Romania's Reach for the Future
The New York Times reported last October about Romania´s sparkling start-up scene and its pool of technology talent. Microsoft, Intel and Oracle have long seen this and invested here, working close to thousands of tech startups that breathe innovation into their companies. Although it ranks negatively (61st) in the Global Innovation Index which measures a government’s ability to encourage innovation through policy, it seems that Romania´s business culture is breaking the shackles of the communist regime that ruled until only two decades ago.
This has not come easy for Romania. While cultural barriers are fading away with each younger generation, entrepreneurs still have to face anti-entrepreneurial attitudes and policies. For example, according to serial entrepreneur and angel investor Marius Ghenea, who has been on the Romanian entrepreneurial scene since 1991, the education system still shows vestiges of inertia when it comes to business education. Entrepreneurship classes are compulsory in Romanian high schools, but practical experience is missing, according to Ghenea, who proposes earlier and more hands-on exposure to entrepreneurship for the young.
Fortunately, in that regard a couple of strong education programs have emerged, such as Junior Achievement Romania, the Business Mentoring Program supported by the Trust Center of MIT Entrepreneurship, and the School for Startups Romania. These programs have attracted students from neighboring countries, and interest in Romania as a startup ecosystem overall. Startup Weekend has also chosen Bucharest as a place where it can help get startup ideas off the ground. Global Entrepreneurship Week in turn has helped build networks through events that bring together leading entrepreneurs, mentors and investors.
It also helps that entrepreneurial rock stars are emerging, and they are eager to improve the startup scene. Marius Ghenea teaches at School for Startups. Eusebiu Burcas, founder of the first independent financial education program in Romania and investor supports the Business Mentoring Program. Then there are the role models, like three young Romanian companies that were featured in the 2011 Telegraph Tech Start-Up 100, which ranks the top 100 emerging technology businesses in Europe.
At the macroeconomic level, the Romanian economy has benefitted substantially from a more open and flexible environment over the past decade, allowing it to be a fast-growing member of the European Union. Yet corruption continues to affect its progress and business freedom as a weak judiciary system adds an additional cost of doing business.
It also remains important to see more women emerge as entrepreneurial role models in Romania. Last November, the Association for Women Entrepreneurship Development (ADAF) in Romania celebrated ten years of activity with a conference at the House of the Parliament in Bucharest. The event brought together over one hundred participants—including public officials from the government of Romania, women business association members, entrepreneurs, members of the academia, and media representatives—to discuss policies and programs to support women’s entrepreneurship.
While much progress has been made, more remains. Once again, Romania participated in the Global Entrepreneurship Congress last month in Liverpool and seems committed to continuing efforts to develop a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. Despite some poor rankings to date, we will be keeping an eye on their progress as they look to set an example for any transition economy.