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Meet the Vibrant Expat Community Building Innovation from the CEE

Expats in CEE: a woman sitting on outside stairs and working from her laptop.
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A vibrant tapestry of cultures, languages, and histories, all converging in the heart of Europe – this is the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region, a place where tradition meets innovation, and where expats in CEE are making their mark on the startup scene. From the historic heart of Sofia to the bustling tech hubs of Warsaw, expats are adding more flavor to the local innovation ecosystems.

One such expat is Xavier Marcenac, a French entrepreneur who founded Nasekomo in Bulgaria. He first came to the country in the early 90s, during a time when Bulgaria was just beginning to open up for foreign investors. Reflecting on his decision, he shared a candid moment with The Recursive: “My wife told me I am mad because all the Bulgarians were leaving the country and I came back to start a business”. His bold move, as it turned out, was not madness but foresight. He was stepping into the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector, which would become one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Bulgarian economy.

Another French entrepreneur who has found success in the CEE region is Thibaut Taittinger, the founder of Puzl CowOrKing. His vision for the region goes beyond just expanding his business; he aims to foster a sense of community among the diverse ecosystems. In an interview with The Recursive he said, “Eastern Europe is full of small to medium-sized ecosystems. On a city level, we are very connected, we know each other, we can all interact, it’s very easy to approach each other, etc. However, as soon as you leave the boundaries of your city or the boundaries of your country, it gets harder for you to find connections”.

Speaking of French entrepreneurs, there seems to be plenty of them in CEE. One of the reasons for that is La French Tech, a global initiative supporting French entrepreneurs and startups abroad. With active chapters in Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland among others, La French Tech is home to a number of expats running startups.

But the story doesn’t end with startups. The CEE region is also a magnet for multinational corporations and venture capital funds, with expats playing pivotal roles. In this listicle, you’ll find some of the most active expats (listed in alphabetical order) in CEE who are either running startups, managing funds or working for international companies focused on innovation.

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The information provided in this article is based on the most recent data available at the time of publication. However, given the dynamic nature of the startup ecosystem and the personal circumstances of the individuals mentioned, we cannot guarantee that all the expats listed are currently residing in CEE countries or will continue to do so in the future.

Expats in CEE: Bulgaria

Adrien Bacchi

Adrien Bacchi

Nationality: French

Resides in: Bulgaria

About: When it comes to expats in CEE, Adrien Bacchi is another prominent figure. He is the president of La French Tech Sofia and founder and CEO of ChibiPhoenix, a gaming services studio developed in Bulgaria in 2006.

Daniel Montiglio

Daniel Montiglio

Nationality: Chilean

Resides in: Bulgaria

About: Daniel Montiglio is the founder and editor of Foreigner.bg – a resource for expats relocating to Bulgaria. He has over 10 years of experience in B2B sales and international trade, having served in various roles, including Strategic Sales Consultant in the software and IT industry.

Hans van Houwelingen

Hans van Houwelingen

Nationality: Dutch

Resides in: Bulgaria

About: Hans van Houwelingen is a managing partner at Urban Impact Ventures. He is focused on the sustainable transformation of the urban environment in Europe.

Jan Brøgger Andersen

Jan Brøgger Andersen

Nationality: Danish

Resides in: Bulgaria

About: Jan Brøgger Andersen is the CEO & co-founder of Sheetly – an e-commerce product information management and data management software that allows customers to import their products to Shopify. He is a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 businesses under his belt in the last 35 years, mostly in the IT and marketing industries.

Loic Le Pichoux

Loic Le Pichoux

Nationality: French

Resides in: Bulgaria

About: Loic Le Pichoux is the co-founder and Chief Engagement Officer of KLEAR, a fintech company that offers a Peer-to-Peer lending platform. He is also a member of La French Tech Sofia Community.

Markus Kroeger

Markus Kroeger

Nationality: German

Resides in: Bulgaria

About: Markus Kroeger is Head of the Digital Technology Center of Commerzbank in Sofia. In 2021, he was elected one of the new members of the Board of Directors of the German-Bulgarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

Matthias Zeitler

Matthias Zeitler

Nationality: German

Resides in: Bulgaria

About: Matthias Zeitler is the co-founder of Coworking Bansko, a popular destination for digital nomads in Europe. Matthias is also a regular speaker and mentor at tech, coworking, and startup events.

Nico-Alexander Jahn

Nico-Alexander Jahn

Nationality: German

Resides in: Bulgaria

About: Nico-Alexander Jahn is a member of the Executive Board at Publicis Groupe Bulgaria and Executive Vice President in charge of the Social Intelligence Center of Excellence. He has more than 15 years experience as a PR professional, manager and strategic thinker for Publicis Groupe agencies in Germany and Eastern Europe. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the German-Bulgarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

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Othmane Boumzebra

Othmane Boumzebra

Nationality: French

Resides in: Bulgaria

About: Othmane Boumzebra is a brand & positioning strategist for technical entrepreneurs with a background in avionics software engineering. He is a positioning consultant at Ignotify and is also the co-founder of Easy Exhibit – a company that helps marketing directors with their international exhibiting projects.

Thibaut Taittinger

Thibaut Taittinger

Nationality: French

Resides in: Bulgaria

About: Thibaut Taittinger is the founder of Puzl CowOrKing – one of the popular IT coworking spaces in Central and Eastern Europe. The project originated in Sofia, Bulgaria and is now actively growing across the region.

Xavier Marcenac

Xavier Marcenac

Nationality: French

Resides in: Bulgaria

About: Xavier Marcenac is the co-founder of Nasekomo – a biotechnology company aiming at converting organic low value biomass into high value animal protein for the feed industry through the use of insects. He is an executive with 25 years experience in multinational companies in consulting, finance and M&A positions.

Expats in CEE: Cyprus

Yaroslav Goncharov

Yaroslav Goncharov

Nationality: Russian

Resides in: Cyprus

About: Yaroslav Goncharov is an IT entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of FaceApp – one of the most popular iOS/Android photo editing apps that offers AI filters.

Expats in CEE: Estonia

Carlos Paniagua

Carlos Paniagua

Nationality: Guatemalan

Resides in: Estonia

About: Carlos Paniagua is the co-founder and CTO of Glia – a digital customer service platform.

Expats in CEE: Greece

Lars Rasmussen

Lars Rasmussen

Nationality: Danish

Resides in: Greece

About: Lars Rasmussen is a tech angel investor and the co-founder of Google Maps.

Expats in CEE: Hungary

Thomas Metz

Thomas Metz

Nationality: German

Resides in: Hungary

About: Thomas Metz is currently Vice President Engineering at BOSCH XC Hungary. Previously, he has also lived in Bulgaria where he was Vice President of the Engineering Center Sofia & Managing Director at Bosch.

Expats in CEE: Poland

Abdallah Alaili

Abdallah Alaili

Nationality: French

Resides in: Poland

About: Abdallah Alaili is a tech entrepreneur. He’s an organizer at StartupZ – a not for profit community/organization that helps startup founders and developers meet, chat, establish connections, and expand their network.

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Billy Yen

Billy Yen

Nationality: French

Resides in: Poland

About: Joining the group of expats in CEE is also Billy Yen. He is the co-Founder and CMO of La French Tech Krakow. He currently works as a Display & Video Strategist at Google.

Romain Rebour

Romain Rebour

Nationality: French

Resides in: Poland

About: Romain Rebour is the President, Co-founder & Member of the Board at La French Tech Krakow. He is also the co-founder of the matchmaking platform for IT teams, SquadGurus, CEO of the startup and tech consultant company Glokal.

(Sunny) Subhash C. Vashishtha

(Sunny) Subhash C. Vashishtha

Nationality: Indian

Resides in: Poland

About: (Sunny) Subhash C. Vashishtha is a Sr. Technology Business Executive who is currently working as GCC Director Tech Strategy & Development at GSK. He is also the co-founder of Mobilis Robotics – a technology company that develops smart accessibility solutions for disabled people using AI.

Expats in CEE: Romania

Jérémy de France

Jérémy de France

Nationality: French

Resides in: Romania

About: Jérémy de France is Vice President of La French Tech Bucharest. He is also the co-founder of Promoscore and Graphee – both CEE-based companies. Jérémy is an entrepreneur, investor, senior developer and architect in numerous software products including e-commerce, SaaS, finance, health, social networks and online news.

Grégoire Vigroux

Grégoire Vigroux

Nationality: French

Resides in: Romania

About: Grégoire Vigroux is one of the most active expats in CEE. He is a Bucharest-based serial entrepreneur, business angel, and President of La French Tech Bucharest. He has co-founded tech startups like bonapp.eco in Romania and invested in 20 businesses across Eastern Europe. He has had 4 exits so far, the latest with the refurbished smartphones online store Fenix. (Learn how to disrupt and make an impact with serial entrepreneur Gregoire Vigroux)

Sylvain Saillard

Sylvain Saillard

Nationality: French

Resides in: Romania

About: Sylvain Saillard is a Board Member at La French Tech Bucharest. He is also the founder of PitchandMatch.biz – an all-in-one platform, aiming to connect IT project owners and development agencies.

Expats in CEE: Slovakia

Justin E. Lane

Justin E. Lane

Nationality: American

Resides in: Slovakia

About: Justin E. Lane is an entrepreneur, researcher, and co-founder of CulturePulse, a social simulation AI system that helps you match your message in advertising, branding or daily CRM communications to your clients and target market. He also holds a doctorate from Oxford in Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology.

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https://therecursive.com/author/snezhana/

Snezhana is an Innovation Journalist at The Recursive. She uses the power of storytelling to put the spotlight on the emerging innovation ecosystems in Central and Eastern Europe. With a keen eye for the bleeding edge, she delves into the depths of deep tech, unearthing captivating stories that bridge the realms of science and human imagination.