When Cristian Aciubotaritei co-founded INSOFT Development and Consulting in 2008, his home country of Romania was going through a period of rapid development.
In the preceding decade, Romania had undertaken widespread structural reforms to stabilize its weakened economy, which was once on the verge of collapse after 40 years of rigid central planning under Soviet rule.
In 2007, the European Union rewarded Romania’s efforts by approving its membership into the E.U., the world’s richest trading bloc by GDP. E.U. ascension meant Romania was eligible for billions of Euros in E.U. grants and structural funds. One of the most pressing areas for investment was the country’s information and communications technology (ITC) sector.
Despite the lack of infrastructure, Romania’s workforce has long been a European leader in the ICT market. In 2001, it had the highest number of certified ICT specialists in the continent with over 16,000, which is also the sixth highest in the world. This combination of skilled labour, a newly deregulated economy, and an influx of E.U. funding made the sector a profitable place to be for a new information technology start-up such as INSOFT.
“Within a relatively short time, we have managed to become one of the main integrators of complete ITC systems in Romania. Our team has increased in just three years from 10 to 150 specialists,” says Aciubotaritei.
In 2012, the firm booked over 16 million Euro ($21.6 million) in sales, representing a tripling of revenues year on year. Last year, revenues were close to 20.5 mil Euro ($27.2 million) and in 2014 are projected to reach 26 million Euro ($35 million).
Much of INSOFT’s work involves developing various ‘e-government’ solutions in the fields of education and health. Its e-Learning platform, called learnIN, has been adopted across the country, while the company has developed a suite of content management systems that can be customized for both private and public sector clients. According to Aciubotaritei, the Romanian state has dedicated up to 4 billion Euros ($5.4 billion) in European Union funds to IT spending.
However, shortfalls in administrative capacity meant that Romania has squandered much of the funds available to the country. It has one of the lowest ‘absorption’ (spending) rates, around 15%, of E.U. structural funds in the continent, plus access to these funds are set to expire in 2015.
INSOFT’s market is also highly competitive thanks to Romania’s reputation as a hub for ITC outsourcing. The country is home to a number of large U.S. I.T. companies such as Oracle, Microsoft, HP, and IBM, but INSOFT sees local I.T. systems integrators as its main competitors. Within the e-learning sector, where INSOFT plans to focus its international expansion, it faces competition from specialized firms such as SkillSoft and Young Digital Planet.
“When INSOFT joined the domestic profile market, there was already a pool of large companies holding a monopoly who were consequently hard to compete with. But, we overcame this with professionalism and strategic planning. We have the courage to take on a lot of projects as well as a very young team who work about 24 hours per day,” says the CEO.
Attracting the most skilled workers is a priority for INSOFT. This year, for example, Aciubotaritei has personally chosen 60 students from the nearby university to intern for the company over the summer.
More than 80% of the current INSOFT team has a strong background in software development, and the company invests heavily in research and development of new software products. This commitment to youth and innovation should help INSOFT sustain its growth trajectory, while avoiding the inertia of more mature companies.
One its most exciting R&D projects is CREVIS, an immersive virtual reality system for testing and modeling critical infrastructure such as bridges and road networks.
So far, the company has been able to fund growth through sales without compromising on strategic investments. But, INSOFT is now actively seeking outside financing to support its business and geographical expansion. Over the next 18 months, Aciubotaritei plans to strengthen existing projects in Ukraine, Slovakia, Moldova, and Turkey.
The long term demand for INSOFT’s products should remain in this underdeveloped region. However, with Romania’s access to E.U. funding due to shrink next year, the firm will need to develop new products and markets to keep growing.