The Czech startup contest “Startup roku” (means “Startup of the year”) chose not one but three teams this year that will receive 12,000 EUR investment each. The winners were Codeborg, an automated tool for website design creation; RealPad, a mobile application for real estate agents; and Studentive, a marketplace for online work for students. Studentive is quickly becoming the darling of Czech and Slovak startup contests, after taking Startup Weekend Bratislava by storm, and winning a trip to the Plug & Play incubator in Silicon Valley through Startup Awards SK.
The contest received 52 applications from student teams across the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The applicants had to be enrolled at a Czech or a Slovak university and be at most 27 years old. At the final event on Thursday, 16 finalists pitched a jury consisting of Czech and Slovak entrepreneurs and investors.
The founder of the contest, who is also the investor, is Kamil Vacek, a successful Czech entrepreneur who is now the distributor of HTC phones in all of Central and Eastern Europe with the exception of Russia. His rich experience with business development in countries as different from each other as Slovenia and Belarus is no doubt a huge plus for the participating startups. I couldn’t help but translate a delightful anecdote from a Czech interview with Vacek:
I come from Aš (transl. note: a Czech town right on the border with Germany), and right after the revolution I smuggled cigarettes into Germany for three years, and I love remembering this time. I worked in Germany, close to the border, and I would bring a few cartons of cigarettes to the Turks on my way to work. Everybody did it. Back then, I made as much money smuggling cigarettes as I did working. It was like an MBA in international trade for me.
I never got caught until last year, when I was arrested at the Serbian border for smuggling six phones, which I was bringing for a presentation to a mobile operator. I got a 500 EUR fine from the Serbian court. It’s a paradox that I smuggled cigarettes for three years and I never got stopped. But as a respected businessman with billions in revenues I got arrested for smuggling by Serbian duty officers.