CEE has actually become so good at creating global startups that the data has become somewhat controversial: What still counts as a local company? Should you look at where the startup was founded, or where its main office is based? Romanian-born UiPath, for instance, was headquartered in New York City by the time it went public in 2021.
There are pros and cons to both ways of counting. On one hand, ignoring HQ location might mean exaggerating the actual number of unicorns in CEE. On the other hand, seeing UiPath as a U.S. company would be missing out on its impact on Romania’s tech ecosystem.
The path and life cycle of Romanian startups simply wouldn’t be the same without UiPath. As often happens after large exits, executives from UiPath went on to work at or support other startups. For example, one of its early employees and former head of growth, Vlad Ionescu, is now one of Underline’s venture partners alongside solo general partner Bogdan Iordache. And UiPath’s former chief culture officer, Andreea Baciu, recently became a board adviser to Nestor, a Y Combinator-backed HR startup.
Nestor has Romanian founders, but just like UiPath, its HQ is in the U.S. Again, this speaks of startups that think globally from day one — a pattern that CEE VCs are hoping to encourage further. “We empower the next generation of experienced Eastern European founders to build global-first startups,” Underline stated in a deck it shared with TechCrunch.
It is not just that CEE founders are building the same startups that they could build in the U.S. In a recent podcast, Warsaw-based ffVC partner Maciej Skarul noted that capital efficiency played a role in making CEE attractive for U.S. VC firms like his employer.
“There has been evidence that CEE startups are three times more cost-efficient than their Western peers,” Skarul said, while in his view, “the talent is on par if not better in some instances.” For ffVC, this represents an opportunity to help “build global U.S.-focused businesses for a fraction of the cost.”
CEE’s talent pool is also a key motivator for Demium, which works with founders so early that this often happens pre-team and pre-idea. “After nine years,” María José Lara said, “we’ve learnt that this model works best in markets where there is a wealth of talented people but [which] faces obstacles to realizing their potential. So, the CE region is exactly the kind of market where we can add the most value.
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