Youthful entrepreneurship growing in eastern Europe

As many in Seneca County and the surrounding area know, Tiffin University offers a master of business administration program in different parts of the world, including eastern Europe. The Tiffin MBA program has been offered in Romania for the past 12 years. The university also had programs in Poland and Czech Republic, but for now is not operating in those countries. It also offers the MBA in Taiwan.

One of the reasons the Tiffin faculty enjoy teaching in these programs is the quality of students who are in the classes. About 30 percent of the students completing the MBA in Romania over the past 12 years are entrepreneurs.

Tiffin faculty members are surprised by the youth of the entrepreneurs and middle- to upper-level managers who are in the MBA classes in Bucharest. The average age of these students is 36. The young age of these high-powered cohorts of students is due to Romania only having a market-based economy since its revolution against Communism in 1989.

Teresa Shafer, assistant vice president for academic affairs, has taught in the university’s international programs for the past 10 years. In Romania early on, “there was the insistence from families to start businesses with family members and family money. Only if the family influence failed were they ‘allowed’ to use friends or other investors.” It was inexpensive to start a business and the licenses were easy to obtain, so many entrepreneurs started numerous businesses just hoping one or two would take off.

Although not as well developed as in the United States, the governments in many eastern European countries are increasing the number of programs that provide financial and training support for start-up and existing businesses. Much of this support is provided to these governments through programs created by the European Union to promote economic growth in the region.

One government program in Romania allows “entrepreneurs under 35 years old to create a type of limited liability free of charge or taxes; plus, they can get a grant of 10,000 euros for their startups,” according to Cristian Panzaru, a 2014 graduate of the Tiffin MBA program in Romania and owner of a jewelry business and horse farm.

Government bureaucracy and corruption are issues still faced by entrepreneurs in eastern Europe. However, the influence of the European Union slowly is reducing the impediments to starting new ventures. As in the United States, it is clear eastern Europeans see the importance of entrepreneurial activity in creating new jobs and growing their economies.

The economic crisis of 2008-2013 produced mixed results in terms of the growth of new ventures in eastern Europe. There were reports of the growth of entrepreneurship in some of the countries where unemployed workers decided to start their own businesses rather than wait for jobs to return.

Tiffin MBA graduate Andreea Dorobantu said, “Although this may sound foolish, my personal opinion is that this prolonged world economic crisis may have been very beneficial. In Romania, I have many friends who developed nice, small, profitable businesses, ensuring them a decent living. It was clearly very tough, but a more-rewarding career from a personal independence point of view. And we know the freedom was, and still is, the most desired thing in the world.”

Dorobantu is a partner in Classy Romania, an online travel agency.

The Romanian government classifies 97 percent of all businesses in the country as small and medium-sized enterprises. Funding of these businesses can be more difficult than in the United States.

“Business angels, investors or crowdfunding are not known concepts in Romania or in Bulgaria. Most entrepreneurs are using loans from bank and or family support,” according to Panzaru, who also operates in Bulgaria.

One of the goals of the Tiffin MBA program in Romania is to provide the skills needed for entrepreneurs to succeed. Teodor Zamfir, owner of a Romanian trading company, said, “The Tiffin Executive MBA gave me the chance to acquire skills useful for many of those tasks. The more knowledge you have relevant to running a business, the better it is, and the Tiffin Executive MBA degree helped me to have that knowledge.”

Dorobantu said the influence of the Tiffin MBA program on her entrepreneurial effort “is simple. Tiffin, as an MBA program, gave me courage, courage to think I can create my own company. I can make it work, or at least I can say I gave it a try.”

Perry Haan is a professor of marketing and former dean of the Business School at Tiffin University. He can be reached at (419) 618-2867 or