Tag Archives: Dreamups

More for Entrepreneurs

Moldova’s entrepreneurship scene keeps getting bigger.

I’ve written previously about the Dreamups Innovation Campus and the Diamond Challenge competition for high school students, in which the team I mentored claimed one of the top prizes this year.

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On Sunday, Champa and I visited Tekwill, a center that opened in March in northern Chișinău. It’s an educational and entrepreneurial hub with coworking spaces, a pre-acceleration program, startup competitions, events and resources ranging from 3D printers to international guest speakers.

Tekwill is among a growing list of local entrepreneurial and startup resources here that now includes iHUB, Generator Hub, Dreamups, 404 Moldova and GEN Moldova.

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“Moldova’s capital, Chișinău, is among many cities around the world that aspire to develop a startup scene of their own,” Sergiu Matei, one of the founders of Dreamups, wrote recently on Startup Grind. “To be sure, no one will mistake it yet for Silicon Valley, much less Boston, Paris or Shanghai. Yet its entrepreneurial scene has quietly begun to emerge over the past couple of years, and it’s been exciting to watch.”

Sergiu concluded: “It’s not a fantasy to believe some of the world’s great new startups can and will emerge from Moldova, especially with such a strong entrepreneurial support system now starting up and growing every day.”

Tekwill is an important new component in that system. Located on the campus of the  Technical University of Moldova, it launched with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Government of Sweden (through the Swedish International Development Agency), within the Moldova ICT Excellence Center Project.

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Sara Hoy, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, has been assisting Tekwill and other technology-based programs, with a special interest in attracting girls to the field. You can see Sara here, between two Moldovan friends, at Moldova’s first-ever Mini Maker Faire organized by Atelier 99 and held at Tekwill on Sunday.

Maker Faire organizes gatherings around the world, often in the Bay Area and other high-tech hot spots. It’s a modern mashup of science fairs, craft festivals and tech enthusiasts. The photos in this post are all from the fair, where Champa and I watched a virtual reality demonstration, listened to talks on starting a business, spoke with inventors and checked out gifts ranging from educational games to jewelry made from computer chips.

IMG_5183Tekwill focuses on information technology, working with students, professors and others who need help transforming a good idea into a successful business. With its educational programs, modern facilities, mentoring and international connections, it seeks to create high-quality jobs to deter so many Moldovans from leaving the country to pursue their dreams.

The entrepreneurs I met at Tekwill, like Moldova’s other entrepreneurs and innovators in civil society and diverse other sectors, represent the best in a country where one too often encounters despair about the economy, politics, corruption and other problems. For me, at least, their spirit is a booster shot of optimism, a reminder that change really is possible. As their entrepreneurial scene continues to grow, so does hope for Moldova’s future.

 

 

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Diamond Challenge Finals

Aspiring young entrepreneurs from across Moldova competed in the final round of Diamond Challenge. They pitched their ideas, hoping to win $1,000 and a trip to America. The team I mentored, buk, finished second in the business category. You can see them in the video below (on YouTube at https://youtu.be/v74RjurF3EU). Who finished first? Watch and be inspired.

Preparing Their Pitches

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The students you see in this post represent Moldova’s brightest hopes for the future.

They are optimistic in a country where many people are pessimistic. They want to start businesses and help others. They are overflowing with great ideas, and they are brave enough to present them on a stage in front of a group of judges — in English.

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They are the finalists in this year’s Diamond Challenge Moldova, a competition for high school students interested in becoming entrepreneurs. On Jan. 28, seven student teams will vie to be named the best “social venture,” and six others will compete for the best business idea. Both winning teams will receive $1,000 and a chance to compete in April at the international Diamond Challenge for High School Entrepreneurs competition in Delaware.img_8650

On Sunday, I led a workshop to help the teams sharpen their public speaking skills and pitches. Joining me were several other Peace Corps volunteers who have been mentoring teams, helping to select the finalists and organizing the competition as a whole. I have been mentoring one of the teams myself and will be cheering for them in the finals.

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Nearly 2,000 students from around the world have participated in Diamond Challenge since it launched in 2012. Moldovan students have done very well in the competition, with two teams making it to the finals last year. Do It For Bunica won the $10,000 grand prize in the social venture competition with its project to connect expatriate Moldovan workers with teenagers back home who can help care for their aging parents.

Another Moldovan team won the social impact prize a year earlier with its idea of producing clothing with reflective thread that can be seen by seen at night by cars driving along dangerous country roads.

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Peace Corps volunteer Chris Flowers, center, and Ana Mirza of A.O. INVENTO organized Sunday’s workshop and many of the other activities for Diamond Challenge Moldova.

Both of those earlier teams gave excellent pitches, which I showed on Sunday, helping the current students learn the best ways of persuading judges, investors or others. My other sources ranged from the television show “Shark Tank” to President Obama to Guy Kawasaki, the renown Silicon Valley entrepreneur. The students will be making their own final pitches before a new group of Moldovan and American judges at the Dreamups Innovation Campus, the local entrepreneurship center about which I’ve written previously.

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Peronally, if someone had asked me when I was in high school to speak publicly in a foreign language, I would have been terrified. That’s why I also showed this hilarious video with Steve Martin, to help the students relax. I’ll post again after the finals to tell you how their presentations turned out. Based on what I saw at the workshop, I expect them to be terrific.

Startups Dreamup in Chisinau

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Sergiu Matei, left, interviews tech journalist Andrii Degeler at a gathering of the Dreamups Innovation Campus in Chisinau

Staring at laptops adorned with stickers, sipping coffee, tapping their sneakers, the young people who gathered for a talk from a visiting technology journalist Thursday evening looked like they might be at Durham’s American Underground or some other entrepreneurial hub in the United States. They nodded when the host said “awesome” and “cool.” They laughed at a joke about Pokémon Go.

But they weren’t in Durham, much less Silicon Valley. They were in Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova, a country whose economy is struggling and whose people often voice skepticism about the possibility of making a change in the world.

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Almost all in their 20s and 30s, they gathered to hear Andrii Degeler offer advice on how to promote their startup businesses to reporters. Degeler, a Ukrainian native who now lives in Amsterdam, reports on the Central and East European tech scene for The Next Web and publishes a newsletter about the region.

“Salaries are much lower in Moldova,” he noted, saying this has the potential to provide “more freedom to experiment” to international companies that recruit Moldovan talent. The meeting’s host, Sergiu Matei, cautioned, however, that local entrepreneurs will succeed only if they are willing to fail, an idea familiar to U.S. startups  but challenging in a post-Soviet nation where many people are risk-averse.

img_0284Matei joined Degeler on the stage, both in armchairs, one wearing shorts, the other a black T shirt. A projected slide behind them showed the event’s sponsors — local companies, media partners, the U.S. government and others.

Chisinau’s Dreamups Innovation Campus organized the event. Founded only in March, the group calls itself “a community where young entrepreneurs learn, share ideas and launch global companies.” It hosts networking events, pitching sessions and discussions with mentors. It runs a startup accelerator program and helps sponsor local events such as Startup Grind Chisinau. Its website features quotes from Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and others.

Matei, 29, helped launch several companies when he lived in California’s Bay Area, returning to Chisinau to be with his family and work with the local office of a London-based language translation company. He also wanted to “give back to my community” by sharing his expertise with young Moldovans interested in starting their own companies. About 3,000 people have already participated in Dreamups activities, he says.

img_0289Back when I was in Durham, I interacted with the thriving local startup scene, which I helped publicize through articles such as these. Durham’s entrepreneurs face many challenges but these now seem small compared to the ones in Moldova, where venture capital is scarce, collaborators are few and the entire system can seem stacked against a bright young person with a great idea. Yet here was an entire room of them on Thursday evening, determined to make an impact. It was impressive.

I hope to write again about Dreamups and some other programs here that are promoting innovation and entrepreneurship, especially among girls and women. Peace Corps is working with two of these, Diamond Vision and Technovation. If you’re interested in this topic, I hope you’ll share a comment or words of encouragement here with Sergiu and the others. I’m sure they’d appreciate it. Perhaps someone might even want to send them some stickers for their laptops? That would be cool, possibly even awesome.