Ola Sitarska and Paulina Wardęga from MyGuidie with Lars Hinrich

The “Pitch in Berlin” contest at this weekend’s HackFwd Build 08 event gave space to 10 startups (or startup ideas) from all over Europe. Anyone could apply to be selected for the opportunity to pitch their idea to an invitation-only audience of techies and investors. This time, in its second iteration, the event audience consisted of not only the high caliber mentors, investors, and entrepreneurs in the HackFwd network, but also of influential tech journalists such as Mike Butcher (@mikebutcher), the editor of TechCrunch Europe, and Om Malik (@om), the gigaOM impressario.

The pitches varied from a fishing social network through financial information for investors to betting or travel. The Eastist region was represented pretty well: 2 from Poland, 1 from the Czech Republic, and 1 with a Croatian co-founder. Most excitingly, the winner of the contest was MyGuidie from Poland, an online marketplace where people can offer their experiences and skills by organizing and selling activities.

MyGuidie’s victory is almost like an early Christmas gift to this blog, because it’s a pleasure to write about. Not only is it a dynamic young startup from Warsaw, it has several characteristics that make it stand out from the crowd usually covered here:

  • The founder, Ola Sitarska (@olasitarska), is 19.
  • It’s founded by a woman. (OK, I guess I could say “girl” at this age, but I recently read a thought-provoking article on this topic.)
  • She already has two startups behind her.
  • The rest of the team is also female.
  • The site has a beautiful design with a strong focus on usability.

I fully expect that we will be hearing more about this energetic founder in the future.
Read more

From the right: Marián Škvarek (RealPad), Petr Běla, Josef Hlaváček a Martin Jerkovič (Studentive), Kamil Vacek (Startup roku). Bottom: Bronislav Hamšík (Codeborg). Photo: Matěj Vaněček/Startup roku

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 (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.

Read more

For those of you not busy with Le Web, here is your midweek news roundup.

Filmaster thinks I'm pretty cool :)

Filmaster (@Filmaster), a Polish startup that is one of the culprits behind the Reaktor startup mansion, released its Android app today after testing it in festival partnerships for a few months. The revamped iPhone app with major usability fixes was also released last week.

Filmaster combines social movie recommendations with a local element by allowing users to check in at the movies or check screening times. It also develops partnerships with film festivals and provides social and local mobile app support for them. The local features currently only work in the United Kingdom, United States, and Poland.

The founder, Borys Musielak (@michuk), always wanted to build a movie-related startup, his love of movies inspired by Roman Gutek’s New Horizons film festival. He refined his vision when spending long hours commuting on the posh Virgin train (with a laptop and wifi) between Coventry and his job as an investment banking consultant in London. He wanted to combine movie info, reviews, and recommendations in one polished service. This holistic approach to a quality movie experience is indeed what might give Filmaster its edge.

The company is based in Warsaw, which has its pros and cons. On the whole, Borys thinks that running a startup out of Warsaw is “definitely harder,” and would be easier from San Francisco, New York, or London. However, being in Poland does have its advantages. Namely, it’s considerably easier to find great developers that don’t use up all your funding in a few months. Also, planes are cheap, Borys is in the US 2-3 times a year for different events; same goes for London or Berlin. As he says: Read more

Lithuanian XtGem serves an audience that we don’t talk about very often on this blog – people without much access to a computer or programming knowledge, and (gasp!) often without smartphones. XtGem is a visual mobile website builder, and has been working relentlessly at a complete redesign of the service for the past few months. They’ve been providing a no-programming-needed mobile website creation tool since 2006 and the current design shows it. Fortunately, the new design is much improved, both aesthetically and in terms of usability.

The redesigned version is currently in closed beta, and it should be opening to the public as soon as the last bugs have been fixed. Fortunately for you, the readers of this blog can already take a peak. All you need to do is register on the existing XtGem site and after logging in head over here (using a web browser).

When digging through usage data XtGem provided me, an interesting thing stood out: Quantcast ranks them as the 1st most visited set of domains in Vietnam, 3rd in Indonesia, and 6th in India. This is not a result of any specific marketing strategy. It’s possibly attributable to the fact that the XtGem tools are accessible through any web-enabled mobile device, and people in these countries have much easier access to mobile devices than to computers. Supporting this theory is the fact that XtGem’s market penetration in Africa looks pretty good as well.
Read more

I thought of GrabCAD today when writing an article about Farmeron, reminded of CEO Hardy Meybaum’s generous move at Seedcamp Week where he offered GrabCAD’s €25K prize to Farmeron. I checked in on GrabCAD and learned that they just recently hit 50,000 engineers registered on the site. That is a very encouraging number for a community of highly specialized members.

GrabCAD is a community for mechanical engineers, offering a variety of features that aim to make design work more efficient for them, share their talent and find projects. The founders’ dream is to erase boundaries between softwares, companies and locations, enabling a 24-hour design process.

It all started with a 2-person company in Estonia offering engineering services. However, Meybaum, and his co-founder Indrek Narusk, quickly saw that there is too much friction in the engineering process and wanted to eliminate it. GrabCAD was born as the solution to all these problems.

Even though GrabCAD is keeping a development team in Estonia, they moved their headquarters to Boston, MA a year ago. In Meybaum’s words: “Boston is the capital of CAD and we want to play an important role here.” It sounds like it’s working.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Croatian startup Farmeron grabbed my attention a while ago, and it turns out I wasn’t the only one. This web-based farm management and analytics tool shined at various Seedcamp events this year, and caught the famed Dave McClure‘s eye. The founder, Matija Kopić (@matijakopic), and his team, are currently in the 500 Startups accelerator in Mountain View, CA, and I caught up with him to share his experiences with you. From a farm in eastern Croatia to an office with a view of the Google campus, it’s definitely not boring.

Matija grew up aware of farm data management problems since he was a little boy. He comes from Osijek, a city in the eastern Croatian region of Slavonia, from a family with a long tradition in agriculture. Already during his computer science studies at The University of Zagreb, he sought ideas that would use information technology to help small and medium farmers.

By the time Matija graduated from university in September 2010, his student work was spotted by a manager from a large agricultural company in Croatia. A week after graduation, Matija and Marko Dukmenić, his co-founder, landed a contract to develop a dairy farm management analytics solution (tracking cows and their output). However, as they finished the software a few months later and started expanding sales, they realized they were headed at a momentous pace in a direction they weren’t sure about. The university taught them how to develop software, but nobody told them how to sell it or what to do after that.
Read more

Startup Awards.SK is the first major startup competition in Slovakia, and its first iteration yesterday was a fun event that exceeded many expectations. When it was first announced, some people were not even entirely convinced that there would be 10 Slovakian startups to qualify for the contest. As it turns out, not only did the organizers find the 10 finalists, they received 37 applications. This is a lot for a country where “startup” is not a word many people recognize and the Slovak translation of the word entrepreneur is sometimes uttered with derision.

The event was organized by Sario, an investment and trade development agency of the Slovak government; Neulogy, science, R&D, and entrepreneurship consultancy and incubator; Dell, and KPMG. The main prize for the top four startups is a ticket to Silicon Valley, a three month stay at the Plug & Play tech center, and mentorship from Slovak entrepreneurs in the valley and their networks. The whole event was in English, expertly moderated by Paul Jozefak, an American venture capitalist with Slovak roots, with the exception of the keynote by the Minister of Economy, which was in Slovak.

The first prize winner and one of the crowd favorites was Nice Reply, which allows companies to receive ratings of their customer support responses and aims to be “the Google Analytics of ratings.” It’s a spinoff created by CEOs of three other Slovak companies who saw a need for this product themselves and decided to build it.
Read more

To be honest, there isn’t much in the way of breaking news this week so far other than the exciting TechHub Riga launch, but a handful of CEE companies got some nice press coverage that is worth mentioning.

The startup community in Riga, Latvia just got a new focal point. The famed London startup co-working space TechHub (@TechHub), founded by the entrepreneur Elizabeth Varley (@evarley) and Mike Butcher (@mikebutcher), the editor of TechCrunch Europe, announced its first international expansion last night – TechHub Riga (@TechHubRiga).

The driving force behind this project consists of four Latvian entrepreneurs: Andris Brezins, CEO of Amooz, Gunars Grundstoks, CEO of RentMama, Ernests Stals, CEO of Reach.ly and Viesturs Sosars, CEO of Real Sound Labs. They began discussing the idea of establishing a co-working space in Riga a while ago and their original inspiration was the Founders House in Copenhagen. But Andris Brezins tells me that during the process they “recognized that one of the most important aspects of this for the Riga community would be connections to a global network and the exchange of information, contacts, ideas that this entails. When we talked to Elizabeth at TechHub, it turned out that our plans neatly coincided with their plans and a partnership was born.” Read more