The herd of start-ups to the east is growing. A handful of unicorns – start-ups with market valuations of $1 billion or more – are trotting through Central and Eastern Europe leading an increasingly successful, local start-up scene. Companies such as LogMeIn, which started nearly 15 years ago in Budapest and is now listed on the Nasdaq in New York, or Prezi, also from Hungary, which aims to displace Microsoft’s PowerPoint, are already well established on the global stage. New ideas are in the wings, waiting for the right moment. In Bratislava, for instance, AeroMobil engineers are tinkering with a flying car that they hope will be market-ready by 2020. Back in 2013, Ionuț Budișteanu from Romania went so far as to challenge Google with his version of a self-driving car. He was only 20 years old at the time.
An estimated 30,000 successful start-ups in Central and Eastern Europe are working on their business ideas. The majority are in the tech sector, but some are social entrepreneurs. How is that possible, you ask? Does entrepreneurial innovation in the newer EU member states owe its success to a more fertile ecosystem there? Or are the successful examples simply outliers that obscure serious deficiencies in the local business environment? The answer is both.