Interview with Míra Tenkl, the new director of CzechInvest’s San Francisco office

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CzechInvest is a contributory agency of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic. The agency’s primary task is to provide comprehensive support for business and investments. And the scope of that support is truly diverse, as the agency’s activities involve more than just attracting foreign investors to the Czech Republic and taking care of them, as its name would imply at first glance. In fact, CzechInvest’s priority activities also include targeted support for start-ups and beginning entrepreneurs who need financial assistance, advice and care. Miroslav Tenkl is one of CzechInvest’s key people in the area of start-ups.

Miroslav Tenkl has several years of experience at CzechInvest’s headquarters in Prague, where he focused mainly on foreign investors, and is currently the director of the agency’s foreign office for the entire West Coast of the United States. His office in Silicon Valley is only a few kilometres from Silicon Valley, the Mecca of start-ups.

Would you like to know how Miroslav can help you in San Francisco if you turn to him there? How big the Czech community in San Francisco is? How big an opportunity there is for Czech start-ups that decide to set out for Silicon Valley? If so, please read this interview and do not hesitate to contact Miroslav directly by e-mail at california@czechinvest.org.

Q 1: Hi Míra. Perhaps we should tell to our readers that we know each other and actively work together. To start, can you tell us about your office in San Francisco?

My office is located in the Galvanize co-working centre in downtown San Francisco. It is a place with such a sense of community and filled with energetic, hardworking young people and innovators who are starting to realise their dream of becoming owners of globally successful firms.

Due to the fact that I don’t have any colleagues here, I’m grateful that I’m in a place where I can meet with very inspiring people and go to very interesting meet-ups, which take place every day here, including on weekends.

In terms of personnel, I’m here by myself, though I’m currently looking for an intern, ideally a university student, who should be interested in gaining experience in the fields of economic diplomacy, foreign direct investment and start-ups. The agenda for which I’m responsible is diverse and, in my opinion, it is ideal training for the future career of an agile, creative student.

Q 2: Let’s take a look at a real situation. We’re a small, newly established start-up and we don’t have much money to spare, but we have an interesting product. We would like to go to Silicon Valley, but we don’t have any experience. What can we do? How can you help us?

Of course, start-ups with this profile form the absolute majority and CzechInvest offers several tools for addressing their situation. Our backbone programme is CzechAccelerator, by means of which we send promising young start-ups for three-month stays in Silicon Valley and other global destinations. For these companies, we pay (in full or in large part) the costs of round-trip airline tickets for two, office space in the given accelerator, consulting with a mentor, training, entrance to networking events, and so on. The aim of this is for the firms to be able to successfully introduce their products to the market after they return home, to scale them up and, ideally, to obtain an investment.

In addition to that, we offer the CzechDemo programme, through which we send firms to global technology-oriented events such as TechCrunch, and the CzechMatch programme, which pays for a week-long training in Silicon Valley culminating in pitching to investors. Each of these programmes is focused on firms in different stages of development (details are available here).

Q 3: What kind of events await you in 2017 and to which ones could you invite Czech innovators who are just getting started?

The most important event of the year is definitely TechCrunch Disrupt, which will take place from 18 to 20 September. This is one of the world’s most significant events focused on the area of new technologies and start-ups. This year Czech participants can also look forward to substantial financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CzechInvest and the ICT Alliance.

For Czech start-ups, we are preparing a number of very interesting benefits in the course of TechCrunch, such as payment of the cost of round-trip airline tickets for two, entrance to the event and exhibition space. Together with Austria, Poland and Hungary, we also plan to organise a joint pitching event, to which we intend to invite major investors, mentors and other people who are active in the area of supporting and investing in international start-ups. Accompanying events will include a reception and networking at the residence of Honorary Consul Richard Pivnička and meetings with successful Czech start-ups from Silicon Valley.

In November, we would like to send firms via the CzechMatch programme for a one-week training culminating with a pitching event attended by investors.

Q 3: What is the most important thing in your opinion? To have a good business plan? Contacts? Good marketing? And isn’t having a good product just as important?

Of course, it’s important to have everything perfect, though especially in the case of Czech start-ups, I would recommend placing emphasis on marketing and presentation of the product. From the technological perspective, we undoubtedly rank among the world elite, but we lag behind in sales and marketing, which is often to our detriment.

Furthermore, Czech innovators shouldn’t be afraid to show off their products and try to get feedback from relevant people. That’s the only way they can attract the necessary attention and perfect and refine their products. In this field, there is no place for timidity, which we have rooted within us to a certain extent.

 Q 4: How big is the Czech community in San Francisco and Silicon Valley?

To my surprise, there are relatively a lot of Czechs in Silicon Valley, though far from all of them work in the technology business. And the structure of “tech Czechs” is diverse over all.

In the local community, there are founders of start-ups (Corinth, STRV, Productboard), people working for companies with Czech origins, such as Avast, Kerio and GoodData, of course a large number of developers in multinational firms like Google and Dropbox, and people from the university and research sphere working at Stanford University and Berkeley, for example. It’s not really unusual to meet Czechs here, as it might seem at first glance.

Q 5: In conclusion, is there anything that you would recommend to our readers?

I would recommend to your readers who are start-up entrepreneurs that they should definitely come to Silicon Valley and have a look around. I’ll happily look after them here and try to set up some useful meetings, introduce them to interesting people, perhaps let them sit in my office for a while. I would also definitely advise them to learn about the possibilities of support that exist for the purpose of such trips and to not hesitate to use them.

And I would enthusiastically recommend that your other readers also come here to have a look around. I’ll gladly look after them as well, since I believe that the local environment and the energy of the people here can inspire them to become successful businesspeople and thus push themselves and Czech business forward.

Thank you very much for your time. I wish you much success.