This article was published on October 9, 2012

How Prague’s ‘Smile Land’ district is becoming a hub for Czech startups

How Prague’s ‘Smile Land’ district is becoming a hub for Czech startups
Pavel Curda
Story by

Pavel Curda

Pavel Curda is a central Europe-based tech entrepreneur and investor with journalism background. He is a fan of APIs, founder of API Mashup Pavel Curda is a central Europe-based tech entrepreneur and investor with journalism background. He is a fan of APIs, founder of API Mashup Contest (@APImashups), and a mentor to startups at Springboard and Seedcamp. You can follow him on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

The district of Smichov (‘Smich’ means ‘Smile’) – located south-west of Prague’s center – is becoming the Silicon Valley of the Czech Republic.

Smichov hosts three attractive accelerators and co-working places where it’s fun to work and hang out. One of them, StartupYard – born in 2011 – is currently hosting its second batch of startups. Recently, they presented the results of their work and are getting ready for the investor day at the end of October. Here are my favorite teams from the current round:

With Tabfoundry, you can create your own customized Facebook tab in less than a minute. “We believe that campaigns created with our tool will help thousands of marketers to get the most out of social media,” say the startup founder Lada Hrbacek.

CSS Hat is a Photoshop plugin that turns layer styles to CSS3 with a click. “Taking design of the web/app to code is a pain. It takes a lot of time and developers don’t like this part of their job,” says the firm’s CEO Lukas Hurych, adding he would love to move to the US in one year’s time.

Lingvus  says its service is the for translations and proofreading. “It is a pain in the ass to get your text translated without being afraid of the quality of the result. We are here to heal this pain,“ says the idea creator Tomas Mohr.

I wondered why the already profit-making project Pizzatime joined the accelerator. “We were looking for new contacts and impulses,” said the firm’s founder  Adam Kurzok.  Pizzatime is an online aggregator for food delivery. Its mission is to change “food delivery” from junk food to a lovable service with guaranteed quality and speed. Adam’s company was recently taken over by Slevomat Group Ventures from the Miton fund family. Tomas Cupr, the founder of successful has retired from the daily deals business to focus and play with his “new toy” as Pizzatime CEO.

Spectu is an interactive menu with an easy-to-use application for iPad, which offers “a more comfortable dining experience while also providing value by increasing profit and reducing operating costs.”

Limatte is an online tool that interacts with visitors at the moment it detects that they are leaving a company’s website. “The service helps customers know why visitors do, what they do. We help get to know visitors’ needs and who is a visitor,“ says Limatte CEO David Klimes without revealing details how they do it.

While speaking to the teams, I got an impression most of them love being part of StartupYard. Some teams said they got more useful information from other teams than from the mentors. But most of the teams appreciated help from tens of experienced mentors and seed investments thanks to which they were able to leave daily jobs and focus on dream. However, not all dreams come true. The mortality rate of startups is high all around the globe. Half of the startups incubated in the StartupYard first round last year have survived – which is not bad at all. Those that did not survive got valuable experience in failing fast and were ready to move to different projects.

Brand Embassy is an example of a successful startup from StartupYard’s first round. The social customer service platform built on the founders’ success with a Czech media agency received over 50 pieces of feedback from mentors of StartupYard. “The mentors were not only a valuable resource of ideas and recommendations, but also a great help to find new business partners and clients,” says the firm founder Vit Horky.  Brand Embassy is a management tool for easy identification and engagement of dissatisfied customers across the social Web.

Proactify was my favorite team in the first round, and I tried hard to offer the founders seed capital. Proactify promised to deploy recommendation technology to tailor shop offerings to individual customers, competing with services like RichRelevance and Avail.

“The recommendation engine was too complex a product, too demanding to implement,” says Proactify founder Jiri Kopsa. Proactify switched its focus and renamed to Tapomat, which helps online stores go mobile.

Proactify got seed funding from ‘enfant terrible‘ of the Czech internet scene, Jan Barta, who is also one of the StartupYard founders.

“I saw, and I see, StartupYard as a charity. One day the project might it can make a living for itself,” Jan told me. Jan seems to be a bit pessimistic about startups. “80 % of ‘startup-ists’ see it as lifestyle rather than work activities. Their idea seems to be to hang around startup conferences to show off owning Apple products.” Jan is moving to private equity from venture capital which he called a “shitty asset class.”  Jan always comes up with cool business ideas, such his newest social betting firm, BuddyBet.

StartupYard incubates startups for a period of six months in return for 5% of equity, or 10% of equity if the startups accept a $10,000 seed investment. “There are many entrepreneurs who are ready to become mentors and are keen on giving back. They know people in the market and have both local and global experience. The teams were looking for such experience, sometimes for motivation too. We hope a few companies will succeed,“ says the StartupYard CEO Nikola Rafaj.

The other StartupYard shareholders are Michal Illich and Petr Ocasek who left the accelerator after the first round and is now a ‘stealth’ shareholder. Petr established, along with Lukas Hudecek, a cool creative workspace Node5 which also hosts attractive startups.

Node5, StartupYard and the nearby co-working space The Hub offer a great concentration of talented and creative people who love doing interesting and new things in Prague. Elsewhere in the Czech Republic, similar talent is also concentrated in the city of Brno with its technical universities and startups accelerators like StarCube.

Image credit: Sean Gallup / Getty Images

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