Entrepreneurship in Central and Eastern Europe

Author: Andreas Antonopoulos, M.Eng., MBA, Ph.D.

Position: Rector of University of New York in Prague

There are a lot of things that the financial crisis of the last few years has changed but one of the most profound changes observed is the renewed interest and activity in startup companies and entrepreneurship in general. 

Since the final years of the previous decade the business environment in most of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has changed substantially. The economies of the region have initially stagnated or fallen into recession, experienced FDI contraction and landed in an environment where they still struggle with anaemic growth and challenged employment opportunities. What is particularly noteworthy is that although the unemployment rate is in most countries still higher than the pre-crisis period by some percentage points, the actual quality of the available and reduced number of employment opportunities is markedly worse than before the crisis. This implies an employment environment for qualified and talented people which is even worse than the headline employment rate indicates. This reality on the employment front, coupled with the substantial improvement of entrepreneurial understanding and education during that period, has been leading many qualified professionals towards the creation and growth of startup companies. 

Since 2008 there are 3 CEE capitals that have shown a substantial growth in entrepreneurial activity, namely Prague, Budapest and Bucharest. Due to their geographic alignment they have been dubbed the “entrepreneurship corridor” of the CEE where the majority of successful startups of the last few years have sprung up. All three have been particularly successful in technology related start-ups but also in introducing new products and services in the areas of health, life sciences and manufacturing innovation. All three, and Prague in particular, have also experienced a notable improvement of the entrepreneurial support ecosystem. More venture capital is available since the region has attracted the attention of large western Venture Capital (VC) firms, local VC firms have been created, incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces and entrepreneurship academies have sprung up and the University education providers (led by UNYP in Prague) have introduced and/or added more entrepreneurship program offerings. This new environment makes for a much more exciting entrepreneurship environment in the region and allows for promising opportunities to daring, qualified and well educated professionals who would consider an entrepreneurial engagement as an alternative to traditional career growth opportunities within a corporate environment.

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