Day 1 — Your Network Is Your Net Worth

Day one of Cluj-Napoca company visits started out with Danish punctuality and weather for the Innovation Makers, but plenty of excitement for getting to know the teams behind Cluj HUB — one of the first co-working spaces in Cluj-Napoca, as well as the one that brought Cluj-Napoca the European Youth Capital title this year.

Cluj HUB — building communities and hacking the system

At Cluj HUB we found out about the journey, biggest challenges and future plans of a bunch of entrepreneurial minds, who saw and seized the opportunity to start one of the first co-working spaces in Cluj-Napoca. And not just any kind of co-working space, but one that creates an ecosystem of expert communities that give back jobs and taxes to society through their entrepreneurial initiatives.

Although opportunities are countless in an emerging market such as Romania and the human capital is abundant, not everything is rosy. According to the team at Cluj HUB one of the biggest challenges in the Romanian market in general is getting access to financial resources. The lack of venture capitalists means hacking the system is necessary, with EU funds, knowing people and getting involved in communities that will later attend Cluj HUB organized events being some of the revenue streams. Corporate innovation is not common in Romania, so consultancy or connecting people to large companies are not, either. Moreover, although people are interested in giving back through entrepreneurship, they lack the training to do so in an efficient manner. This is where Cluj HUB comes in to save the day and bring in a fresh pair of eyes with a three-step tool of development:

1. ideation

2. prototyping

3. growing the business

As for the youth, if in Denmark it is so usual to have incubators on campus, it is the complete opposite here. The concept of open co-working spaces is new in Romania and so far only accessible if paying a fee, which most students cannot afford. Academically, most are very skilled, but tend to get stuck in analysis paralysis as opposed to the way Cluj HUB functions, with a fail fast mindset. Initiative is not the Romanian student’s forte and the pattern is to graduate university and get a corporate job. Much of the entrepreneurial community is made off of professionals who took this path and had a wake up call. Realizing corporations are not their cup of tea, many decide to start something of their own.

But what does the future look like? The future comes with plenty of reinvestment in building incubator networks of hubs and IT hubs nationally and internationally, but also academic incubators and an accelerator program named Spring Point.

The SHARE Federation — how you can be a first mover without reinventing the wheel

With 1 year and 4 months worth of rigorous planning ahead, Cluj-Napoca proved that a title like The European Youth Capital can bring most improvement to this city out of 49 European cities that competed for it. TheInnovation Makers met a team of enthusiastic, driven and humorous people at the SHARE Federation, who where ready to talk about their many projects for three days. As we had less than three hours to our disposal, however, there were some key points we took away besides the contagious positive energy.

The project of the decade in Cluj-Napoca — and perhaps Romania — started with 22 NGOs making a draft of their vision in one weekend in 2012. With the joint network of the team, the idea took little to get viral and support letters started flooding in from NGos in Cluj-Napoca, the whole of Romania and even beyond its borders, but also universities, private companies and other organizations. The SHARE Federation breaks the pattern of town halls being in charge of managing the Youth Capital project and the the reigns into their own hands.

The federation’s mission is to involve as many community members as possible into projects around the city and we think that 15 000 people participating at one Day 15 event and 75 start-ups offered consultancy so far puts them on the right track. Large and small projects alike are welcome in the event calendar of the federation, the main point being giving back and then getting. The federation members are connectors in the society, but are not middlemen. They believe that teaching people how to fish, being on the same level is what makes a great team and community.

Vlad, the federation’s president suggests a 3-steps recipe for a successful project:

1. Define the idea of what you want to achieve in as clear as possible terms

2. Define your WHY? — so people believe in you and identify with your goal, but you also have something to keep you on track when hard times hit and you are faced with criticism and speculation

3. Settle the steps — define your SMART objectives

The SHARE Federation also agrees that there is room for improvement in Cluj-Napoca’s community. It is mainly difficult to engage people as there is an overall lack of initiative and can do attitude. Education and the power of example are the best tools to create a mentality shift and provide motivation.

“Moving people is sometimes like moving mountains”, says Vlad Pop, the SHARE Federation’s president.
Green Stage -the power of example

A community of schools in the municipality, a green floating stage and a cup song world record are among the future plans of the Federation, but also working on an initiative for electing a yearly national capital besides a European one. The impact of all these great initiatives will only be clear in 2018, the year when the evaluation of the project will be completed.

All in all, the first day’s most valuable lessons are that the fruit of genuine networking are sweeter than any and can make for impressive impact on the community. We are stronger together and agood project that solves a real need will always get funded even in a place like Romania. The academic environment has a long way to go in the area of a hands-on mentality and there are opportunities at every step.

We are looking forward for the next days, while taking in the amazing young energy of the city.