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Plug and Play to Boost Corporate-Startup Innovation in Central and Eastern Europe

Alfredo Gomez Soria, Sr. Corporate Partnerships Manager and Government Relations, EMEA, at Plug and Play.
Image credit: Alfredo Gomez Soria, Sr. Corporate Partnerships Manager and Government Relations, EMEA, at Plug and Play
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• Plug and Play Tech Centre, the world’s largest innovation platform that connects early-stage investors, startups, and large corporations, is looking to the region of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) as a new potential hub for its innovation activities.

• The new strategic location for Plug and Play operations in CEE will be covering markets of Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania, and all the way to Greece.

• Plug and Play will be supporting local startups through co-investments and working towards the establishment of connections with the regional seed and early-stage VC community.

“We do see the potential in Central Eastern Europe. We recognize the abundance of tech talent and the opportunity for investment. Setting up our presence in the region would mean working with the largest corporations, which is why we are now looking for potential partners.”

“Usually, there are not many large enterprises born in CEE, on which our business model is based. What we are exploring is the possibility of having something that is initiated by the government or by public institutions. And then ensure that we turn this project profitable,” Alfredo Gomez Soria, Sr. Corporate Partnerships Manager and Government Relations, EMEA, at Plug and Play, says for The Recursive.

The innovation platform plans to announce its official operations once partnerships with its first corporate clients are closed. Notably, Plug and Play has already secured partnerships with around 100 regional universities and already has clients in +51 locations. To further facilitate technology transfer between academia and industry, Plug and Play is actively seeking collaborations with local universities.

“Just by looking at the amount of VC activity and judging by the experience of the VC teams that we met during our trip to CEE, we see how advanced countries and ecosystems like Bulgarian are, due to the role of the Fund of Funds. But we still feel that there is a missing aspect which is the collaboration between corporations and startups. And that is our USP,” Alfredo Gomez Soria highlights.

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The Plug and Play team highlights Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria as the biggest CEE innovation hotspots in terms of investment opportunities and the valuations of regional startups. During his recent visit to Bulgaria, Alfredo Gomez Soria was asked by Recursive about the rationale behind choosing Sofia as the location for their CEE office.

“We would hire locally to ensure that our office establishes connections with corporates and governments. In addition to enabling corporate-startup innovation, Plug and Play also helps the government set the foundations of policy strategies that aid the development of the innovation ecosystem. We play the role of middleman or consultancy to corporates who have challenges that can be solved through innovation,” Alfredo Gomez Soria explains.

What startups and industries Plug and Play will focus on

“Covering over 22 verticals, we can really go in any direction we want, but it also depends on the needs. During our visit to Bulgaria and the region, we identified the topic of health, AI, Deep Tech, Agritech, and knowledge transfer to be very interesting. That doesn’t mean we won’t be open to supporting other relevant verticals,” Alfredo Gomez Soria states.

Plug and Play has a proven track record of success, with several notable startups from the CEE region that have gone through its acceleration programs. For instance, the Poland-born companies Symmetrical, a payroll and HR software startup, and Nethone, a Machine Learning software for fraud detection, have emerged as success stories from Plug and Play’s programs.

Startups that collaborate with Plug and Play gain access to a vast network of corporates and other startups, along with the possibility of funding from Plug and Play and other corporate partners. Moreover, selected startups also have the opportunity to validate their business models and secure their first clients through proof-of-concept (PoC) initiatives.

How Plug and Play works with corporates

“In order to identify areas of innovation and develop solutions that meet these needs, we use an end-to-end innovation process that follows a specific methodology developed internally. Our aim is to create a collaborative and safe space for brainstorming, innovation, deep dives, sourcing, and PoC. Thanks to our reach, we can be very flexible and tailor our approach per corporate,” explained Alfredo Gomez Soria.

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To find the best match for a specific corporate innovation challenge, Plug and Play scouts through its extensive database of over 65,000 startups. On top of that, their venture team is constantly looking for new startups on a daily basis.

“We’ve been working with big European corporations such as Schwarz Group for the past three years. We can use the gained expertise and apply it to assist CEE companies who want to drive innovation in retail. For CEE, as of today, we mainly work with banks such as Raiffeisen Bank International and Unicredit, and a few VCs including Inven Capital,” Jakob Ulcnik, Corporate Partnerships Manager of Plug and Play says for The Recursive.

The global one-stop-shop for innovation

Plug and Play can be described as a one-stop shop for innovation as it combines corporate innovation, startup acceleration, and venture investing. To this day, the company has matched over 65,000 startups and over 550 corporations. Plug and Play has over 1,500 active portfolio investments and has backed startups that have raised over $9B in venture funding.

In its role as a corporate innovation platform, Plug and Play connects corporate partners with startups to help them de-risk innovation. It builds tailored accelerator programs for startups under the verticals that are of interest to its corporate clients. In other words, Plug and Play partners with corporations to help them accelerate startups in their focus areas. Besides that, the company’s venture also invests in the best startups.

They work with some of the biggest global corporations such as Mercedes Benz, Roche, P&G, and Shell. Their acceleration programs are structured in cohorts and do not require equity or fees. They are free of charge for the participating startups since all the fees are included in the innovation services offered by Plug and Play to its corporate partners.

“We are very hands-on and focus on early-stage startups. Being present globally, we can benchmark across markets and identify gaps. In Europe, we see that there is abundant government funding but we believe that to scale up, you need funds that offer larger tickets and can fuel growth beyond Series A. That is why before June 2023, we expect to close our Plug and Play industry-agnostics Series A fund for Europe,” Alfredo Gomez Soria concludes.

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Elena is an Innovation Reporter at The Recursive, an online media dedicated to the emerging tech and startup ecosystems in Southeast Europe. She is keen on sharing the innovation stories that shape the regional ecosystem and has a great interest in fintech, IoT, and biotech startups. Elena is currently finishing her Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and Political Science at the American University in Bulgaria.