In the last year or so I heard a lot of things about Cluj, including being the Silicon Valley of Romania – enough to trigger my interest and make me want to experience firsthand Cluj’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. After finally finding the right excuse to spend an entire week in Cluj: Dev Talks conference that took place on the 13th of May, I packed my bags and off I went, joined by a good friend of mine activating in the IoT space, also intrigued by Cluj’s mirage.

I’m not going to insist on the fact that it took me more than 6 hours to drive from Bucharest to Cluj (450 KM), instead I’m going to concentrate on what I did in Cluj:

  • Networked with local entrepreneurs/startups at Cluj Hub and Cluj Cowork – this is how I found that CatWalk 15 (MVP Academy graduate and recently selected for Startupbootcamp Copenhagen) started in Cluj
  • It was great meeting Daniel Appelquist from Telefonica at Dev Talks conference, this time in my home country instead of UK/London :)
  • During Dev Talks I got to mingle with a lot of people and one thing became clear from day one: developers, entrepreneurs, managers, everybody basically was super excited about Cluj and how the IT&C evolved in the last few years. And when you keep hearing stories about developers in Bucharest being hired and relocated to Cluj you kind of understand that there’s a positive force driving all this magic forward.
  • At beers with Mircea Vadan, an experience startup guy, connected with everything breathing entrepreneurship in Cluj, I learned about seedfortech.ro – a product development fund, including go-to-market support and seed investment. Having a few years of experience at my previous company – providing software services to various customers across the world, I understood that outsourcing companies have to invest in products, not services. As Mircea put it: “the margin nowadays is so low that it’s no longer profitable to offer services like you used to“.
  • And speaking of beers, did you know that Joben Bistro is one of the most spectacular 20 bars in the world when it comes to interior design? It was Diana’s idea to meet there and catchup on things – this is how I found out that Diana had this amazing opportunity to personally interview Natalya Kaspersky. You can read the interview here: http://www.todaysoftmag.com/article/1400/leading-an-information-security-business-and-preventing-system-attacks-the-catch
  • Saturday was dedicated to Spherik Accelerator – a comprehensive and intense 4 months experience, dedicated to Romanian tech startups. Jennifer Austin, Managing Director of the program, invited me to mentor the startups back in February and I was excited to see their progress at the Demo Day.
  • Everything went smooth and for the untrained eyes it looked effortless, but let me tell you that a lot of work went into those presentations. Founders where well prepared and no matter the questions we threw at them they were prepared to knock them out of the park (literally, since the Demo Day took place at Liberty Technology Park in Cluj).
  • All my appreciation goes to Jennifer for doing such an amazing job at helping Romanian entrepreneurs acknowledge the opportunity that’s within our grasp. In her own words, referring to Cluj being (or not) the Silicon Valley of Romania:

    … it wont be Silicon Valley—and that is good. Cluj and Romania both have their own unique culture, history, strengths, challenges, and opportunities. We have to build on these, and dedicate ourselves to making us a better Cluj and a better Romania, rather than emulating another city as if it has all the answers for us. Be yourself—everyone else is already taken! No one achieves greatness trying to copy someone else.

Cluj is a vibrant city with amazingly open people full of initiative, a place filled with positive energy that hopefully I’ll be able to visit at least once every couple of months.