by Reuben Godfrey. I spoke with with Cedric Maloux and got interesting insights one of central Europe’s leading tech accelerators, Prague’s Startup Yard and learned how and why Prague has become a great destination for young tech companies to call home..
What is your background?
I was born in Paris 48 years ago. I graduated 24 years ago with a US Master of Sciences in Computer Sciences and a French Engineering degree specialised in Artificial Intelligence. Despite such a technical background, I started my career as a technical sales representative in a small French start-up. Then in 1995 I discovered the web and in 1996 I started my first internet start-up: a French community portal which I later sold to a US company. Since that moment onwards, I only worked for start-ups. In 2003, I founded AllPeers, a distributed social network built inside Firefox which attracted funding from Mangrove Capital Partners and Index Ventures. Around 2009, I turned around a struggling Czech video game company into a leading game producer on Facebook with the hit game Pool Live Tour.
How did you end up doing what you do now?
Having created, grown, exited, failed and managed various start-ups at various stages of growth for 20 years, it’s very naturally that the shareholders of StartupYard approached me to become the CEO of this leading accelerator. StartupYard was founded in 2011 and I took over in 2014 with the vision to turn it into the best accelerator for the Central and Eastern region.
What is the StartupYard and how is it different to other incubation hubs?
StartupYard is a mentor-driven start-up accelerator. We offer an intensive 3-months program to help founders avoid growing mistakes and help them maximise the potential of their start-up. Our model is identical to the TechStars model, we are in fact a member of the GAN (Global Accelerator Network), an invitation-only network of accelerators around the world initially created by TechStars. We rely on our expertise and the expertise of more than 100 mentors to help the founders. Our mentors are successful entrepreneurs, investors or top executives at large corporations. We also offer a small seed-funding investment of EUR 30,000 and have access to perks valued at more than EUR 500,000. All this is given to the start-ups in exchange for 10% equity in the company.
Why is Prague a good place for this type of initiative?
There are a lot of reasons why Prague is attractive for the tech community at large. Fast internet, high-quality infrastructure, technical talents, and a low cost of living have made the Czech Republic one of the top locations in Europe for those starting a business. Not mentioning the quality of life which is above any other country from the former Eastern-block. Geographically located in the center of Europe, you can travel to most major European capitals in less than 2 hours. For us as an accelerator, Prague is the perfect bridge between the West and the East and we proud ourselves at being a stepping stone for regional startups with global ambitions. In fact, we see more and more VC’s from Western Europe sending scouts to the region and of course we collaborate with them.
How has the start-up landscape changed since the StartupYard has opened?
It has increased in term of number of start-ups emerging. Until recently, most developers where working for large corporations who had de-localised their IT division. However, recent successes from local start-ups, the lowering cost of starting a tech start-ups and the development of new venture capital funds have somehow led to more people willing to the risk-taking of starting a new business.
Are there some superstars that began life there? A success story you can share?
On a global scale, our most successful companies are TeskaLabs.com (specialised in enterprise mobile and IoT security) or BrandEmbassy.com (a leading social CRM platform). The first one was accepted to TechStars London after going through StartupYard and is now a fast growing company in a very hot topic. The second one works with some of the largest Top500 corporations in the world. We also have some very promising ones like BudgetBakers.com or Satismeter.com to name a few.
What are some hot areas right now for new companies?
Historically, the Czech Republic has been very strong on the topic of security. 2 of the world’s largest anti-virus companies (Avast and AVG) are Czech companies. Overall, considering the quality of the scientific education here, we see a good number of advanced tech companies. In our case, for example, we have already accelerated 2 start-ups leveraging machine-learning and deep-learning techniques to make sense of large quantities of text (SentiSquare.com) and to allow machine to hear, recognise and reproduce sounds (NeuronSW.com).
From an Irish perspective, do you encourage international applications?
We do indeed! We’re an international management team and so far we have accepted companies from 14 different countries. The fact we are based in the beautiful city of Prague doesn’t mean we only take Czech start-ups. Our goal is to find ambitious founders who want to tackle global problems and between the cumulated years of experience of our mentors and our global reach, we know we can help them achieve their ambitions. Last year we received more than 300 applications and invited 9 start-ups to the program. Where they come from doesn’t matter. Where they want to be in 5 years is what we care about.