An interview with Irina Zugravu

Fri | 02.09.2016

1. Dear Irina, thank you for your time to give us this interview. You and VAPRO are well-known and very much appreciated in Romania and especially in our Chamber. Still, may I ask you to introduce yourself shortly?

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Administrative Science at The Faculty of Economics  and Business Administration at "Al I Cuza" University and a Master’s Graduate in Economical Engineering (both in Iasi), specialization in labour law, accredited project manager and trainer.

My professional experience started after I graduated my faculty in 2004, with  an HR related job in a UK company based in Iasi where I have gained a lot of experience in personnel and HR development, but also sales and production related issues. Working directly with the UK management was, most of all, a real opportunity for me to broaden my views. Since 2007 I am actively involved in managing VAPRO Romania, which is a consultancy company and part of the Dutch group VAPRO International. We are a team of young and dynamic consultants specialized in European funding and other kind of non-reimbursable grants for companies. We have more than 20 years experience in The Netherlands and already 5 years experience in Romania, with great achievements.

2. You are now a board member within the Chamber. What made you apply for a Board Membership?

Actually it was “the advice” of my director from The Netherlands - Theo Seip. I was quite an active member of the Chamber in the past years, so I didn’t think of applying for a formal role. Besides this, the advert you sent out, encouraging more Romanian and female members in the Board, also caught my interest. In the end I think it was a good decision (could it be that the boss is always right?)

3. What changed for you since you became a Board Member? What is the most exciting part? What is your main contribution?

I enjoy the most the monthly meetings with the other Board members. I believe it is an interesting mix of people: some with a lot of experience, others a bit younger in business, corporatists and entrepreneurs, Romanian and Dutch, coming from different sectors of activity. There are 4 new board members (out of 9) which makes things less predictable. This can only bring fresh ideas and different perspectives of different issues addressed, while remaining focused. I think we have some good new projects running which are very interesting for our members.

4. You are a specialist in EU and other funds. You have many successes in this field. What is the current state of affairs regarding EU funds? Would you recommend everybody to go for funds? If not, who should go for it and who not?

First of all I want to break down the myth that a project cannot receive EU funds without corruption or offering bribery. The more than 100 clients we have are a real proof that the system is working based on clear and transparent rules and quality criteria. There are always correct options.

Second, we are an optimistic consultancy company in this field. I would recommend to all the healthy organizations, interested in strengthening or expanding the business, to go for funds. We have a lot of success stories, especially companies for whom we made good projects, which already spent the money and now they are at the 2nd or 3rd project. The majority of these companies are foreign and not Romanian (I would like to have more Romanian companies in our portfolio along with more Dutch, of course!), big and medium rather than small. It has to do with the vision on business, taking the opportunity but also taking some risks and last but not least, a good analysis on the cost-benefit ratio – which in my opinion when we talk about EU funds has always to be positive.

5. I heard that funds should be seen as an extra “incentive” for an existing business. No business should depend on funds. What do you think about this statement?

I would say this statement is applicable to companies mainly. Still, there are funds for start-ups, to put a new business idea into practice, or companies that use funds to expand their existing business (which could have not been done without the EU money).

NGO-s are another example. Their activity could depend on funds and they can actually “live” with EU money, as long as they make realistic budgets and do not go for more than they can actually spend and co-finance. In any situation, whoever takes EU money should have in mind (at least) 2 aspects: co-financing (any EU projects is asking for the applicant to have a part of the money themselves) and cash-flow issues (the payment of EU money is made based on costs already paid).

6. What can members of the Chamber do together (maybe even together with the NRCC) in order to attract funding?

If members have already experience with financed projects, I would recommend them to share their experience with other members and recommend the good consultants with whom they worked. Romania has the right to spend this money for the first time and, as strange as this may sound, we are not that good at spending 30 billion Euros. For the ones interested in obtaining EU money, I would advise them to express their interest to the Chamber. This way, the Chamber can bring at the table good and experienced experts on different topics, which can make the applicants’ life much easier in relation with the Financing Authorities while maximizing the impact of the funds in their business.

7. For sure many companies are looking into financing / funding of projects. How do they find partners? How can NRCC members find out about companies looking for partners like them? Can the NRCC play a role here?

Again, from our experience, the best partner in an EU project is the one you already know or you have done business with in the past. Regarding other partners, I would always look for trustworthy and good quality partners, why not recommended by the Chamber or by other Chambers, via the NRCC. It is not easy to run an EU project even with your own internal resources, so when it comes to partnership projects then you have to be sure that you speak the same language with your partners. Members should not hesitate to contact the Chamber or directly us, if they look for partners for projects.

8. Back to the Chamber: what should the Chamber do different in your opinion? How can the Chamber attract more members? How can the Chamber become more visible? What else should be done?

Of course quantity is important, but quality is even more important. Our members are good and trustable companies, with a sound background in their sector of activity. Most of them are doing business with other members, which strengthens our Dutch-Romanian community. I have a strong belief within my company: a happy client will bring more clients than your sales team. So I would focus on making our members “happy”, by doing interesting and valuable projects for them, and continue with a good promotion of that. To end in a funny note and because I have quite a strong competitive spirit, let’s outgrow the German chamber!!

9. Last but not least: what is your message to our members?

I really like the statement we have on our banners “when you walk alone you go fast, when you walk together you go far” and that should be the essence of our activity as Chamber. Of course, many companies are doing just fine, with or without being a member of our Chamber, but each one of them can bring added value to the whole Dutch business community in Romania. It is important to have a common approach and a stronger voice in relation with Romanian public authorities, other business partners, other foreign investor’s communities and why not, having also some fun while doing it. So my message to our members would be: bring more members in!