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"I asked should we be less active? Everybody said: we should meet more often. To help our startups."

An interview with Malin-Iulian Stefanescu, President of TechAngels (Bucharest, Romania), the new member of the Business Angels Europe Club


What? Tech Angels, the biggest and strongest angel investor network in Romania.

Who? 60+ business angels and 1 employee.

Why? The group has two main directives: to educate and support young entrepreneurs through investments, access to acceleration programs and a sum of various other resources needed to grow their business, and to encourage potential business angels to take their first steps in this area of expertise.

Since When? 2013.

Hi Malin, so how did you start angel investing?


My background is computer science and Artificial Intelligence. Programmer, computer science , AI. After working at IBM I started my own company in software development, some 20 years ago. About 8 years ago, I started to look into angel investing.


My first investment was in a game company around 2012-2013. My own company was doing well. My main driver was giving back, helping young entrepreneurs. Helping them decide on different matters.


Right now, I have a portfolio of 10 investments that are still alive.


Did you always invest with Tech Angels?


I started solitary, but I always told founders to have other investors. In fact, this was part of the agreements I made with them.


My second investment, in 2014, was part of the founding group of TechAngels. It was a loose group with up to last year, around 20 in the club. We met a couple of times a year.


One year ago, things changed, and we are now meeting on a monthly basis. And now, during the crisis, once a week. I was calling other members about what we should do. I asked: should we be less active? Everybody said: we should meet more often. To help our startups.


What was the impetus to grow Tech Angels in operations and size?


We saw that the ecosystem surrounding us was suddenly moving a lot faster than us. VC’s were coming in our space. Also, our own organization and business model needed to be changed. We needed to do something.


As President, I said: first, we need more members, second, we need to get better access to startups. Within a year, we grew from 20 to 60 members.


How did you grow so quickly?


We realized this: there are many people with the money and the will, but they are somehow too scared to enter a new area like this.


We try to help them overcome this in a very informal way. We do no formal training. We try to syndicate in small deals. We help them invest with small tickets, of around €10k. We go through things like setting up term sheets together. We invite people to our meetings to speak about their expertise and perspective in an informal way.


How important is this informality in an angel network to you?


The informality comes naturally. It is not my role to induce a group feeling. However, I have noticed the importance of a sense of belonging in our group.


You mentioned the ecosystem moving faster than you. What happened?


Especially the European Investment Fund setting up two new funds in Romania was important, after which new funds came up. The VC presence came up as well.


Also, a big exit to Facebook created a lot of noise in the ecosystem, followed by the first Romanian unicorn (UIPath).


These two things were really accelerating the system. The proximity of this success was important to incentive us.


Do you see challenges with recruiting deal leaders in your network?


So far there we see no real problems there. We don’t incentivise it now either.


How would you like to see the network improve in 5 years?


Not sure. We may have to divide into chapters in different parts of the country. Or we may get into verticals. Sector wise, so far, we are agnostic. But we will probably be more specialized in the future.


What are your sources of knowledge and insight? What should we read and who should we follow on angel investing/entrepreneurship?


I am actively alive in the ecosystem. Events, trainings, hackathons, accelerators, everywhere. At home, I read from TechCrunch or Ray Dalio to poetry and novels.


Finally, which of your startups in your portfolio is ready to scale in Europe (which one would you like to put in the spotlight)?


All the startups I invested are ready to scale in Europe, I believe. I would mention two of them, however.


SmartDreamers is a recruiting marketing automation platform that accelerates talent acquisition and increases existing channels efficiency, worldwide, for companies like Siemens or L’Oreal.


Tokinomo is a in-store retail marketing solution that increases retail sales by an average of 200% so far. Already trusted by well known brands around the world.

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