Young Moldovan entrepreneurs have plenty of business ideas – from transforming their own locality into a “regional hub” for electric vehicles, to organising virtual tours around the country. But not all these ideas can become reality, often because of lack of funding, or lack of knowledge and experience. Young entrepreneurs need support – support that is now available from regional business incubators and their youth programmes, which offer local start-ups the opportunities they need to develop their potential.
A climate where business can flourish
In 2017, a Business Incubator opened in Călărași, the tenth of 11 incubators launched in the Republic of Moldova with technical and financial assistance from the European Union.
This year, the Călărași Business Incubator celebrated its fifth anniversary, five years in which 84 companies have benefitted from its services. The incubator enables people who have a business idea to start working on it: residents receive information support, they have an opportunity to participate in programmes for start-ups, and the space they rent has the lowest possible market price.
Victor Ambroch, the Călărași Incubator director, says the Incubator is a business school where entrepreneurs with ideas and business plans have an opportunity to turn their dreams into reality.
“Most companies that come to the incubator are start-ups that are in their early stages and want to gain momentum. Many people have a certain idea but do not know how to implement it. It is at this point that we get involved – we offer our clients assistance in developing their business step by step over three years.”
Residents also receive support with the paperwork required by the Public Services Agency, and in the case of a culinary business, from the Public Health Centre.
“We direct their business affairs to get things going as quickly as possible, draw up a rental contract with them, provide all the appropriate documents, and for next three years their business development is in safe hands,” says Ambroch.
The incubator offers a discount system for the three-year period during which the companies rent their business space from it – 30% on the first year, 60% on the second year and 80% on the third year.
“The incubators have been created to do exactly that – to help reduce the level of corporate bankruptcy in Moldova and to help regional small and medium-sized businesses to prosper. According to international statistics, as well as in the Republic of Moldova, in the first three years of business activity every second company goes bankrupt.”
The Călărași Business Incubator is also the only one in the country offering the possibility of becoming a virtual resident: you can register a company at the incubator, have a legal address there, and receive mail at that address without being physically present. Virtual residents pay a fee of 1,500 lei per year to use the incubator’s services.
“Those companies that are just beginning their business journey and need additional financial support can take advantage of the zero-interest rate loan of 60,000 lei. Also with our help, residents can participate in the following programmes from the Organisation for Enterprise Development (ODA): ‘Start for Youth’, ‘Women in Business’ or ‘PARE 1+1,” says Victor Ambroch.
Currently, the Călărași business incubator hosts a wide range of activities, from accounting services to sewing workshops, confectionery, computer repair, a personal development centre, gym, recording studio, healthy lifestyle consultations, and beauty salons. The annual turnover of the 42 companies currently based at the incubator is 15 million lei, of which about one million lei is indirectly returned to the local budget.
“Our success is the reason we received the ‘Incubator 2020’ award. Of the 42 companies represented in the incubator, 35 are start-ups, 27 are youth-led and 21 are women-led. In total, they have created 149 jobs,” the incubator’s director adds.
The incubator also offers a business acceleration programme that includes a working space equipped with laptops, an interactive whiteboard, and a business library. When local entrepreneurs come up with a business idea, they come to the incubator, and the management team decides whether the idea is worth implementing at the local or regional level. If their idea is approved, entrepreneurs then develop a business plan within the next three months under the mentorship of the incubator team. Mentoring is free for three months. Afterward, the entrepreneurs receive access to the ODA programmes and might even become incubator residents.
“To date, 19 entrepreneurs have benefitted from our accelerator,” says Ambroch. “Some of them have also become incubator residents, receiving support through various programmes. Some needed the services of the incubator to see if their idea would work. When the idea succeeded, they received funding and equipped their personal offices with everything they needed.”
The Călărași Business Incubator was launched in 2017 with the financial support of the EU worth 8.5 million lei in partnership with the Ministry of Economy, ORP and Călărași District Council.
Călărași – regional centre for electric mobility
With rising fuel prices since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, many Moldovans have started looking to buy electric cars. To satisfy this growing demand, Andrei Pynzara – a young man from Călărași, who, during the pandemic dreamed of turning his city into a “regional centre of electric mobility” – started importing electric cars from China.
After studying in China for six years and living there for another three, he decided to return home and bring back some know-how.
“I went to China with the idea of bringing home something good. Everyone asked me if I wanted to stay there. The answer was clear from the beginning: no. In 2015, China started to invest massively in electric cars. I saw how things were evolving, and I watched this market grow. I decided to bring these cars to Moldova,” says Andrei.
The young man says the pandemic helped him to develop his business. Stuck at home and unable to travel abroad, he began to interact with a large number of people, exploring the local market and identifying needs. The time spent at home motivated him to develop his original idea and to bring electric cars from China.
“We were the first to bring electric cars from China to the Republic of Moldova. I didn’t invent anything; I didn’t assemble the cars. I simply saw a good idea and decided to apply it back home. This became possible in 2019 when China passed a law allowing the export and sale of used cars. After we carried out the first import of cars, others began to do the same – we lauched an import wave,” says Andrei.
However, since the war in Ukraine began, the price of electric cars increased. In 2020 Andrei could bring a car to Moldova and sell it for €13,800, but now the same car already costs €18,000. The difference is all due to higher delivery costs. Shipping companies can no longer unload in the port of Odesa, Ukraine, and are forced to use ports in Greece or Turkey.
In addition to the electric cars, Andrei also offers the possibility of ordering custom-made parts for electric cars from China, which, he believes, gives him competitive edge.
Andrey also benefitted from the Călărași Business Incubator. Now, he rents an office there, which is also the legal headquarters of the company. Business advice and lower costs are the main advantages of opening a company in an incubator, says Andrei.
“If you do not have the means to cover the rent, salaries, etc., then your business will go down. An incubator will save you from these troubles. We pay rent that is much lower than the market average. The incubator offers us premises equipped with everything we need. You just come here and start working on your business idea.”
The standard resident contract period with the incubator is three years. After this period, residents decide whether to stay or leave. Andrei decided to stay.
In August 2022, Andrei’s business celebrated its two-year anniversary. Now the young man wants to install the first Chinese standard electric charging station in Călărași, hoping that in a few years his hometown will become a centre for electric car sales in Moldova.
Virtual tours become reality
At the same time, the two friends decided to start a new business – to create virtual tours using artificial intelligence. They say they got this idea during the pandemic, when everyone was sitting at home and remote visits were the only way to travel.
“My first idea was to make a virtual tour of the museum. People can go online, pay for a ticket, and see everything inside. But time should be limited: one hour to see all the exhibits. This would be beneficial for us, and for the museum – this way they can have virtual visitors,” says Oleg.
Oleg and Petru have known each other for a long time and even shared the same dorm room. But it is their common fascination with computers that inspired them to work together.
The young people have created a map of Moldovan regions, which will display virtual visit options: museums, restaurants, theatres, hotels, and apartments/houses for sale or rent. The map will soon be launched on the fortal.md portal.
“It will be an interactive map where anyone can visit, for example, ten restaurants from Cahul and decide which venue they want to choose for their wedding reception. With our map it will take you only 30 minutes, whereas if you visited all the venues personally, it would take you the whole day,” Oleg says.
Petru said they had not yet started cooperating with local restaurants but would soon do so. First, the young men want to create a portfolio for potential customers. That is why they are now working on creating a virtual trip around one block of their university: “After completing the project, we can surprise potential customers with our services.”
To make the end results even better, Petru and Oleg need a more powerful image processing computer and a high-performance camera.
“Our photo panoramas have a very high resolution. That’s why we need a better computer. We use Photoshop to edit photos, but the software that actually creates the virtual tours is of our making,” says Oleg.
In June, the two friends took part in the first entrepreneurial camp organised by ‘EU4Moldova: Startup City Cahul’, where over one week they learned how to create, manage, and successfully develop their business. Oleg and Petru said it was particularly important to learn more about the legal specifics of doing business.
“We studied law and accounting, learned how to deal with legal technicalities. The programme coordinators provided us with all the necessary information, and additional materials,” says Petru.
In addition to the entrepreneur camp ‘Startup City Cahul’, implemented by ATIC, with financial support from the EU and in partnership with the Swedish embassy, Oleg also participated in the Startup City Cahul Hackathon.
“I took part in the first hackathon with an idea for autonomous stops and won first place. Next, I participated in a project related to the installation of surveillance and security cameras, which has been continuously developing for three years now. Together with Petru, we have installed at least 40 cameras. There have been cases where our cameras have helped catch criminals.”
Oleg Kyrkelan and Petru Terzi are also members of the ‘Startup Students’ organisation, where they work at the IT department.
Author: Petru Beșleaga
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