Interview with the founder of Tech Ventures, Elena UNCIULEANU

Interview with the founder of Tech Ventures, Elena UNCIULEANU

Elena is a daring and innovative ICT entrepreneur. Starting small she met with success very fast, mainly because her experience brought her to the place where she knew exactly what she wanted to do. Determined to change the status quo, she isn’t afraid to walk with her head up held high in what seems a man’s world, because her business card are her accomplishments so far. With a never ending desire to create better software, she now wants to create the perfect environment for start-ups to find qualitative mentorship and learn to become their best self.

Atlanta sky view from the 72nd Floor Westin Peachtree Plaza

Welcome back from the USA. You were chosen to be part of a boot camp in Boston on how to conduct business in one of the biggest markets in the world. What was it like?

It was a life changing experience. I knew it has to be something big, from the moment I saw the application form. No paperwork (printing, signing, scanning etc.). Everything was online, but it was the most complex application I faced: all the questions were precise, I had to prepare a 90 sec video and then a 1-1 online interview. And it was addressed to proven entrepreneurs – who must have earned at least €100,000 in last 12 months – that convinced me that the B2B Boot camp will really be focused on internationalizing my business & finding new customers and I’m not going to waste my time there with theoretical classes.

The boot camp consisted in 3 parts. 1 month of online sessions before going to the US in order to prepare our approach for the US market, including the famous 1-minute pitch. 1 week in Atlanta and 3 days in Boston.

We know you were the only one from Romania. What was that like?

The entire concept of this boot camp was amazing. They selected 6 European innovative companies, each one from a different country (Romania, UK, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Finland) and each one with a different specialization. I was the only one from Romania and the only FinTech company.

In the first week, according to its niche, each company was sent to a distinct soft landing site. I was hosted in Atlanta, at ATDC (Advanced Technology Development Center) – Georgia’s Tech Incubator, as it is considered to be the best US place for FinTech companies, like Reporting Center. I believe this was the most intense period of personal growth I experienced in my life. Every 30 minutes of my program they scheduled relevant meetings with potential customers or partners. They even invited me to their recurrent Staff Meeting to provide insight into how an incubator operates.

In the second week, we all met in Boston, for some common activities – meeting lawyers, accountants, marketing and IP specialists. There are two important aspects that made this program succeed: the fact that the group was small – all the discussions have been focused on us and the fact that there was no competition between us, as each came from a different industry. So there was an instant chemistry and respect between us, being able to discuss with these entrepreneurs even about their home market, not only the US one.

Talk us through the business mentality; pros and cons, what makes us alike and what makes us different.

Everything in business is different and this is confirmed by the other 5 European companies when we reunited in Boston, after each one of us had contact with a different US city. The most important things about the Americans are that they are open, optimist and they encourage you to speak. They collect your feedback. They enjoy networking – on small-size events (150 persons) nobody leaves before collecting business cards from all the other participants. That’s why when I arrived in Boston, after Atlanta, I was left with only 4 business cards. I had to print some other in Boston😊. And they want to help. If they resonate with who you are, they use their connections to help you penetrate the market.

On the other hand, our European mindset is to build a company step by step. We start small and we grow by investing our own money. Americans scale by collecting money from investors. We are cautious, they gamble. That’s why, they sometimes win big time.

Boston, ENRICH B2B Bootcamp – the 6 companies

What are your main learnings that you want to apply for Reporting Center?

I said to myself that if I want to be the best, I have to go and learn from the best. And when it comes to business, especially in IT, US make the rules: they start the trends, they write the books. And so, I attended some classes, some labs, I talked to some advisers there – old experienced serial entrepreneurs and finally I ordered the books they recommended to me. In three days they arrived and I started to read. I am still reading and each day I have some valuable findings. For instance, the day before I flight back home, I had my final presentation to a customer. It all went fine, the customer liked my product and the meeting ended in a good tone. It was only in the plane, when I read a passage in a book that I realized: „when a meeting ends with a compliment and no clear next steps it’s a bad meeting”. I collected compliments instead of facts and commitments. I knew my application was innovative, what I needed to do was to sell. That’s basic info for a sales person, for me, as a software programmer was news.

What made you create Tech Ventures and what is it?

At all started in Atlanta – the city of the entrepreneurs! I mean, the energy. That city is vibrant. It contaminates you. At first, I thought it was from Starbucks & Cola, but then I realized they converted me. Usually, when I traveled I used to buy Elle & Vogue magazines just to understand the vibe & the lifestyle of those places. After 5 days in that this city, going to their events, deeply understanding their Tech Ecosystem & Start-up scene I abandoned those woman magazines in the hotel and I bought Fast Company. I was fascinated.

When I arrived in Boston, after visiting another 3 incubators, I felt restless. I had to share the knowledge that I’ve got… Just couldn’t wait to come back home to act, and so, empowered by this environment, during my stay in Boston, in 3 nights, I created and I launched www.techventures.ro – as a contribution to the Romanian Tech Startup Ecosystem. It was practically founded in Boston from the Atlanta flame.

The Tech Ventures initiative will be a private Tech Startup Incubator, the place where Startups meet Venture Capital fund. We offer free mentorship and we are ready to invest in the projects we believe will make a change. On the other hand, we invite selected startups to work alongside us, in our work space, when we feel our joint efforts lead to disruptive innovation.

How will the money invested come back to you? More precisely, what’s in it for you?

Tech Ventures is not a grant, is not a public program, it’s a business.

It’s true it has a social component. It actually started when I realized how lucky I was in the last 10 years because I found a mentor. Entrepreneurship is hard. Is risky. Is hectic. You very easily can give up if you don’t have where to look for advice, cheering and connections. That’s why there are less women entrepreneurs. They search support, when in doubt. Men have more gut!

I don’t believe in „coincidence”, however there is this one that follows me: I went to the monthly informal meeting of the Tech Startup entrepreneurs in Atlanta – I was the only woman; among the companies in this Bootcamp – I was the only woman; even in Smart Alliance Innovation Cluster, I am the only woman – meaning, owner & writing code.

Now it’s my turn to show direction in business to the ones that need.

Coming back to the business component, Tech industry is the new gold. If you have to invest your money in something – this is the place. It’s not for everyone, as it needs experience, knowledge and intuition to find that 1{9aa0400c31a0d01c2f7c7ddcba6c4fe95da63a3d2a600327922bd2799984742a} of the companies that statistics say will return your investment. But I am patient and still young.

There is no magic recipe that applied will make you profit. There is a clear philosophy that we will apply it as well – let’s meet, discuss, debate, see if you we are compatible and from that point we will set up boundaries. Being a Tech Venture is not an easy task, but we are determined first of all to help others. Keep in mind that we are already accomplished, we don’t want to run your company, and in the same time, not everyone that applies will receive our help. We want to see ideas that have a huge potential to grow and see you accomplished as well; money is a factor, but the investment type it’s adjustable to your particular needs.

Who can apply? What should a start-up prepare for the first meeting with you?

Anyone, at any age, can come to us. We don’t make discrimination.

I know the first meeting it’s hard. But this is not an exam… a one-time shot. We want to meet them many times until they are natural, confident and we understand exactly what they mean. We want to see them dream big and then monitor their progress to results.

I encourage everyone to DARE and come to us and share their vision. Contrary to the classic investors, I am approachable. And when they are ready to pitch, I introduce them also to the non-approachable investors.

Atlanta, on a Bridge on Peachtree Street where it all started

What makes you different from other incubators?

Our main differentiator is that we provide also technical consulting on the projects. Sometimes startups have good ideas and energy, but they lack experience on how to build scalable solutions. Or they choose the wrong technology. Or they stuck in some technical bugs. We are innovators ourselves with active software businesses, so we have solutions.

On the other hand, I had the great chance to see these 6 incubators in the US, both private or funded by the state. At the beggining of the next year, I plan to visit the ones from Sillicon Valley, to close the circle and have a complete view on the american way. There is a thing I remember from one event in Atlanta. Two startups that just raised funds were talking about their experience. One said that had to make many calls, travels and meetings to obtain the funds. The other one, who was hosted at ATDC incubator said that for the VC funds he didn’t even have to leave the building. That’s the approach we want to take.

You had a great energy when you were in the US. How are you managing to keep that energy alive?

Until now I received great feedback regarding this initiative. Every day, I find partners interested to join. The entire Tech Ventures team – the mentors – is passionate and share high vibe, in addition to their magnificent professional background value. Apart from Bucharest, I want to make something for the city of my heart, Constanta, especially since the local University confirmed their support. Seeing the things moving to the right direction keeps me an enthusiast.

Thank you for your time. Do you have anything you want to add?

I believe TechVentures.ro initiative can stop the so-called “brain migration” problem we have in Romania – that is the fact that the most intelligent and educated people choose to leave Romania and work abroad. My vision is that if we manage to connect start-ups, mentors, investors, customers and Universities, by following the American formula, we offer a real alternative to the brilliant minds in Romania who can try to innovate in Romania.

Let’s join forces and make the Romanian Tech Start-up Ecosystem rise!

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