Although considered the poorest country in Europe, Moldova ranks third worldwide when it comes to high-speed internet access. The IT sector could play an important role in keeping the nation’s young and educated from leaving the country.
It is the very last stop of the trolleybus in Moldova’s capital, Chișinău. Almost every day, students come here to the outskirts of the city to attend the Technical University. Hidden behind the Soviet style university buildings, is what some people call ‘Moldova’s Silicon Valley’, Tekwill.
Tekwill is a 4,000 sq.m. office space owned by the Technical University of Moldova and built with financial help from abroad. However, it is not just a building, according to Tekwill’s deputy project co-ordinator Irina Oriol: “It is also a project”.
At Tekwill, Irina, along with her colleagues and many young start-up employees, sit with their laptops in modern offices surrounded by glass walls – an image that forms a contrast in Moldova. The mainly agricultural country suffers widespread poverty and faces a significant emigration problem.
Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, Moldova’s citizens have been leaving their country in droves. It is estimated that one fourth of the country’s population is working abroad. Moldova is losing its brightest and most qualified workforce through emigration. Their remittances account for a fifth of the country’s GDP, making Moldova one of the most dependent countries on remittances worldwide.
Moldova’s citizens seem to be escaping their home country: One fourth of the country’s population is estimated to work abroad. Moldova is losing its best qualified workers through emigration. Their remittances account for a fifth of the country’s GDP making Moldova one of the most dependent countries on remittances worldwide.
Emigration also affects the East European nation as it increases its average age dramatically. Most of the country’s young and working-age population have left after growing tired of Moldova’s economic and political instability. In order to prevent them from leaving Moldova, the country would have to offer interesting and better opportunities to its citizens. As a home to various start-ups, Tekwill could pave the way.
Tekwill has everything a software developer could expect from a state-of-the-art office: A 3D-printing room, a game factory lab, a virtual reality room, as well as options to unwind, such as a squash court and a ping-pong table. In addition, those renting an office or co-working space at Tekwill can join a weekly common breakfast. In turn, it acts as an opportunity to network and share ideas with colleagues.
The founders of Tekwill also see the space’s entrepreneur-friendly environment, events and its start-up academy as an opportunity to attract foreign investors and strengthen Moldova’s IT sector. Up until now, Moldova’s lack of political and economic stability has posed the biggest challenge. Investors, who naturally seek financial security, tend to shy away from investing in countries like Moldova.
However, as long as there is high-speed internet access, software developers are able to work anywhere around the globe. In Moldova, internet access is considered to be one of the fastest and cheapest in the world. According to the Gigabit monitor, Moldova is ranked third worldwide with its gigabit coverage which puts it far ahead of richer European countries like Germany, which in comparison ranks 41st on the list. Around 90 percent of Moldova’s population have access to superfast gigabit internet. Only Singapore and South Korea rank above Moldova.
Tekwill's modern interior design attracts young peopleworking in the IT sector
When asked if Tekwill is a project that could persuade young Moldovans to stay in their home country, Oriol agreed. “Definitely. The IT sector is a very prosperous sector that brings a lot of innovation”, said Oriol. Tekwill’s start-up academy and other community events attempt to encourage people. “We want them to pursue their dreams and not give up after the first failure”, Oriol said. Having previously worked in the philanthropy sector, Oriol wants to see change happen in her home country. She believes the IT sector could be part of that change. “The idea is to find those small diamonds which, with the support of this programme, might grow and might blossom,” she said.
Start-up ‘diamonds’ from Moldova
Some of those ‘small diamonds’ have already been found in Moldova. The start-up, XOR, is one of them. XOR has developed a chatbot based on artificial intelligence to recruit personnel. However, the company left Moldova and is currently based in Austin, Texas, where it works with clients from the US and Western Europe. Oriol’s eyes brighten-up as she talks about the start-up’s success but, at the same time, she seems somewhat disappointed that XOR left Moldova.
Yet, not every successful start-up has left the country. Nicolae Leontiev works for one in Moldova. After living six years abroad in neighbouring Romania to finish his studies, the 30-year-old decided to return to his home country. Leontiev is responsible for marketing at the Tekwill-based start-up, Gaus. The start-up works as a platform which brings junior developers together with potential employers.
Nicolae Leontiev and Eugeniu Girla, founder of the start-up, GAUS (right), at their workspace in Tekwill
Although Leontiev is dissatisfied with Moldova’s current political situation, he believes it is important to remain and help develop the country. “I love my country. It’s just the system that’s bad. It’s not doing anything for us to stay here”, Leontiev said. In his last job, he struggled every month to pay his bills, but that has changed.
His job at the start-up is one of the reasons why Leontiev has decided to remain in Moldova. “I will stay here as long as I like my job, as long as my friends don’t leave”, said Leontiev.
Gaus, the start-up at which Leontiev currently works, has just recently been chosen as Moldova’s best start-up of 2018. It will represent the country at the ‘Seedstars Summit’ and compete to win up to $1 million in investment.
Although the growing IT sector offers job opportunities and reasons for young Moldovans to remain in their home country, it still does not solve Moldova’s emigration problem. ”The creation of Tekwill will not change the situation if we don’t have support from other sides, like good roads. We can have an IT centre in the south, but if it takes four hours to travel 150 kilometres, it is, of course, a big problem”, Irina Oriol said.
Ultimately, politicians have to co-operate to create better living conditions, through aspects such as infrastructure and education, in order to prevent Moldovans from leaving their home country. ‘Moldova’s Silicon Valley’ can only do so much to improve the situation.