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Why Being an Investor in AI Startups from CEE is the Best Job on the Planet?

Marcin Hejka, OTB Ventures
Image credit: Marcin Hejka, Co-founder and General Partner of OTB Ventures
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OTB Ventures, is the largest VC firm with roots in the CEE region in terms of assets, managing over EUR 300M. The fund targets local late Seed, Series A, and early B companies that develop technologies in 4 verticals: SpaceTech, AI & Automation, FinTech, and Cybersecurity. We spoke with Marcin Hejka, Co-founder and General Partner of OTB Ventures, to discover why the fund focuses on deep tech startups and why he ranks CEE among the top 2 technological development destinations globally.

+++ To learn more about the latest AI trends in CEE, download The Recursive report on the State of AI in the region.

The Recursive: OTB Ventures has been investing in AI startups from CEE since 2017. Can you share how the regional landscape has changed over the past 6 years?

Marcin Hejka: Before establishing OTB Ventures, we always believed that the CEE region had a lot of potential because of the excellent tech talent. I rank the region among the top 2 technological development destinations globally, together with Silicon Valley.

For the past 7 years, since OTB was established, we have been seeing how this potential is materializing. There are a number of super successful startups that emerged from this region and achieved global success like Grammarly, People AI, AVG, and DataRobot.

You’re focused on investing in deep tech startups. Why so? What potential do these companies hold?

What makes deep tech startups our forte is the transformative power they hold. By utilizing technological solutions, they can change how different tasks are being performed or how businesses operate. The second characteristic that deep tech startups have is that they always strive to solve global problems. There’s no such thing as a local deep-tech innovation.

Several OTB portfolio companies showcase this potential. Silent Eight uses artificial intelligence to help financial institutions manage their compliance and risk obligations. The startup prevents the occurrence of financial crime, also saving thousands of hours of manual labor.

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Can you share what kind of support AI startups need on their road to success?

For AI startups, capital is definitely an important factor to be successful. However, there are other very important aspects that are required to achieve international impact. This is where the quality of investors matters. There are VCs who have a better understanding of the market and the global ecosystems and also provide access to a larger network of potential partners.

At OTB Ventures, we aim to support our portfolio companies with the high-quality network we’ve built over the years. With my background in corporate investing, we helped some of our portfolio companies secure partnerships with large international corporations. Utilizing Adam Niewinski’s experience as Deputy CEO of the leading bank in CEE, we helped portfolio startups secure financial institutions as clients.

On your website, you mention that you invest in category-defining startups. Can you share with us which are the qualities and requirements for a company to redefine a category?

Opposite to more traditional tech solutions, deep tech startups base their business model on a technological approach that plays the role of a key differentiator. For OTB Ventures category-defining startups are those who solve a pressing problem for businesses on the global stage by utilizing unique technology or technological approach. These technologies need to be hard to build and very hard to replicate. ICEYE is a good example as it provides the world with access to satellite imagery regardless of day/night and through clouds by utilizing its synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite constellation.

What will be the factors that will shape the future of AI in the CEE region?

In 10 years, I believe that every company will be an AI company, as it can be applied in pretty much every area of our lives. It has the potential to change the way people learn through private AI tutors and the way we take care of our health through the development and administration of new drugs. 

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I believe that we’re still at the beginning of materializing the potential of the region and many investment opportunities will emerge. This excites me for the future and makes the job of being an investor in AI startups from CEE the best one on the planet.

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https://therecursive.com/author/etienyovchev/

Etien Yovchev is a co-founder and Chief Editor at The Recursive, online media dedicated to the emerging tech and startup ecosystems in Southeast Europe. He has told the stories of over 200 ventures from the region and aims to provide high-quality constructive reporting on the progress of the SEE innovation ecosystem, making sure that the stories of promising local founders reach global audiences. Etien holds a MSc degree in Innovation Management from RSM, Erasmus University Rotterdam and has more than 4 years of experience in the commercialization of new products, having worked with many early-stage companies and a few corporate innovation departments across Bulgaria, The Netherlands, and the USA.