing market or a sluggish, stagnant one, is there a lot of competition or it’s just beginning to emerge, is the product better, more competitive: cheaper, faster, better quality? Finally, I look where the project is and if the entrepreneurs did their best to develop it even in the absence of financing. My opinion is, if you cannot start an entrepreneurial project without financing and take it to a certain level, better not start it at all.
How to Web: What’s the biggest mistake Romanian entrepreneurs do, while in the early stages of starting a business?
Marius Ghenea: The biggest mistake I have seen is not recognizing the importance of an excellent team. We are now in an era when businesses are getting ever more complex and competitive and no one single entrepreneur could possibly master well enough all important aspects of a business. So he needs to bring together other people that will cover for this necessary experience, and if there are entrepreneurial or management gaps, they need to be recognized, as a first step to address them.
How to Web: Is there a certain domain Romanians are better at than others? Is there any specific type of business that would be more suited to start in Romania, because of the cultural background?
Marius Ghenea: One thing I appreciate about Romanian entrepreneurs is their creativity; they can come up with very creative business concepts and find creative solutions to most of the problems they face. On the flip side, excessive creativity could harm a streamlined approach in developing a startup: if an entrepreneur is throwing too many ideas on the table at the same time, chances are none of them will be satisfactorily executed, so the business won’t fly.
In terms of the better startups to try in Romania, I would consider IT projects as the most suitable for Romanian entrepreneurs: we have a large IT talent pool in this country (like in a few other EE countries, but maybe given the size of the population, proportionally larger talent pool); we have excellent IT and Internet infrastructure in Romania (the country ranks second in the world today in terms of broadband speed in large urban areas, only after South Korea); the cost of labor is still relatively affordable and certainly much lower than in Western countries and even some New Europe countries; the time zone, language proficiency and European membership are also arguments in favor of developing IT startups in Romania. On the top of it, now we even have great entrepreneurial education programs, such as Schoolforstartups, matchmaking platforms for IT entrepreneurs wanting to meet early-stage investors, such as VentureConnect, or large-scale well organized IT and Internet events such as How-to-Web.