Insights from Abroad: Economic Growth and Business Opportunities in Central & Eastern Europe

To say my last semester was eye-opening would be an understatement.

I was one of 24 Paul College students that were fortunate enough to spend the fall of 2017 studying abroad at Corvinus University in Budapest, Hungary. As a business student, I enjoyed getting to observe the economy in this region of the world, while thinking about how it fits in to the bigger picture. Not long ago, it would have been unrealistic for UNH to send a group of students there given the geopolitical tensions between the US and Soviet Union, which once heavily influenced politics and economics in Hungary.

However, over the past 30 years, Hungary and its neighbors have seen vast changes as their economies have shifted from central planning to a more market driven system. Any tourist walking around Budapest will see this development happening right before his eyes. The school I attended was once named Karl Marx University after the communist leader, but now Corvinus proudly represents opportunity for many of Hungary’s bright, young minds looking to find success in the free market. Buildings clearly designed with Soviet influence currently display advertisements for companies from all over the world. Large professional services firms such as Morgan Stanley, McKinsey & Co, and Deloitte have set up offices in Budapest. Many of the restaurants and stores Americans love are starting to pop up around the city too.

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Hungary and surrounding countries, such as Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovenia, appear to be very appealing target markets for foreign firms to expand into. This isn’t surprising given the political stability of these European Union members, the well educated workforce, and low living expenses. The latter is primarily the result of many countries in Central and Eastern Europe still dealing with lingering effects of the communist era. I would love for my employer to send me to work in a vibrant city in one of these countries, such as Budapest, Krakow, or Prague, and many travelers I’ve spoken with agree.

In addition to foreign companies setting up shop in Budapest, the city is also seeing entrepreneurs come to pursue their startup dreams. There are many events and organizations in Budapest that aim to connect aspiring entrepreneurs with potential investors and advisors. As a member of the Rines Fund, I often hear about the importance of supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in New Hampshire and the greater Boston area. It’s interesting to see similar ideas talked about so far away. Some of the leaders of this push for entrepreneurship and economic growth include wealthy Hungarian businessmen, such as George Soros and Peter Zaboji. After making a fortune in the US, Soros founded a graduate university in Budapest in 1991 to encourage exchange of ideas and innovation. Perhaps the most famous example of a Hungarian founded startup that has made its mark on the world is Prezi. Based in Budapest, Prezi’s platform has been used by many students and professionals to make presentations. Since it launched in 2008, Prezi has raised millions of dollars from American and European venture capital, acquired another software company, and opened up a second office in San Francisco.

Each year, millions of tourists from all over the world flock to typical European destinations such as France, Italy, and Spain. It looks to me like many of these people overlook the beauty and liveliness of Hungary’s capital. Fortunately, the world’s business leaders are no longer ignoring this great city. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to live there for nearly four months. I learned so much about other cultures and the way business is done around the world. It is exciting to be back in Durham, NH with a global perspective, and it is quite clear to me that Budapest is open for business.

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Mike McCarthy is a Principal in the Fund. Especially since returning from his time in Europe, his perspective is unique and valuable to the group. Learn more about Mike.