entrepreneur at 19 years old

One of Romania’s biggest problems of the higher education system is given by the high university drop-out rates and under-financing, according to The National Alliance of Student Organizations in Romania (ANOSR). “The most recent data shows that more than a quarter of the students enrolled in the graduate and master programs do not finish their studies. [e.n. This is] enormous, as Romania is on the last place in the European Union regarding the percentage of university graduates relative to the population.” – ANOSR

According to data from the EU’s statistical office Eurostat, Romania, in 2016, the percentage of the school population that shared early leavers from education had a percentage of 18,5%, after the 19.6% registered in Malta, and the 19% in Spain, giving Romania the third-highest share in Europe. EU is towards a decrease in the percentage of young people abandoning education, and the percentage did decrease in most member states, except Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, according to Eurostat.

Business demography by size class – eurostat.ec.europa.eu

COBI Custom Bicycle Logo

COBI is the first bicycle recycling and reconditioning center in Romania, created by a young man at the age of 19, now 26, from an idea conceived in high school. The business was born, after countless attempts, from the desire not to lose the bicycle full of memories of his father, who went everywhere with it, winter or summer, his whole life. He did not succeed alone, but with the help of friends and by winning funding competitions at the start of the project. A project that would later become COBI Bicycle (or recently named COBI Custom Bicycle) a successful business that has Costel Iftime behind it, a young man who dropped out of college to follow his passion.

It was painful to see the disappointment on their faces

Costel was born on 24 January 1994, in a small village in Frasin, Suceava. He went to school there, in his home town, then left for high-school in Suceava. He studied math and informatics at the prestigious Stefan cel Mare, being one of the firsts in his class. After four years, he decided to move to Bucharest, to continue his studies at The Academy of European Studies. After not even one year of studies, Costel gave up college and managed to open a small business of his own – COBI.

When asked about what inspired him to do this; to give up one of the most prestigious colleges in Romania to start a whole business by himself at such a young age, he said that it was the adrenaline pumping in his veins after every book he read about entrepreneurs “When I was in 10th grade, I started to read autobiographies. The ones that I enjoyed most were the ones about entrepreneurs. After every book I’ve read I felt inspired, and I could feel the adrenaline pumping in my blood for days after the book was finished. Then I realized that I want to do this. I want to be an entrepreneur. To wake up every morning with a different challenge. All these challenges don’t stress me. They give me energy.” 

One happy customer

But giving up one of the most wanted colleges in Romania, after years of stress and work can be a hard decision to make. Not for Costel. He confessed that it was an easy decision to make, but hard to stick with it. “It was almost impossible to stick with it, because all the people around were telling me that it’s a stupid mistake and I will regret it for the rest of my life, especially because, at that time, I also had a scholarship. From my parents, to my friends and old professors, neither of them supported me. It was painful to see the disappointment on their faces, but I knew that this decision is the most important of my life.  I knew that if I stick to it, I will become a leader, and if I break it, I will be a follower for the rest of my life. I had to keep it.

When asked about why he continued, if it was so hard to stick with its consequences, he said, with a shadow of regret: “I felt that I was wasting my time.” Then, he continued: “I knew that it’s a better and faster way to learn all of those things, and many more besides. And I knew that I learn better from practice. Cycling was one of my passions and I knew how important this is in other countries, like Holland or Denmark, so I’ve decided that I want to help bicycles become popular in Romania too. This is how COBI started.”

He also wants to continue developing his business “…because it means so much to me, I want to take it further, and to transform it into a business that inspires people and encourage them to be how they want to be.” Costel is created a 3D configurator and also a virtual reality app that allows the clients to configure the bicycle they dream of in the most innovative way. “Since last winter (2019), COBI became a custom dedicated shop that helps people to embrace how they are and helps them express their personality. Our motto is “Embrace your true colours.” And, if things work as planned, he will also try to take this idea in other countries too.

Being your own boss has a lot of positive aspects. One of them is being able to travel as much as you want, and doing what you like at the same time. From all the places he had been, his favourite was Mont Blanc. “I’ve always been impressed and inspired by nature. I feel like no important city that I’ve been in (Amsterdam, Hague, Paris, Bordeaux, Roma, etc.), had the power to transmit the energy that nature can, and on this mountain everything seemed perfect. The grass, the ice and nature itself, all combined perfectly.”

When asked if he will ever give up the big city in favor of his home town, he confessed that he hopes to go back to Suceava one day. “I know that with all the knowledge that I accumulated I can make a bigger difference there, and I hope I will. Plus, I really like to live in the countryside.  It inspires me every morning.”

So, what means giving up one of the most prestigious colleges in Romania for Costel, one happy case from the consequences of a problematic educational system? “For clients, COBI solves all their bicycles related problems. For me, COBI is proof that you can choose your own destiny.

Even though Costel has found his passion and successfully started his own business he still feels incomplete without college. Now he looks forward to returning at ASE (The Academy European Studies) in Bucharest to continue and finish his studies. He thinks this is an important step that must be made towards improving his knowledge with information and skills difficult to find outside the university.