- Teodor Blidăruș, FintechOS: Get as many leaders as you can in your company
- Aylin Lim, Technolera: Startups are not threats; they can be the perfect partners for the financial industry
- Cristian Dascălu, GapMinder VC: In Eastern Europe, startups are not well prepared to get fast traction
- Cosmin Cosma, RoFin.Tech: Patience and humbleness in working with banks may lead to success
To be surrounded by as many entrepreneurs and leaders as possible, and be patient when working with banks: this is some of the advice given by the representatives of some of the most important specialists in the investment and fintech industry during the online event NEXT FinTech – The Bridge to Inclusive Finance. The event was the finale of the most extensive acceleration program for fintech startups in Romania and it was organized by Techcelerator and the Development Facility of the European Fund for Southeast Europe (EFSE DF).
The international investors’ jury awarded four startups following the pitching session: 22Trust Venture took the title of BEST PRODUCT, Leaseman was named BEST STARTUP, Investory had the BEST PITCH and ZOOM Report received the POPULARITY AWARD.
22Trust Venture is a B2B product dedicated to retail banks that allows them to offer dynamic prices using AI technology in their lending activities; Investory uses game-based learning to help children understand finance; Leaseman is a platform for renting and managing the available commercial spaces; and ZoomReport is a platform that provides users with integrated, geographically located public data, and which helps them analyze local socio-demographic and economic environments for business decisions.
Teodor Blidăruș, FintechOS: Don’t get obsessed with positioning. Get as many leaders as you can in your company
“Don’t get over obsessed with positioning, especially in the early days. I know every VC, every investor will tell you: ‘You need to position, you need to operate in a niche!’ I think this is generally good advice, but you have to be open to the opportunities. There are so many opportunities in the financial services market, especially in the fintech market, that you may find yourself starting in one area, operating there, meeting a lot of people – and eventually you may be pivoting into another area. So be open to what the market is telling you. Work with the local investors, work with the local VCs. These guys can help you: They understand the market, they can help you with connections, they can coach you. Don’t go just after the big guys from the UK and US: it is about creating value for the customers, not only about raising money” explained Teodor Blidăruș, the CEO and co-founder of FintechOS, one of the most successful fintech startups in Europe. FintechOS was recognized in 2020 as the “Hottest FinTech Startup”, according to the Europas Awards, an event launched by Techcrunch’s editor-at-large, Mike Butcher.
He believes that the most important advice he can give to other entrepreneurs is to surround themselves with the right partners to be successful.
“The best advice that I can give to my fellow entrepreneurs is: Get as many leaders as you can in your company. Don’t think short-term. You can win the race alone if you think short-term, for the next 12 months. But as you go through several stages of investments, as the company gets bigger and bigger, you will soon understand that the scale-up is effectively a sum of multiple startups. Maybe you are very successful in your go-to-market approach in CEE, but maybe you want to move to the US. You are a garage startup there; you are starting from zero there. The entrepreneurs will always make a difference for you, so get as many people as you can in the boat because, essentially, the more entrepreneurs you have rallied, the better chance you stand to make a difference,” continued Teodor Blidăruș.
Cosmin Cosma, RoFin.Tech: Patience, in working with banks – a key indicator of potential success for the fintech startups
“Startups are not threats; they can be the perfect partners for the financial industry, they should continue to innovate and co-create with banks”, said Aylin Lim, Finance Director of Technolera, an investment fund from Turkey.
“Our fund is a pre-seed fund, so we invest very early; usually, we are the first check and we invest in teams. What teams should show us is that they can grow the business and they can do what we, as venture capital, expect from them. We look at a few parameters: capable team – to be experts in what they do, fast-growing founders, agile mindset, and the quality to be unstoppable – to be passionate and focused. A crucial part is a vision and what the founders are bringing with them, what they want to change in their industry, and their go-to-market strategy for the next 12 months,” explained Ashot Arzumanyan, Partner and Co-founder of Smartgate VC, an investment fund that operates in US and Armenia.
Cosmin Cosma, president of RoFin.Tech, the Romanian Fintech Association, advised the entrepreneurs to be very patient and “humble” when they work with banks.
“I believe that building a fintech without the experience of working with banks is very difficult. If you don’t know how to deal with the banks, even if you have the best product in the market, the system can reject you. Some founders are not so patient with the way banks are dealing with things; in banking, weeks are like seconds or seconds are like weeks. The time is very different. If you want to start a website, you can do it in two days, if you want to start anything with the banks, you have to think of six-to twelve months. This kind of experience, this kind of patience, humbleness in working with banks is, I believe, a key indicator of potential success for the fintech startups,” said Cosmin Cosma.
A similar message about how startups should prepare when interacting with large companies was also pointed by Dan Oros, Head of Marketing at Google & Youtube Romania.
“We receive requests from many startups and it is important how these requests are made – if they were written at the right stage, if the founders know what they are asking for. Here is an opportunity for accelerators, consultants and associations, to help startups in the process of connecting with banks and large companies. Startups have a limited number of potential interactions with these partners and it is essential to avoid certain mistakes of approach “, explained Dan Oros.
Cristian Dascălu, GapMinder: Sometimes startups focus too much on developing a vast product before testing the market with a fast MVP
Cristian Dascălu, the partner at GapMinder VC and co-founder of Techcelerator, considers that Eastern Europe startups are not well equipped to go to market independently and get fast traction to demonstrate a good validation to their investors.
“We see that in Romania, in Eastern Europe, startups are not equipped so well to go to market on their own and to get fast traction. At times, they focus too much on developing a vast product and not just to create a quick MVP. And this is what we try to bring to the founders: to take the little pieces of code to a commercial validation and further ramp up the development activity. Techcelerator exists because we want to bridge this gap and help the startups get bigger and faster market traction and get them investment-ready. The vision is a must-have. It is important to dream and think for the long-term, but it is essential to have in the team the business and commercial capabilities to do what you desire and to realize it quickly if you don’t have them,” stated Cristian Dascălu.
The event NEXT FinTech – The Bridge to Inclusive Finance (February 24th) had 370 registrations from 36 countries.
Eleven early-stage companies that participated in the acceleration program had the opportunity to present their products and the progress they made during the three months of acceleration. The 11 startups are 22Trust Venture, AlphaBlock Technologies, ENSO Business, Finpathic, Investory Toy Factory, KidsFinance, Leaseman, OptimRent, Monett, TimedFX, and ZoomReport.
The speakers of the event were Markus Aschendorf, Chairperson of the EFSE Development Facility; Bogdan Mihai, Deputy Director of the National Bank of Romania – Financial Market Infrastructures and Payments Oversight Department; Papuna Lezhava, Deputy Governor and Member of the Board, National Bank of Georgia; Nika Kurdiani, Deputy CEO of TBC Bank Georgia; Tanja Jakimova, Senior Advisor in financial stability at the National Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia; Mihaela Nădășan, Deputy CEO of Banca Transilvania – IR & FI and Markets, Romania; Olimpiu Balaș, Founder of TechVentures Bank, Romania; Teodor Blidăruș, CEO of FintechOS; Ashot Arzumanyan, Partner and Co-founder of Smartgate VC (US/Armenia); Aylin Lim, Finance Director of Technolera, Turkey; Dan Oros, Head of Marketing at Google & Youtube Romania; Cosmin Cosma, President RoFin.Tech, Romania; Cristian Dascălu, Partner at GapMinder VC, Romania.
NEXT FinTech is the first accelerator program specifically designed to offer investment readiness and go-to-market support to startups in financial services and related industries. The program was initiated in 2020 by Techcelerator in Romania, with the support of the Development Facility of the European Fund for Southeast Europe (EFSE DF).
NEXT FinTech was organized by Techcelerator with the support of the EFSE Development Facility, Google for Startups, GapMinder VC, TechAngels, RoFin.Tech, Stripe, and the Department for International Trade at the British Embassy in Bucharest.