Today, for the fourth time, Startup Safari is launched in Budapest, with over 300 programs open for thousands of visitors at over 100 locations at the two-day intensive startup festival.
Behind the success of Startup Safari Budapest is Péter Kovács, co-founder and CEO of the IseeQ headhunting company and xLabs startup, who is also the co-founder of Global Startup Awards, which has been held in 60 countries and three continents since 2012. The exclusive interview is here:
Daily News Hungary: Please, tell me briefly about your life and what started your relationship with startups!
Péter Kovács: Since the age of 16, I’ve been doing business and working constantly, smaller jobs first but then gradually more serious ones. After graduation, I got into the world of recruitment accidentally, more precisely, the world of tech recruitment, where I became successful very quickly. This was mainly because I started this whole profession with a community building attitude.
It was around 2008 when I first started to encounter companies that labelled themselves as “startups”. I instantly sympathised with their mentality of problem-solving, which differed greatly from corporates’ and large companies’. I specialised in recruitment for startups and worked at Prezi for one and a half years as one of the first recruiters.
Not long afterwards, we founded ICQ for the express purpose of international tech recruitment and later, I turned to building the startup ecosystem. This led to the founding of xlabs, the organiser of Startup Safari Budapest.
So, this was my path leading to where I am now, and it all started with the love of startups.
DNH: When was the turning point when you committed yourself entirely to startups?
Kovács: Around 2008, I met a developer who invited me to a community called OpenCoffee Club. It was already an international brand with the sort of “underground” meetup events that brought together like-minded people. I met my first startup clients in this community, of which some don’t even exist anymore, but others became successful. This is where the love began.
DNH: You currently work on a couple of startup projects; can you talk about them?
Kovács: I’m currently working on two main projects. One is the Budapest Startup Safari, of which I’m co-founder. Safari has been running for four years now, and it grew out to be quite a big event. The other project is the Global Startup Awards, the world’s largest independent startup ecosystem competition, and it currently runs on three continents in more than 60 countries, which means we cover 32% of the world.
DNH: Please, tell us more about the Hungarian startup scene. From when can we talk about a serious startup ecosystem here? What are the main strengths of Hungarian startups?
The Hungarian startup scene started to form in the second half of the 2000s.
We’ve seen some success stories before, like Graphisoft, but these were isolated and didn’t have an ecosystem around them or investors backing them. The first big breakthrough came with Prezi, and Budapest became a reference point in the global startup scene. Western investors started to take Hungary into consideration beyond industrial investments. Things started to really kick off around 2012-2013, and development has sped up in the last five years.
And what are our strengths? I would say our strength shows more in our skills than in certain fields or industries. We are quite successful in natural sciences, like Mathematics or Physics; however, we lack around 50-100 years of business experience because Hungary has always been an agricultural country, rather than an industrial one. This backlog, nevertheless, has started to dissolve quickly with the latest generation, who have access to digital information and have the possibility to study abroad. Another advantage, in my opinion, is that for historical reasons, we’ve learned to survive with fewer resources, which is a useful skillset if we talk about an early stage startup where there’s less money, and still a steady background needs to be generated quickly. This is absolutely an advantage, although we lack the confidence to utilise it fully – we need to develop that. If a Hungarian has to cope in the Western startup scene, they will most likely underrate themselves, and that is a problem.
DNH: Let’s have a look at Budapest Startup Safari. Tell us about the beginnings! What was the first festival like and how will this year’s Safari differ from that?
Kovács: Startup Safari was originally the idea of a Polish guy. He lived in Berlin and saw a market opportunity in letting his acquaintances and network connections in his office meet the employees and see the work process of a startup. By the time I first met him, this system worked quite well, and we decided to develop the basic idea from that. In the first year, in 2016, we aimed at 200-300, maximum 500 participants – in the end, 2200 people showed up. The Safari proved to be a market fit, and we had every resource to go on with the project. This year, we’re expecting 6000 people, and both the organisation, the structure of the event and the quality of the programs improved significantly since the first year. Of course, in four years, we hope that Startup Safari will be even better.
Structurally, there haven’t been any big changes. As the number of events increased significantly, we organise thematic routes, so they would be feasible for the visitors. No one would like to read the description of 300 individual events, so these routes can serve as guides for people who already know what their interests are. The system hasn’t changed, but the quality of it did: we’ve learned from the experience of previous years and created a more transparent structure. Another difference is that this year, we were able to bring more big names from the global startup scene than ever. Also, our partners at Central European Startup Awards will be invited to look at the innovative side of Budapest, meet companies and employees.
DNH: What makes Startup Safari different from a job fair in general?
Kovács: Safari shouldn’t be compared to job fairs, even if they share some similarities. Even though it is a recruitment event, so companies who seek to hire might join the event based on that need, it is only a section of the whole experience. A huge percentage of participants joins for other reasons, such as finding an investor or finding a startup to invest in; to introduce products and services to the public; to build a network, etc. Brand building and employer branding are present in almost every program. The benefit of this type of recruitment is that the company is not represented by a simple stand, but they can show the whole atmosphere of their office, their own little world; they are on “home ground”, so they have a higher chance to recruit professionals. This, for sure, is an important difference that makes Startup Safari more efficient than a job fair.
DNH: A part of our readers is foreigners living in Hungary, what would you say to them? Why should they participate in the Startup Safari? Will there be programs in English?
At least 20-30% of the lectures are in English. That means that of 300-350 events, there’s plenty to choose from even for those who don’t speak any Hungarian.
Also, several participants arrive from other countries. For those foreigners that live here, I would say this is a perfect chance for networking and integrating, as those who participate in the Safari are generally very open-minded. Everyone can find interesting workshops and lectures on all topics and meet new people from every field. Nothing can top Startup Safari in terms of networking and innovation in the world of startups.
DNH: Is there a central location for the event?
Actually, we don’t choose the locations. The basic conception of the whole event is that the companies don’t go to some place we rented to promote themselves, but we ask these companies to open their offices to the public and host lectures and workshops there. Almost every thematic route has a central locale, mostly a coworking office connecting somehow to the theme of the route – Budapest is very lucky in this sense, we have many coworking offices, but they are not in fierce competition with each other –, or corporal partners’ head offices. We only ask our partners to keep their event in the inner city: our experience shows that people don’t usually participate in lectures and workshops held in the suburbs, it makes them feel left out of the other events.
Budapest is perfectly fit for a successful Safari, as it is a big city, but not too big, so everything is within a 10-15-minute distance. Some extra locales include the A38 ship, but otherwise, it is mostly our partners’ offices – you could say that Startup Safari is 300 meetups in two days.
DNH: Many foreigners arrive in Budapest for Safari, who are these people?
Kovács: We will have many people from a lot of countries as guests and lecturers, you can take a look at them on our website. Also, as I mentioned previously, our partners from the Central European Startup Awards were invited, and many of them will participate. We’ll also have some special guests, coming from all over the world from California to Dubai. Safari is an opportunity not only to meet locals but also people from around the world.
DNH: So the leaders of the startups will be present, but what about investors and mentors?
Everyone will be there – this means investors and mentors as well as CEOs and employees.
The startup ecosystem consists not only of startups but corporates, nonprofit organisations, investors and even the state with its representatives. An example of this is the Hungarian Intellectual Property Office whose support we’ve won for the second year now. Other partners also back the project, and they are all important, all a part of the ecosystem, and at the end of the day, our goal is to maintain existing connections and also build new ones. This is the interest of every one of us.
DNH: Finally, I would like to ask about Startup Safari’s more exclusive services. What extra services are included in the higher ticket prices?
Kovács: We have three ticket categories: Economy, which is basically the price of a cinema ticket, so most people can afford it; Networking, which is a more special category that allows access to e.g. networking parties; and the Premium, which allows access to workshops where one can gain information that would be worth hundreds or thousands of euros otherwise, and it also includes the opportunity to enter an exclusive dinner with executive and investor special guests and the closing party.
Get tickets and more information here: STARTUP SAFARI BUDAPEST