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Last Week in Riga the venue of TechCrunch Baltics was packed. There I met people from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Finland, Germany, Denmark and the UK to mention but a few countries and I got a feeling that Baltic and Nordic entrepreneurs knew each other rather well.
The geographical distance is not a big issue in the Northern Europe: most of the participants of TC Baltics drove to the event. But when I asked about the reason for such connectedness, the answer was not the distance alone, but more importantly a well-established Northern European ecosystem, glued together by ArcticStartup blog and its conference Arctic15.
Perhaps as a result many startups in the Northern Europe are international. Take, for example, Campalyst (Garage48, Startup Sauna and Seedcamp alumnus), with team members coming from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia or Finnish Ants’Lab, founded by a Lithuanian Maksim Golivkin and a Spaniard Claudio Camacho. Skype is also international this way, with its co-founders coming from Sweden, Denmark and Estonia.
Such internationalism is a good thing. Founders bring their country’s network of contacts into the business, which makes it easier to raise funding, find suppliers, marketing channels in the respective markets where their networks are strong. Opening up a subsidiary in the new geographical market, choosing a PR agency, recruiting sales reps, or even finding a reliable translation service becomes easier.
This is why I believe that strengthening European network is essential for pan-European expansion of a startup. And this is where events like European Pirate Summit, The Next Web or Pioneers Festival come in. They cost money and take your time, but they are all worth it, in my view (here is another opinion). You might see more events announced here at GoalEurope for this very reason.
Europe has apparently surpassed US in size of its ecommerce industry. It is still a fragmented marketplace, where cost of doing business is higher. Different languages, regulations and even online payment options slow down international expansion, but once you know the right people in the new markets, they can hook you up with the right contacts or help you do your research and make the right decision about market entry strategy.
In a today’s blog post by HackFwd about European entrepreneurship, micro-multinationals were named key to European prosperity, especially as some European countries are said to have lower barriers to entry than the US. Besides, who, if not Europeans, are better positioned to succeed in Europe? More reasons to connect to entrepreneurs in other countries.
In addition to conferences there is a non-profit organization called LeBridge which trying to link European entrepreneurs, and Founder2be, a Match.com for co-founders created by a German Oliver Bremer based in Finland.
Of course, networking alone will not compensate for a lack of early stage or growth capital. So it is also important for European, and especially Eastern European startups to join more accelerators. I see them not only as specialized startup courses and powerful networking hubs, but also as filters for the investors and media. Accelerator-funded companies appear to raise funding with ease (more stats here on TechCrunch).
I get frequent enquiries about making introductions to people in different countries. So I see the need for cross-border networking, and if this resonates, come to any of these events (they are not only about startup competitions), apply to an accelerator program and plan your European expansion early in the process. And let’s see if other European entrepreneurs can match the connectedness of the #BalticMafia in a few years’ time.
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