It’s happening in Moldova

As part of my research on the startup ecosystems in Eastern Europe, I visited Moldova – a country which sits neatly between Europe in the west, and Russia and Asia in the East. What I experienced of the Moldovan ecosystem, its leaders, builders and startups alike was far greater than I expected. This is what I saw during my brief visit there, and I expect to see so much more in the months and years to come.

Building on good foundations

When I arrived in Moldova, I was honoured to lead a roundtable discussion around the subject of “catalysts of a startup ecosystem”. I was joined by the key ecosystem builders of Moldova such as Ionela Titirez, lovingly nicknamed the godmother by the Moldovan startup scene as well as Oscar Kneppers, founder of Rockstart, who has seen the Amsterdam startup scene built up over the last decade. It was very exciting to see that the challenges Oscar experienced in Amsterdam are being reflected in the challenges they are experiencing now in Moldova.

Ionela has worked hard to bring entrepreneurship as a focus to the country’s economic development, helping promote the startup culture with USAID support and advising the government in the importance of putting into place better regulation, such as a startup visa. In 2011-2015 Ionela was even the lead organiser of Startup Weekend, a completely voluntary startup event to help people who are interested in entrepreneurship take that leap and start.

“Luckily,” she says “there are others taking over some of my early work, like Startup Weekend, and driving it forwards. I feel so relieved that this is happening now. And it’s starting to move faster than before. The community is growing, startup culture is getting more awareness, initiatives are emerging to help early stage startups. Even the Government supports our efforts and understands the need to build incentive environment.”

While listening to Ionela, I kept being reminded of how Neelie Kroes of Startup Delta is putting entrepreneurship so much on the public agenda here in the Netherlands. The parallels between the two figures became more and more apparent.  

Another foundation that Moldova has in place is an abundance of developer founders. Developers, the engineers of the 21st century, want to add value to the industry. In the past it was engineers who built the tools others needed to create the agriculture and production industries. Now, similarly skilled developers are the tools needed to sustain a newly emerging tech industry.

Moving forward, fast

There are benefits to being an emerging startup economy,

“Because we don’t have the types of restrictions in place like yours in European Union, or the US, this brings unusual benefits with it. One is that we can move really fast. We don’t have to wait for permission to do something, we just do it.”

Artur Gurau, co-founder of Rockit Digital Conference, conveyed this to me. This is certainly the mindset in general that I experienced in Moldova. Take for example that I only suggested this round table discussion 2 weeks before, and there I am, joined by the leaders of the ecosystem and 100 startup founders show up to a Startup Grind event, on a week’s notice from Dreamups. And this is supposed to be an emerging startup scene, right? I say to myself…

The whole ecosystem is moving fast. Project such as Tekwill are creating a vital support ecosystem for startups. They are promoting the first Angel investor network, helping the university to update to a more relevant education curriculum, as well as developing early stage startup support programs.

New policies are being created to promote entrepreneurship such as the Startup Visa. Within a few days of hearing that such a visa existed elsewhere and what value it offers, the Moldovan government initiated the process of creating such a visa in their country. Like in the Netherlands, the Startup Visa will help local startups to employ highly skilled migrants where they are yet to have a focus on certain skill sets, such as sales, marketing and product management. It will also allow startups from abroad to relocate to Moldova, where it’s cheaper to live and operate. This will represent a huge boost the ecosystem.

It seems there is a lot brewing in Moldova

These are just a few examples of how the Moldovan startup ecosystem is booming. Startups such as one of our newest Digital Health startups, Babymoon, a biomonitoring system for premature babies, are pushing the boundaries of tech and innovation. Watch out world, this startup scene is going to put Moldova on the map.

Karin van Soest is Rockstart’s Program Manager and has been part of the team since 2014.

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