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15+ startup exits for the Southeast Europe tech ecosystem in 2021 so far

SEE Startup teams
Image credit: From left to right: Branko Miluntinović, CEO and co-founder of Nordeus; FITE's team in Sofia; Daniel Dines, co-founder of UiPath; Cleanshelf's CEO Dusan Omercevic and LeanIX's CEO André Christ; the founders of Charlie – Ilian Georgiev, Ivo Parashkevov, and Rob Luedeman; Murry Ivanoff, founder and CEO of Metrilo; the Green Horse Games team

Most startup founders dream to build something of value that will gain market traction, receive support from investors, and exit successfully. 2021 was a good year for the tech innovation ecosystem in Southeast Europe. It was the year Romania-DNA UiPath issued an over $1B IPO on the New York Stock Exchange; when Serbian game developer Nordeus was acquired for $378М in cash and shares; and when over 15 startups across different industries made successful exits to international players. 

To get a better sense of exit trends in 2021, The Recursive mapped the major deals in the region, covering Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Greece. The analysis revealed some insights:

  • Key sectors of investment included gaming and entertainment, software, marketing automation, e-commerce, and AI-based solutions with applications in financial services, e-commerce, or security;
  • Most deals took place before a Series A funding round to support the startup’s future growth; notable exceptions are UiPath, Cleanshelf, Green Horse Games, Charlie Finance and Clippings; 
  • So far, most exits took place in the second quarter of 2021.

 

Exit strategies have different forms. For the purpose of this list, The Recursive takes into account as startup exits mergers, acquisitions, public offerings, and private offerings.

The key tech startup exits in Southeast Europe

The startup: MorphL

Area of activity: Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, E-commerce

Country: Romania

Date: January 26

Funding stage before exit: pre-seed

The deal: MorphL is an AI platform that helps e-commerce companies to make better decisions and personalize customer experience by using algorithms to predict user behavior. The startup joins the increasing suite of AI and machine learning models that can be integrated into existing digital products with one API, thus breaking the barriers of adoption. MorphL had received funding from the Google Digital News Initiative. At the start of the year, MorphL was acquired by Algolia, a Canadian leading search-as-a-service company that was planning to grow its AI capabilities. MorphL will act as the company’s own AI hub in Romania and gradually become part of Algolia’s offerings.

 

The startup: Green Horse Games

Area of activity: Gaming

Country: Romania

Date: February 23

Funding stage before exit: Series A

The deal: Green Horse Games, the gaming studio based in Bucharest, is probably best known for its popular Football Rivals game. Last year, the startup generated around €4M in revenues and was on a steady growth trajectory. Green Horse Games decided to sell after being contacted by Miniclip, a game developer and publisher, part of Tencent, the largest game publisher in the world. The startup will continue to operate independently with support from Miniclip, while also offering the parent company a door to enter in the SEE gaming ecosystem.

 

The startup: Cleanshelf

Area of activity: Enterprise SaaS management solution

Country: US and Slovenia

Date: March 24

Funding stage before exit: Series A

The deal: In 2017, Slovenian Dusan Omercevic founded Cleanshelf and headquartered it in San Francisco, while establishing two subsidiaries in Ljubljana and Denver. The startup drew the attention of investors such as LAUNCHub Ventures and Dawn Capital, leading to a $8M round in 2020. With medium-sized US firms using around 140 SaaS applications, Cleanshelf helps manage and optimize SaaS libraries with the use of AI. Most recently, the company was acquired by LeanIX, a German enterprise architecture firm offering IT teams solutions to organize multi-cloud environments. Following the deal, Cleanshelf will complement its parent company’s services for application portfolio management, offering it a competitive advantage.

 

The startup: Shift Conference

Area of activity: Event organization

Country: Croatia

Date: April 12

Funding stage before exit: N/A

The deal: Shift has more than a decade of experience in organizing AI, fintech, and developer conferences in Southeast Europe. Founder and CEO Ivan Burazin was helping Infobip, a unicorn from Croatia providing communication and customer engagement software, with various initiatives when he joked about selling Shift to them. The joke turned into an offer and Infobip acquired Shift Conference and appointed Burazin as Chief Developer Experience Officer. Through the acquisition, the Shift event will gradually expand globally, while helping Infobip ramp up its developer usage.

 

The startup: FITE 

Area of activity: Sports Streaming Platform, Media

Country: Bulgaria

Date: April 14

Funding stage before exit: Seed

The deal: FITE began as a project of Bulgarian Flipps Media in 2016. Its fast growth made it attractive to investors such as LAUNCHub Ventures, BrightCap Ventures, Earlybird Digital East and Tim Draper. With over 10 million users, the sports streaming platform became the top-grossing app worldwide. This success led to their acquisition by TrillerNet, the US company behind the AI-based social media video app. FITE TV remained a separate app, used to support TrillerNet’s expansion into long-form content.

 

The startup: UiPath

Area of activity: software, robotic process automation

Country: Romania

Date: April 21

Funding stage before exit: Series F

The deal: In April 2021, UiPath made history as the first company of Romanian DNA and the third company in American cloud history to reach over $1B in an IPO. UiPath sold close to 24M Class A shares at $56, reaching over $37B valuation at the end of the first round. Investors include Accel, Alkeon, Capital G, Earlybird, Coatue Management, Credo, and Dragoneer. UiPath was founded in Bucharest by Daniel Dines and Marius Tirca back in 2005 and later headquartered in New York, while retaining over 20% of headcount in Romania. UiPath is the leading company in robotic process automation, which is said to be the fastest-growing niche in enterprise software. 

 

The startup: Grouper

Area of activity: E-commerce

Country: North Macedonia

Date: May 10

Funding stage before exit: N/A

The deal: Back in 2011, Grouper was one of the pioneers in the local e-commerce market and the brainchild of Nina Angelovska, Former Minister of Finance of North Macedonia and founder of the Macedonian e-commerce Association, and Martin Kitanovski, a serial entrepreneur. With a portfolio spanning from food delivery to travel packages, and a marketplace platform, the startup was used by 270K local customers. In May 2021, they joined Payten’s portfolio of international eCommerce solutions. Payten is a Polish company specializing in payment industry solutions.

 

The startup: Moosend

Area of activity: SaaS, Marketing automation

Country: Greece, UK

Date: May 26

Funding stage before exit: N/A

The deal: Moosend, a solution for email marketing automation and campaign management using AI, was founded in 2011 by Panos Melissaropoulos and Yannis Psarras. In May, Moosend was acquired by Sitecore, a global leader in digital experience management software based in the US, as part of their $1.2B growth plan that included two other acquisitions. The Moosend senior management team will join Sitecore. Following the deal, Sitecore is opening a technology hub in Athens, planning to hire 150 programmers and engineers.

 

The startup: Nordeus

Area of activity: Gaming

Country: Serbia
Date: June 3

Funding stage before exit: N/A

The deal: The startup was founded in 2010 and had instant success, becoming one of the largest companies in the Serbian gaming sector. Its flagship product, “Top Eleven” was recognized as the most successful mobile soccer management game in the world by AppAnnie. Nordeus is also an active supporter of the local community, creating an online local gaming ecosystem and offering free resources to developers. Recently, Nordeus was acquired by Take-Two Interactive Software for $225M in cash and $90M in company shares, in a strategic move to expand its mobile business. The American company is a developer, publisher, and marketer in interactive entertainment.

 

The startup: Fenix.eco

Area of activity: ConsumerElectronics, Circular economy

Country: Romania

Date: June 4

Funding stage before exit: N/A

The deal: fenix.eco was founded less than a year and half ago by serial entrepreneur and business angel Grégoire Vigroux and former Amazon manager Adrien Arnoux. The startup aimed to disrupt the smartphone market by selling refurbished phones, warranty-protected, which perform as-new. The global market for reused smartphones presents an opportunity of selling ~352M units by 2024. Fenix.eco caught the eye of Recommerce, one of the key players in the European market. Following the acquisition, Recommerce wants to further tap into the potential of the Eastern European market.

 

The startup: Keez

Area of activity: Accounting and invoicing for SMBs

Country: Romania

Date: June 23

Funding stage before exit: N/A

The deal: Founded in 2018 by Daniel Mateescu, Keez uses machine learning to equip small businesses with accounting and finance online management services. Having grown in the last three years, Keez got the attention of Visma, a Norwegian company with an already impressive portfolio of 150+ acquisitions. Recently, Visma also acquired SmartBill, the main invoicing solution in the Romanian market. Following the deal, the company will retain its independence and benefit from Visma’s experience and network to develop further.

 

The startup: Remix

Area of activity: Second hand fashion, E-commerce

Country: Bulgaria

Date: July 27

Funding stage before exit: Venture – Series unknown

The deal: Remix was founded in Bulgaria in 2012. In the upcoming years, it quickly became one of the biggest online e-commerce platforms for second-hand fashion in the CEE, opening stores in Greece, Romania, and Poland. On average, the store was handling 300K items every month. For US-based thredUP, one of the largest online fashion resale platforms, acquiring Remix for €24M was the perfect opportunity to expand its Resale-as-a-Service outside the US. Following the deal, thredUp will be investing in Remix’s infrastructure, product development, and marketing strategy.

 

The startup: Charlie Finance

Area of activity: Fintech, AI

Country: Bulgaria, US
Date: August 19

Funding stage before exit: Series A

The deal: Charlie was founded by two Bulgarian entrepreneurs in 2016. The solution is an AI text message app that targets young adults wanting to improve their personal finances, by helping them save money and avoid debt. Since launching, Charlie raised more than $9M, including investors such as LAUNCHub Ventures and Bulgaria partner at Sequoia Capital, Bogomil Balkansky. The startup had reached over 500K registrations when it was acquired by Chime, a fast-growing US fintech that recently raised a $750M Series G funding. 

 

The startup: Molo

Area of activity: Marina Management Software

Country: Serbia

Date: August 26

Funding stage before exit: Venture – Series unknown

The deal: Founders Rodoljub Stojiljkovic and Lucas Isola launched Molo in Serbia while targeting the US market with their sophisticated software that can help marine businesses better handle clients and boats. The company raised financing from different sources, including South Central Ventures. Molo was acquired by Texas-based Storable, a self-storage software and tech provider. Following the deal, the Molo team will be able to leverage the Storable model to further develop products for the marine industry.

 

The startup: Metrilo

Area of activity: SaaS, marketing and sales analytics platform, E-commerce

Country: Bulgaria

Date: September 21

Funding stage before exit: Seed

The deal: Shortly after launching the company in 2014, Murri Ivanoff and Peter Iliev attracted the first investors for a seed round: Eleven Capital and LAUNCHub Ventures. Metrilo raised $1.1M across all funding rounds and had reached 1000 e-commerce clients with its analytics CRM and email marketing platform. Having reached a point where it needed to scale further, the company was acquired by Sendinblue, in a $47M deal that included two other e-commerce marketing companies, Chatra and PushOwl. The team will continue to work independently, while Sendinblue will begin to incorporate the technology of Metrilo.

 

The startup: Lummetry.AI

Area of activity: Artificial Intelligence, Data Science

Country: Romania

Date: September 23

Funding stage before exit: N/A

The deal: Lummetry.AI was part of Knowledge Investment Group, a company built by Andrei Damian in 2007, which changed course from software development to data science using AI technologies in 2015. The change brought a boost in revenues and the acquisition of Lummetry.AI by GTS Global Intelligence, the software developer for the physical security industry. Lummetry.AI builds AI “engines” that can be integrated in clients’ existing security and monitoring infrastructure, and IT tools.

Other deals with Southeast European DNA

The startup: Ariel

Area of activity: 3D augmented reality

Country: UK; Greece
Date: February 8

Funding stage before deal: Venture – Series Unknown

The deal: Established Greek entrepreneurs George Papandreou and Iasonas Kokkino are responsible for Ariel’s AI expertise as CTO and CEO, respectively. The company was headquartered in London. Their solution enables users to create a 3D reconstruction of the human body on any type of device. Snapchat’s parent company, Snap, saw a big opportunity in using Ariel’s AI capabilities to improve its visual filters and effects. Thus, Snap acquired Ariel at the beginning of the year. The Ariel team will work on optimizing the Snapchat camera, yet its use cases present additional opportunities for Snap. For instance, Ariel has the potential to help kinetic learning in the context of online education.

 

The startup: Delivery Hero – Balkan operations

Area of activity: Online Delivery

Country: multiple Balkan countries

Date: May 26

Funding stage before deal: Post-IPO Debt

The deal: Delivery Hero had a strong presence in food delivery in the Balkans, yet they chose to divest and focus on their other 50 markets in Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and North Africa. Delivery Hero sold their Balkans operations, including foodpanda in Romania and Bulgaria, donesi in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Pauza in Croatia, to Glovo, a leading multi-category delivery player worldwide. The two delivery players previously collaborated on other transactions, such as when Delivery Hero acquired Glovo’s Latin American operations.

 

The startup: Bulpros

Area of activity: Digital Cloud solutions

Country: Bulgaria

Date: March

Funding stage before deal: N/A

The deal: Bulpros was founded 10 years ago and has since specialized in helping companies on their digital transformations with services such as cybersecurity and cloud migration. Recognized by Deloitte and Financial Times 1000 Europe for its fast growth, Bulpros had reached 43M in revenues by 2019. In March, the company entered a merger agreement with their long-term partner ec4u, a provider of digitization services in marketing, sales, and e-commerce. The two complement each other particularly in geographic scope. Later in July, the newly established firm started operating as DIGITALL, with Silverfleet Capital as the majority owner.

 

The startup: ICN.BG

Area of activity: Web Hosting

Country: Bulgaria
Date: June 8

Funding stage before deal: N/A

The deal: The two largest Bulgarian web hosting providers entered an agreement whereby SuperHosting.BG, also part of the team.blue group, acquired ICN.BG. Following the deal, ICN.BG clients will move to SuperHosting.BG and receive new services from the company, such as protection against cyberattacks and automated service renewals. The deal will help SuperHosting.BG further solidify its market position in the Balkans.

 

The startup: Clippings

Area of activity: procurement platform for interior design

Country: UK; Bulgaria
Date: August 23

Funding stage before deal: Series B

The deal: Clippings was founded by two Architecture Association students and quickly gained traction. Adel Zakout, one of the founders, is half Bulgarian on the part of his mother. So, when the company was set up, the engineering/ R&D office was set in Sofia, while the business development team was based in London. After having raised $21.1M from investors and having been used in more than 80K design projects worldwide, Clippings was acquired by US-based Material Bank, a one-stop shop for design materials, with a unicorn valuation. Clippings will continue to work independently and grow its R&D team in Sofia.

 

If you see any important deal from the SEE tech ecosystem missing in this list, don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected]

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Antoanela is an Innovation Reporter at The Recursive with a knack for sustainability and environment protection. She is on a mission to communicate and celebrate innovative ideas and solutions that improve our ability to thrive together on this planet.