Looking back to what happened last year in tech and venture capital

In February 2019, I published an article titled 10 Startup Predictions for 2019 in Romania. At the end of that piece, I was promising to come back to the blog post at the end of the year and laugh at how bad I was at predicting the future. Here I am, holding that promise.

The big picture: two sides of the coin

2019 was a fantastic year for fundraising startups — the best year this country ever had. EY and the likes of it will rush to draft reports on the fact. Analysis, statistics, and data sheets will emerge soon, backing with numbers what anyone with decent eyesight may notice at first glance: that 2019 was a fruitful year in terms of financing innovation. The money came from the newly established venture capital funds, from the few angels that invested in startups long before it was cool to do so, and from a handful of newcomers that made their fortunes outside of tech. Be it smart money or as stupid as it gets, these investors deserve a round of applause for their courage, their grit, and their skin in the game.

But 2019 was also a most productive year for those in the business of faking innovation. More and more corporate accelerators were launched by banks (!!!), consulting companies, telcos, anyone with a marketing budget, and an image problem. The number of low-quality startup events grew dramatically, turning pitching into a sport. More and more contests, conferences, pitching sessions, hackathons, demo nights, fireside chats, panels, workshops, and seminars were held. And they were all moderated, judged, promoted, organized or attended by angels, investors, mentors, and advisers. It is official: last year in Romania, the number of mentors and advisers greatly surpassed the number of founders.

But let me take cum grano salis the predictions I made in February:

1. A good year for shared office space

As predicted, the shared office space industry had a good year in Romania — even though it was the year when WeWork went belly up. As Morpheus said: “Faith is not without a sense of irony.”

But we must observe this growth in the broader context. Truth is that shared office space operators do not monetize by renting office space, but by hosting many events like the ones I described two paragraphs above.

My prediction for 2020? The incoming economic downturn will make event organizers struggle, thus reducing the income of the venues, catering companies, and clowns.

2. The emergence of 5G startups

This was pure wishful thinking. Nothing happened! Not-a-thing! And that’s too bad as startups are missing on one of the most significant opportunities of these times: the radical improvement of the telecom infrastructure.

The pleasant surprise in all this mess was the unexpected willingness of telecom giants to grant startups access to their newly acquired equipment. Orange even launched an open invitation to startups to come and test on their infrastructure. To my knowledge, not many responded.

3. The ever-growing e-commerce will… continue to grow

(That was an easy prediction to make, Captain Obvious.) Typically for any boom period, consumption exploded last year, leading to significant growth of e-commerce. Mark these words of wisdom: “In a tornado, any turkey can fly.”

4. Still a lousy year for GDPR

GDPR? What GDPR? Ahhh, that extra-click we have to make when we visit websites…

5. PSD2 will be the new GDPR

The number of fintech startups addressing the problem (?) or jumping at the opportunity (?) of the PSD2 was overwhelming. Yes, their accomplishments were absent, but nothing is lost yet. That’s because I already heard people talking about PSD3. So, allow me to make a prophecy before its time: PSD3 will be the new PSD2, which was the new GDPR. I can go on like this forever.

6. Low M&A activity

The time for M&A will come. It’s just too soon to expect the results now. The efforts of the founders, employees, investors, of all the other legit ecosystem actors, will come to fruition in the years to come.

8. Not yet the time for agritech

Few industries have a more significant impact on the economy, yet are less funded than agritech. One of my sectors of interest, agritech should have been a national priority if only we had competent governments in the last 30 years.

9. The year of infrastructure projects in mobility

2019 was the year of last-mile solutions, scooters, and ride-sharing apps. The number of electric cars increased, at least in the main cities. It was a good year for mobility as also proven by EGV’s investments in Watto’s ultra-fast charging stations and in Neobility’s next-generation public transportation algorithms.

10. Corrections caused by the economic downturn

An economic correction is long overdue now. So, I shall re-instate this for 2020 (I promise to keep doing this until the correction happens, proving myself to be a prophet of doom).

This was 2019 in retrospective. It’s now time to look at what lies ahead. Keep an eye out for my predictions for 2020 — coming soon.