Budapest

Startup Capital

more than a year ago
The long post-communist makeover in Hungary may still be a work-in-progress, the country’s creaking infrastructure hard to miss. Yet in Central/Eastern Europe it is Budapest which has become an unparalleled regional hub for start-ups, investors and incubators. At least some of which can be attributed to one Peter B. Záboji, and his European Entrepreneurship Foundation, the EEF. Since 2008 the EEF’s regular program of accelerator programmes, ‘e-breakfasts’, and business angel forums have reached out to a new generation of entrepreneurs in Central Europe, particularly in Hungary. One thing that was remarkable about the EEF’s programs was that all the seminars be conducted in English - the international language whatever anyone thinks about it.

While the EEF was the first, there are now several such incubators operating in Budapest:- including Colabs, a startup centre and ‘tech hub’. They are actively looking for promising startups and typically source investments of between 15 thousand and half a million euro for early stage companies. Another business ‘incubator’, as such entities are known, is the newly launched i-Catapult. They’re a Budapest based, European technology accelerator and business development company whose mission is to take European technologies to the global market: in particular the United States.

So much for incubators and accelerators, what of successful Hungarian entrepreneurs to emerge from this new hothouse environment? We could begin with Márton Anka the co-founder of remote access software pioneer LogMeIn, who attended the Számalk Institure here in Budapest. LogMeIn’s corporate customers include 3M and IBM, and their headquarters are in Massachusetts, but they retain development centres in Budapest and Szeged deep in the Hungarian hinterland. Meanwhile, the founder and CTO of Ustream, one Dr. Gyula Feher, still makes his home in the Carpathian basin. The Ustream technology was originally created because Feher and his colleagues wanted a way for soldiers stationed in Iraq to communicate with their families back home. These days however you can watch everything from cute animal channels to red carpet arrivals on their streaming site. Prezi is another Hungarian web tech success story. You could say Prezi is the new generation Power Point, giving users the ability to make their presentations more dynamic, filmic even; zooming in and out from images and so on. On their website’s job page, Prezi offers would-be employees all the perks of a startup, under which they include a ‘well stocked fridge’ and ‘ping-pong tournaments’ as well as more traditional incentives such as equity and competitive benefits. There’s definitely something of the TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory about it all.

The Budapest startup culture truly runs the gamut, from data protection software to well, Hungarians in Space. If that sounds like the plot for an oddball science fiction film, it’s not. Budapest startup company Puli Space Technologies’ primary goal is to reach the moon by 2015, as one of the official Google Lunar X Prize teams. To illuminate, Google are offering some $30 million in prizes to the first privately funded teams to land a robot safely on the surface of the Moon, traverse at least 500 meters over the lunar surface, then send video, images and data back to Earth. Beyond that, their mission is to eventually be routinely sending spacecraft to the Moon, providing as it were, a ‘launching pad’ for investors interested in commercializing space. To say that sounds ambitious is an understatement. Yet the founders of Puli Space are not Bond villains plotting away in luxurious hi-tech seclusion. Tibor Pacher, the CEO and founder of Puli Space is passionate about his company yet almost folksy in a down home Hungarian kind of way. Check out their website, where you can actually make a ‘small step’ donation there for as little as 1000HUF. Even the name Puli means sheep dog in Hungarian, and it doesn’t get much more down to earth than that – which is ironic.



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