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Early-stage startup program Spotlight 2021 opens for Eastern European founders

The Spotlight 2020 online edition
Image credit: The Spotlight 2020 online edition
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How to Web, a renowned annual technology and innovation conference in Europe, has opened applications for its early-stage startup program, Spotlight 2021. More than 250 tech startups with East European founders wanting to expand globally are expected to apply in the program. The 40 teams selected will have the chance to connect with over 100 experts and investors, and win an investment prize of over €350K, offered by TechAngels, SeedBlink, Growceanu, GapMinder Venture Partners, RocaX, Simple Capital, and Transylvania Angels Network .

Accessing the elite of the technology industry in Europe

Being launched in 2011 as part of the How to Web conference, one of the first technology events in Central and Eastern Europe, Spotlight has a long legacy of helping develop the local startup ecosystem. This has grown tremendously since Spotlight’s first edition, creating a new cohort of experienced founders and leaders who can now act as mentors and capital providers.

Coming out of a period of heightened challenges due to the global COVID pandemic, technology startups in Eastern Europe can apply to the Spotlight 2021 competition for a long-awaited ramp-up. 

Through the program, startups can raise funding, access knowledge from experts and investors, and scale globally. Over 5 consecutive weeks, founders will benefit from over 1,000 individual meeting with leaders of the technology industry.  

Among the investors and mentors in the program are Luciana Lixandru (Sequoia), Nicolas Dessaigne (Y Combinator), Irina Haivas (Atomico), Andrei Brașoveanu (Accel), Hristo Borisov (Payhawk), Nopadon Wongpakdee (Startup Core Strengths), Ramli John (Product-Led Institute), Andy Budd (Clearleft), and Ondrej Bartos (Credo Ventures). They are joined by corporate experts such as Dan Oros (Google Romania), Laura Ștefan (Mastercard Romania), Horia Velicu (BRD – Groupe Société Générale), Bogdan Axinia (eMAG), Raul Popa (TypingDNA).

Founders will compete in the semi-final of the competition on November 23rd and at the final, or Pitch Day, on November 24th, for a chance to win an investment prize worth €350K.

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Spotlight connects founders with representatives of more than 50 investment funds and investor groups such as EarlyBird Venture Capital, 500 Startup Istanbul, Speedinvest, LAUNCHub Ventures, Eleven Ventures, Flashpoint Capital, Vitosha Venture Partners, SeedBlink, TechAngels, GapMinder Venture Partners, Simple Capital, Transylvania Angels Network (TAN), Catalyst Romania, ROCA X, Early Game Ventures and others.

Startups can apply by registering on the How to Web website by September 19th, 2021. The startup program officially starts on October 4th, with the announcement of the participants, and will run exclusively online until November 21st, 2021. 

Spotlight 2021: “Doubling down on everything high-growth”

The Recursive talked to Bogdan Iordache, founder of How to Web, to uncover their objectives with this new edition of the Spotlight program and their winning formula for helping tech startups expand globally.

What have been your proudest moments with the Spotlight program across editions?

Bogdan Iordache, founder of How to Web

Bogdan Iordache: Spotlight’s mission is to help startups succeed in whatever way is relevant to them: raising money, getting clients, maybe exiting their business at some point.

So anytime we hear about a Spotlight alumni progressing we’re happy, hoping that we’ve contributed even a tiny bit to their success. And the last years especially have been very rewarding – with startups such as Machinations, Neurolabs, Soleadify, Cartloop, and many others making good progress.

How does the 2021 edition take the Spotlight legacy further?

Spotlight’s objective is to help founders build a high-growth business by connecting them to investors and other people who have already done it – be it founders, operators, or experts.

Spotlight 2021 is not fundamentally different from previous editions, other than doubling down on everything high-growth. 

Eastern Europe has grown immensely in the last few years. UiPath’s IPOs, Bolt’s amazing growth, now Norton acquisition of Avast — these events are relevant for the global tech scene, but now they happen in our backyard.

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These developments have created a new wave of experienced operators and founders who can now act as mentors and have attracted more capital for local startups. 

At Spotlight 2021 we take advantage of both.

What would you say is the winning combination of value-added activities in this startup program that will help founders reach their objectives?

During Spotlight, startups have access to a few private Q&A sessions, and then a custom schedule of 1-to-1 meetings which is set based on their priorities and our knowledge of the priorities of the mentors.

So the program is very much customized to the founders’ needs, and it can be very lightweight or very complex. This flexibility has been always appreciated by the founders, who can focus their energy in meetings that are aligned with their priorities.

What are your expectations in terms of the number of startups that will apply and the industries in which they operate?

Hard to say – the number of applications is relevant, but their quality is even more important. So hopefully we’ll just have a better batch than last year. And this has been an unwritten rule for the last 10 years.

Verticals vary widely, but this year probably we’ll get more startups from pandemic-impacted industries (healthcare, education, human resources, entertainment etc.) and a more balanced B2B vs. B2C distribution. 

However, all we want are smart, ambitious, hard-working founders with a launched product and some market data points. Everything else is secondary.

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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.