Looking back at ABC 2014

The Alumni Business Camp in Budapest finished on Sunday, and it’s time to summarise everything that happened there. First of all, big thanks again to the organisers who created a wonderful networking event for all the people there!

Due to the amount of interesting talks and discussions in that short time it takes some time to digest all that input. What are my take-aways from the event?

To warm up, the event started with a presentation from  Ivana Štulić on the topic “Is it a job or a calling?” To separate a job from a calling, here are the “symptoms” of a calling:

  • “The place you are called to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
  • Something you are (naturally) good at
  • You are proud of what you do.
  • It lifts you.
  • It touches others.

The presentation made me rethink of what really is important, however I also know that a calling alone is not everything that you need in order to run a successful business.

After the introduction presentations, 19 people were presenting ideas in “sharing pitches” to work on, either because of their background as entrepreneur or because they just thought about it. Most of these were quite interesting, there were also quite a lot of spontaneous ideas. Personally, I’ll be waiting for the fancy glasses from Nervous Hipster though. By the way, where is that promotion? And a question to all the other people: would you like to share your idea to the public?

The lightning talks and the presentations from startup accelerators and serial entrepreneurs like Imre Hild were rounding up the information package of the ABC very well.

At the moment, the future of the Alumni Business Camp is a bit unclear. That is mainly due to the fact that there is no official body behind the people working on it, therefore giving them unnecessary business risks. In the future there will be discussions on establishing an official body for organising events. Will it be a registered association? A foundation? A company? This will be open for discussion.

I’m already looking forward for the next edition, whereever it will be! What are your thoughts of the event? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Trends in Europe for Entrepreneurs

In the previous post I mentioned that I’m visiting the Alumni Business Camp. In the session “Trends in Europe”. several people presented their observations on current trends in Europe concerning startups and entrepreneurship. These are some of the key findings:

Nordic countries: Open for technology innovation, potential in investments on R&D

In the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland) the past years were pushed by innovations in the telecom sector. Companies like Ericsson or Nokia became world leaders in mobile technology. Other industries were also in the focus: Oil industry in Norway, automation and automobile industry in Sweden, machine manufacturing in Denmark. In these countries, there are a few key players, so when founding a company, take into account to get these key players as your partners or customers.

However, as many of these industries peaked, the Nordic countries have seen new players on the floor. In the past years, many startups emerged in the computer games industry: Rovio (who doesn’t know Angry Birds?), Supercell (producing several web-based games like Clash of Clans), Mojang which is the company behind the block-building game Minecraft. Also, the music industry is big: Sweden is the 3rd biggest music market in the world and is the ground for companies like Spotify.

Public institutions are open for innovation, therefore tech companies which require a lot of funding for R&D efforts have opportunities in these countries.

As the markets in the Nordic countries are rather small, companies that start there work on a quick world-wide expansion.

BeNeLux: Devices are king, content is not

The markets in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg are very service-oriented, as there are many exports/imports companies and logistics gateways to the world – like for instance the port in Rotterdam. Other than that, the main exported goods are machines and chemistry. The industries in BeNeLux are very adjacent to European Markets.

Media is trendy, people aim for more convenience. People invest in devices but don’t want to pay for content, therefore content producers lack income and reduce employees.

Important startup companies from that region are e.g. Storify, Sparkcentral, Frontback.

In BeNeLux, E-Commerce activites are growing, e.g. Coolblue which is an IT hardware company which delivers material the next day. Banks grow ideas as well as there are more low-cost banks and new payment methods.

In real estate, green aspects are getting more important. Passive houses, proper isolation and managed systems are on the rise. The kitchen turns into the main spot of the house and cooking is hip again.

Some counter-movements could impair startup ideas:

  • Nomophobia (people that are afraid of getting off-line/without battery).
  • Youngsters don’t embrace privacy as much anymore.
  • People looking for temporary isolation from phones.
  • Shared workplace – employees don’t have their own desk anymore.

Starting a company in Luxemburg is usually the simplest way from the taxation point of view, so it could be seen as the starting point for companies operating in BeNeLux.

Russia: Looking for Western expertise for designing products and services “Russian style”

In the past years, Russia embraced capitalism and especially consumption. Many new supermarkets, small shops, cafes, beauty places opened, real estate (especially residential) was booming. Due to oil and gas supplies, the adjacent industries are currently hot as well. Due to the economic rise from oil and gas, all kinds of consumer goods, electronics, household goods and furniture had a big rise.

Yandex is the strongest search engine in Russia with 60% of market coverage – Google only holds about 30%.

VK.com (previously called Vkontakte.ru) is the most popular social network in former Soviet countries, and Facebook is far behind.

How is the situation changing? Markets seem to be filled, new opportunities are now in specific niches, Quality is king. At the moment, there is a big lack of venture capital and financing of startups – banks take interest rates of 20-22% p.a. for startups. Russians start getting used to pay for entertainment which used to be free. Investment opportunities open up for people with foreign money to invest in Russian real estate, as the inflation rate is rather high (7-8% p.a.).

Online shopping is getting hot as only 2% of the citizens (30 million Russians) do online shopping yet. There are many unused opportunities.

Local tourism within Russia (dedicated sightseeings) are growing as online travel opportunities grow. Educational services are a field that has the potential to grow. Health technologies and medicine market is also getting more interested, as the Russian system only provides basic support.

Consumption could also rise in second-hand trade of luxury brands as well as charity shops.

Moreover, the children industry seems to be on the rise: private kindergardens, tutoring etc.

Opportunities open up when Russian ideas can be scaled to global level. Ideas from the western world seem to be adapted more, therefore topics concerning recycling could see a future. Western Europeans have big chances to build up in Russia due to their experience.

Concerning the economic situation, Russian companies expect negative effects on the economy due to the political crisis with Ukraine and the western embargos.

Bureaucracy needs to be taken into account. Knowledge of Russian language is crucial, as well as networking with the right people in order to improve processes.

Western Balkans: Struggle with bureaucracy, regulations and mentality

Within Yugoslavia, companies were working in a large, protected and well-interconnected market. After the decay of Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars in the 1990s, the markets broke apart. Many people became unemployed. Unemployment rates vary from 9% in Slovenia (which already was well-developed within Yugoslavia) to 44% in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Currently there are many obstacles for startups:

  • Many legal structures that involve exchanging stocks are not possible.
  • Administrative issues need to be dealt with. Imports of sub-components are difficult because of old regulations.
  • The Banking system is not efficient: electronic transactions need to be backed by actual paperwork.
  • Accountants are not responsible for the accuracy of his work, therefore company founders are in full risk.
  • Legal disputes take a long time to deal with.
  • Going bankrupt takes a long time in Serbia and in some cases it is extremely difficult, therefore re-starting a company is difficult.
  • Venture capital is unknown, the mentality in these countries avoids taking risks and investing into the Unknown.

Trends in the Western Balkans involve Internet based services, Apps, Hardware/Software and the games industry.

Certain advantages apply though: the new ecosystem is stable, labour work is quite cheap, as the startup scene currently is quite small, and fast prototyping is possible.

Baltic states: Hipsters’ and startups’ paradise

What’s hot in the baltics? Startups!

The general environment allows a quick deployment of startups, like Transferwise or Ask.fm. There are many incubators and mentoring programs available (e.g. StartupWiseGuys, Garage48.org, Techub.Riga, Gamefounders)

The next big thing in the Baltic States are: Hipsters!
The travel search engine Skyscanner lists “The 20 most hipster neighborhoods in the world”, with Miera Iela in Riga being No. 1.

Due to hipsters being open to new innovations and naturally being early adopters, startups have good possibilities for testing new technology innovations.

In these times, food culture and socializing habits are changing: hipsters developed the cities; the hip bars and pubs move out of the tourist-flooded centers towards undeveloped areas, where specialised products are being created, for instance craft brewing/microbrewing. 10 years ago, vegetarians were seen strange in the Baltic States. Nowadays vegetarian/vegan eating habits became more common, embracing organic production.

Sustainable efforts are being taken as well, for instance by re-selling used furniture and clothes. Real estate development turned from building skyscrapers towards reusage of old buildings.

One particular project that is very interesting for potential company founders is what Estonia is planning: the Estonian E-Residency. 15 million digital IDs ready to be given out which allow secure access to Estonia’s digital servics, giving opportunity to use digital signatures in an electronic environment. Do the banking, encrypt files, no need to apply for a regular residency, no need to know the laws of all European regulations. By using that E-Residency, people have the possiblity to create a company on the go.

What are your observations from the talk? Feel free to add a comment.

EDIT: added links.

Observations from the Alumni Business Camp

I have been active in two student organisations: bonding-studenteninitiative in Germany and Board of Students of Technology which is spread all over Europe. Both are aiming towards students of technology to improve their future professional life.

At the moment I am present at the Alumni Business Camp in Budapest which is an event for Alumni of these organisations which are interested in entrepreneurship and trends on the markets in Europe.

You can get more information about the event by checking out the website: alumnibusinesscamp.net or by checking the Twitter hashtag #alumnibizcamp.

I will write summaries on various outcomes of the event following up this post.

Are you working on a startup yourself?

Thoughts about entrepreneurship, IT, frugality and living in Germany