Upster Conference 2021
events local ecosystem

Upster Startup Conference: The story behind the story

This year we organized, between 17-18 November, the second edition of Upster Startup Conference. Upster2021 is the second chapter of our conference.

The first chapter unfolded last year, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, a year filled with uncertainty, but also with opportunities and the possibility for innovation.
And innovate we also did and changed the concept as you will see below. In the following, you will see more inside info and details, from why we made the conference, why we made it this way, what actually happened and of course what’s next.

From Idea to Concept

The conference started taking shape in 2019, when we, Cluj Startups started a massive organizational restructuring. The goal was to better cater to the needs of the startup founders. After advanced discussions, we felt the need for a flagship project to signal this new direction. And so the conference concept started taking shape.
We wanted to offer a very good experience with great educational topics.

But what do ‘good’ and ‘great’ actually mean? Well, our take on this is:

  • Offer very applied topics. Easily reuse what you learn for your business.
  • Focus on startup topics. We target business topics first, and technical topics right after that.
  • Encourage collaboration. Design a networking and collaboration context.

What about the name?

Upster – comes from someone who is trendy with traditional and futuristic values.

Startup – the action or process of setting something in motion.

Our colleague Alin Pausan proposed to use this name as it’s a good match with the startup topics we wanted to tackle and is also trendy.

For Who?

The next question that normally came up is to who are we delivering the conference to?

  • Startup founders: They are our main target audience and accordingly the topics below reflect this.
  • Anyone having a startup idea: It all comes down to the idea. If you have an idea you are welcome to join to learn how you can make it a reality.
  • Product Owners: We have a particular emphasis on the product in the topics we present.
  • Developers: We encourage developers to join and learn how to develop their product from both technical/non-technical perspectives and make valuable connections.
  • Investors: Investors that want to diversify their portfolio can benefit by learning the key startup terms, venture capital investment, make connections with potential startups to invest in.
  • Business owners and companies: They can use the opportunity to make connections, new deals, partnerships and even hire new talent.


From Concept to Conference

Starting from a high-level concept and what we wanted to offer, we then moved on to iterate it into an operational version.

Motto: Learn. Network. Grow

We voted internally on what to use as our motto. My proposal came out on top in the end. Here’s why we selected it:

  • LEARN: Learning and education are the cornerstones of building your startup. By educating yourself and learning from founders, investors, experts you set yourself up for going on the best route for building your idea.
  • NETWORK:  Network with startup founders, investors, business, and technical experts. This is essential to form future partnerships, collaborations, get team members, and more.
  • GROW: After you have the first two steps covered, you can go a step further and build on it and grow your idea, your product, or different aspects of your business.

Topic groups covered in 2020 and 2021

We had a large collection of potential topics that we could cover, since the startup literature although relatively new has developed and grown rapidly. But we selected a group of them to cover. Here’s what they are and why we chose them:

  • Idea Validation: Everything starts with this. While of course, you can take any approach we recommend to validate from the start. Start from the problem, make a hypothesis based on the problem you identify, build on that, do your research, repeat. It saves you time, money, other resources rather than going the implementation route directly.
  • Product Management:  The startup builds around the product. So, it made sense to us to include the product in our topics list, so our guests can find out how to build their products, manage them in all phases, do ongoing validation, and more.
  • Investment: Running out of cash is one of the main causes of failure for startups. So, securing the investment and finances that you need to develop should definitely be on our list.
  • Marketing and Sales: You can build the best product, secure investment, validate your features, but people need to buy it in the end. Selling your product is the ultimate validation in my book. That confirms that what you built satisfies a need and someone is willing to pay for it. It should even start before you have the product, make the product known.


The conference: in numbers

We chose to use the same topic groups for both editions of the conference, with different takes, tools, techniques presented for each of them. We practice what we preach and yes we also validated along the way. In the end, we came to these numbers:

  • Total participants: 533
  • Participants in the main conferences: 279
  • Participants in meetups: 254
  • Speakers: 33

They made it happen

To make the conference a reality we had the support of the following partners that helped us make this a reality:

In 2020, we partnered up with RomanianIT , Balloonline and Activize

In 2021, as a recognition of the efforts from the previous year, we partnered up with MakeITinOradea, who agreed to be our main partner and help us drive the story further. They like us are a non-profit organization that aims to help the ecosystem and organizations grow. They are an NGO initiated by Oradea City Hall together with a group of local tech companies. The purpose of the organization is to boost the local tech ecosystem. Their vision is to make Oradea the tech destination choice for startup entrepreneurs in the region.
You can also check out the interview we did with David Achim, their executive director @ MakeITinOradea after the conference: Interview David 

Following up on this Activize, Spherik Accelerator, EIT Urban Mobility, Iceberg, and Balloonline joined our ranks and supported us to make the second chapter happen.
The list would not be complete without our community partners that helped share our cause and reach out to more people trying to build and develop their idea. We would like to thank our local communities from ClujIT, TransilvaniaIT, Techsylvania, LegalAccelerators, Cluj.Info, and others for promoting us in their communities.

What’s next?

For 2022 we plan to integrate the data, indicators, the feedback we got along the way and adapt the format accordingly and of course, continue to validate as we move on. Upster Startup Conference is our way of doing so in the area of Romania and outside of Romania

We are a project of Cluj Startups  and we seek to help the startup ecosystem grow as we have done until now, through the conference, through our Pre-accelerator, through our founder club (“Startup House”), Transylvania Angels Network, and others. We are an NGO and are part of the community and we strive to: From the community, with the help of the community, help in turn founders to grow competitive products.