More often than not, when you tell people you're going to a startup conference in Romania, they assume it's going to be in Bucharest. But it's definitely not the only Romanian city that's trying to build up a name for itself on the global tech-entrepreneurial stage.
In the northwestern part of the country, in Cluj-Napoca – the second most populous city in Romania and former capital of the Grand Principality of Transylvania – an entrepreneurial ecosystem seems to be emerging. Like other eastern European countries, Romania is typically seen as a place rife with technical talent and IT outsourcing services.
What you probably didn't know is that although Skobbler – the maps and navigation app-maker that was acquired by Telenav in January 2014 – is headquartered in Berlin and mostly considered a German company, its R&D facilities (which makes up a huge chunk of its team) is located in Cluj.
Philipp Kandal, co-founder of Skobbler, has also been living in Cluj for several years now and hosted this year's Techsylvania conference.
(In the interest of disclosure: tech.eu was part of a group of journalists invited to attend and speak at Techsylvania. My flights and accommodation were covered by the event's organisers.)
With 700+ people at the second edition of Techsylvania, organisers have already dubbed it 'the biggest tech event in Transylvania'. It sounds like hyperbole at first, but considering that Startup Weekend Cluj Napoca only made it to the city in 2012, it sounds plausible. Not only that, the number of attendees this year doubled from last year, which could be seen as a sign of growing interest in the scene.
On a panel about where the future of the city's IT industry could be headed, Kandal pointed out that one of the strengths of the ecosystem is that key figures from the tech scene who have had successes in Silicon Valley or elsewhere are very motivated to give back to the community in Cluj.
Though the company is now headquartered in Menlo Park, California, Dunca scaled LiveRail's engineering team in Cluj-Napoca. After the acquisition, however, it was decided that a technical presence in the city was not necessary. Dunca, who is a serial entrepreneur, shared startup learnings, challenges he faced building up several companies and talked about cultural differences between the US and Romanian tech ecosystem at the event.
One of the challenges that seemed to be mentioned over and over again was the difficulty of finding the right team in Cluj. During a discussion delving into the mindset of local entrepreneurs, Bogdan Oros, CEO of Cluj-based iBeacon tech provider Onyx Beacon, said that even though there are many talented people in the city it's still a big challenge to hire the right people and create a customer-centric company culture. Dunca echoed a similar sentiment when talking about some of challenges he faced building up LiveRail.
Another thing? Lack of product knowledge, according to MimeChat co-founder Levente Szabo.
During the panel, he said, "I think the biggest challenge is to learn how to build products... For companies in Cluj, I really think that's the main challenge because the whole IT industry is specialised on usually outsourcing and services. There are few people you can take as a role model, locally, who you can talk to and bounce ideas off in this space." Szabo added that it'll be necessary for the industry to see more people not just on the technical side, but more designers as well as product managers.
In five to ten years, Szabo hopes there will be people with more experience building global products, who will have the know-how to help future product-focused entrepreneurs in the city.
Serial entrepreneur and investor Radu Georgescu speaking about how entrepreneurs can embrace the idea of migration to the US.
Check back for more insights and articles on Cluj-Napoca's investment landscape, entrepreneurial mentality and outlook coming up soon in the next couple of weeks.