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Congratulations to the 2021 #StartupOfTheYear winning teams


At the end of 2021, we asked you to help us acknowledge the progress and potential of SEE tech entrepreneurs by voting for the 2021 #StartupOfTheYear in six categories: newcomer , fintech, cleantech, AI, young entrepreneurial project, and woman-founded startup. We shortlisted companies in each category from the region and invited you to vote, or nominate new participants. After counting your votes, we are excited to announce the winners – the rising stars of the region. 

The winning teams in each category

Newcomer winner: BeMe

Based in Sofia, Bulgaria, BeMe is building an AI-powered insights hub to improve the lives of people diagnosed with autism. In 2021, they received a €750K funding round from Eleven Ventures and angel investors and expanded the team.


  • 1-year free access to all premium functionalities of The Recursive’s Growth Club (worth 220+ euro);
  • 1 content marketing campaign of total value up to 900 euro as per our pricing list, delivered by The Recursive Content Production & Promotion Agency;
  • Unicorn DNA T-shirt.

. . .

Fintech winner: Payhawk

Headquartered in London, Payhawk was founded in Sofia, Bulgaria where their product and business strategy will continue to develop. They have built an expense management platform, a one stop-shop for finance teams to manage their entire spending lifecycle.

In 2021, Payhawk raised both a $20M Series A round and a $112M Series B round, which makes them a contender for the title of the first Bulgarian unicorn.


. . .

Cleantech winner: Nasekomo

Based in Sofia, Bulgaria, Nasekomo develops insect products for animal farming feed, petfood, and agricultural fertilizers, while keeping a low environmental impact. In July, they obtained a grant from Innovation Norway to scale insect-based protein production in Bulgaria..


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 . . .

AI winner: Humans

Based in Bucharest, Romania, Humans is building a blockchain-powered platform that uses AI to create synthetic media for various applications. In 2021, Humans raised €7.6M through the private sale of cryptocurrency, backed by blockchain company Elrond Research.


. . .

Female-founded winners

In this category, we offered two prizes, as The Recursive seeks to encourage women entrepreneurship in Southeast Europe.

1st place: Plan A, founded by Lubomila Jordanova

Based in Berlin, Germany, Plan A was co-founded by Bulgarian founder Lubomila Jordanova. They are building a global B2B SaaS platform with solutions for carbon accounting and optimization, as well as ESG management and reporting. In 2021, Plan A raised ~€8.6M Series A, followed by a €2.6M round to expand its carbon accounting platform at a global level.

Award: 1-year free access to all premium functionalities of The Recursive’s Growth Club (worth €220+).

2nd place: Druid AI, founded by Andreea Plesea

Based in Bucharest, Romania, Druid AI was co-founded by Andreea Plesea. They are building an AI-based, no-code, chatbot authoring platform, which enables every developer to design, develop and deploy text- and voice-based interactions between employees, customers, partners and enterprise systems. In 2021, they received a €2M Series A investment and grew five times vs. the previous year.

Award: Architect of Change T-shirt and a Google Call with The Recursive.

. . .

Young Entrepreneur Category: FoodOBox

Based in Sofia, Bulgaria, FoodObox is developing a business model that helps prevent food waste in the HoReCa sector, by connecting environmentally conscious consumers with local restaurants and shops wanting to sell their surplus food. Users can order surprise boxes with a mix of unknown treats from their place of choice. In 2021, the team grew to 4000 clients and partners with 100 businesses.


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Antoanela is a Sustainability Communications Specialist and Deputy Editor at The Recursive media. From these roles, she is helping organizations communicate their latest sustainability goals, strategies, and technologies. She writes about climate tech, ESG, impact investment, sustainability regulation, and related topics.