The last month of the year 2013 was expected to be pretty slow on news as usually happens in December, but it actually brought quite a few interesting stories from across Eastern Europe. Check out what you may have missed…
If you think I have missed something, or would like to draw my attention to an important story, feel free to ping me in Twitter (@shlema) or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the first week of December, two conferences were held at the same time in Eastern Europe. Ukraine’s capital Kyiv hosted Startup AddVenture, while in Budapest, Hungary Stretch Conference attracted those interested in the future of leadership and management. Although the latter event was not a usual startup or tech conference, it attracted speakers from big names like Spotify and SoundCloud.
Startup AddVenture’s traditional competition was conquered by UK’s PlayCanvas, which received €25,000 of prize money, and the second place was taken by Ukrainian LeadScanner. At the conference, both startups also announced seed rounds from Dave McClure’s 500 Startups.
Another Eastern European startup success was seen in Paris, at the major conference LeWeb. Polish company Intelclinic won the competition with their smart sleeping mask NeuroOn, which, as the team claims on their Kickstarter page, allows you to sleep less, but more efficiently.
Startups and investors
December saw a surprising amount of news stories coming from Eastern European startups, VCs and funds. Here’s a list of the ones worth attention:
- Estonian government will invest €60 million to create a fund of funds with the aim of investing into startups from the region
- Russian VC fund Runa Capital has invested $2 million into IT infrastructure monitoring startup Anturis
- Also, Runa Capital is going to launch a second, bigger investment fund
- Another Russian VC fund, Almaz Capital has poured $6 million into Russian gamedev company Nival
- Russian online travel company Oktogo has raised $5 million and changed its name to Travel.ru, which it acquired in September
- Polish startup Estimote, the main product of which are Bluetooth beacons for retail stores, has raised a $3.1 million seed round
- Ukrainian startup Checkio has landed a $750,000 seed round for its online game that teaches players how to code
- Russian online food delivery service Delivery Club has attracted $8 million in funding from new and existing investors
- Russian fund Life.SREDA has invested $730,000 in online wishlist service MyWishBoard.com
- Kazakhstani businessman Kenges Rakishev has led a $3.7 million round in Moscow-based startup IQcard
- Another Russian startup, Hipflat, which sells property in Thailand, has secured a $335,000 round
- Estonian farm management startup VitalFields has pulled in €100,000 from TMT Investments
- Russian educational content marketplace BeSmart.net has announced a deal with Hong Kong-based fund Education Matrix, which will invest $4 million into the startup in the net three years
- Russian fund iTech Capital has invested $10 million into fast-growing ticketing startup Ticketland.ru
- Ukrainian fund TA Venture has announced its first exit as US-based mobile hostel booking startup WeHostels got sold
- Russian fund AddVenture has invested $2 million in e-store Nebo.ru and food delivery startup Chefmarket.ru
In the news
The last month was very active for Russian e-money companies. In early December, Russian Internet giant Yandex introduced the ability to send money by email, while one of its rivals, Money Mail.Ru allowed its users to pay taxes online through its portal. Later, yet another e-payment provider, RBK Money received its payments services authorization in the UK, gearing up for EU expansion.
At the same time, bordering Ukraine, where some of local e-currencies have been experiencing major issues with the government, is about to see PayPal officially launching all of its services. The service started its operations fully in Russia three months ago, so the news seems to be a part of a strategy of Eastern expansion.
Here’s a number of other noteworthy news headlines from Eastern European tech scene:
- Latvian Infogr.am has passed 1 million users milestone as it previewed a video infographic tool
- Germany-based travel startup Excursiopedia with largely Russian management team has acquired Russia’s Travelatus
- Rocket Internet-backed Lamoda, one of the biggest Russian online fashion retailers, has launched in Ukraine.
- Russian Internet behemoth Yandex, which is also the country’s most popular search engine, has announced a new ranking algorithm that does not take links into consideration
- Highly anticipated Android handset YotaPhone with LCD and e-Ink screens has been released into the wild
- One of the most prominent Russian venture capitalists and co-founder of Mail.Ru Group and DST fund Yuri Milner has joined Bill Gates’ charity program The Giving Pledge and announced a plan to create a $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics together with Mark Zuckerberg. At the same time, Milner has withdrawn from the YCVC program.
Facebook vs. VK.com, or Battlefield: Russia
Russia is still one of the few countries in Eastern Europe where Facebook is not the most popular social network. While VK.com, also known as Vkontakte, attracts vast majority of users, Facebook’s executive in charge of partnering with developers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Julien Codorniou said in a recent interview in Wall Street Journal that “from the platform perspective [driving market share in Russia away from VKontakte to Facebook] is not a priority for us.”
However, VK’s co-founder and CEO Pavel Durov, just a few days after the interview was published, wrote on his VK account (in Russian) that Facebook had blocked the possibility for VK users to cross-post their status updates. In Durov’s opinion, Facebook took this step in an attempt to prevent a further decrease in popularity in Russia.
According to some of December news stories though, VK.com is going to have problems bigger than competition with Facebook. One of the distinctive features of the social network is that it allows users to upload any music or video, which anyone else would be able to search and stream. It’s very popular with users but the legal aspect here is quite tricky. Media reports state that Western European users of VK’s mobile app can’t search for music anymore, while in Italy the social network was recently blocked by majority of Internet providers for copyright violations.
A few days ago, Russian media also reported that international copyright holders are about to file a lawsuit against VK.com and make it get rid of illegal songs. A similar lawsuit in June led to about 7,000 audio tracks being deleted, which predictably triggered a massive backlash by users.
December saw a few pretty interesting projects from Eastern Europe looking for funding on Kickstarter and AngelList. Check them out; you might want to back them while you can:
- Estonian-based Y.O.D.A. offers hand-sewn carbon fiber cases for laptops, iPhones and iPads
- A Ukrainian enthusiast has launched a successful campaign for a wooden Gatling rubber band machine gun
- I already mentioned Intelclinic with its sleeping mask NeuroOn, but here’s the link once again, check them out!
So that’s the tech news from Eastern Europe in December 2013. One more number to sum it up, literally: the total worth of the funding deals mentioned in the second part of this round-up reaches $45 million! I think this is the best proof that Eastern Europe today is a hot destination worth watching.
Have a great rest of the holidays, and don’t forget to come back for the next round-up of Eastern European tech news in January.