Entrepreneurial Landscape of Serbia

Yesterday, the congress Spring School 012: Doing Business in Digital Environment at the University of Belgrade has ended and I will fly back from Serbia to Germany tomorrow. Organized by the Faculty of Organizational Sciences, I was among the 30 students from universities of Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, who had the chance to attend lectures, workshops and teamwork projects to given topics, such as Marketing, Financing and IT-Law.

It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon, perfect for reflecting on the past week, taking a step back from ‘digital communication strategies’ and ‘internal rate or returns’, to gain a wider perspective over the entrepreneurial culture of Serbia.

Economic Recovery

Entrepreneurship, which is the key point for the socio-economic development of every country, is officially considered to be a major driving force to Serbia’s development of the economy. A high unemployment rate and low labor costs combined with excellent language and IT skills seem to represent promising conditions for future business ventures. Recent studies did confirm the benefit of entrepreneurship in the transitioning economy and also it’s growing national popularity. The entrepreneurial culture of Serbia is prospering due to several factors over the last few years.

Taken at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport

Continuing Serbia’s long march toward economic recovery, several programs have been established to support entrepreneurial culture and entrepreneurial way of thinking. After citizen’s demand, the National Agency for Regional Development is offering support programs and packages and also funding is given by the Ministry of Economy and Regional Development and the state’s Development Fund. Upon that, Belgrade is yearly holding it’s own Global Entrepreneurship Week to reach out to create a new generation of entrepreneurial talent that strives for success while staying at home.

European Union Membership

Furthermore, Serbia’s efforts to become a member of the European Union lead to numerous changes in the entrepreneurial landscape, originating from its domestic front but also powered by the European Union itself. Their action plan Strategy for Competitive and Innovative Small and Medium Sized Enterprises is executed from 2008 until 2013 and is trying to tackle the country’s corruption, bureaucracy and weak judicial system. Just last Thursday, a new Law on the capital market has been passed, that will level the status of domestic and foreign investors and protect small shareholders, to make the market more transparent. The implementation of these regulations (among others) are necessary for the future membership in the EU. Apart from the reduction of administrative barriers to business regulatory compliance, the European Union itself is already supporting Serbia’s overall socio-economic development through several programs (e.g. Enterprise Europe Network, Youth Entrepreneurship Civil-Public Relationship and Mentors of Women Entrepreneurship in Serbia). The European Civil Society Support alone approved projects sums of 4 million Euro last year, which beats the annual revenue of Serbia’s most profitable company (NIS: 3.7€ million).
But also countries like the U.S.A. and Norway have made investments in form of foreign assistance for training programs, concentrating on startups.

Image courtesy of Flickrwhltravel

Although all these changes over the last few years lead to an increase of interest in entrepreneurship -driven by the belief that it promotes a better life, administrative issues associated with the government, political instability and economic uncertainty are holding back Serbia’s economic potential.

As its political and economic stability is returning, it is likely Serbia will gain greater impact on the local and European economy assembling a great potential for investors and entrepreneurs in the future. But until that, Serbia has a long way to go to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Jan.

I would love to hear your opinions about the entrepreneurial landscape of Serbia. Feel free to use the comment box on the right.

Sources:
American Journal of Economics and Business Administration
Youth Entrepreneurship Civil-Public Partnership
Baseline Study on Women Entrepreneurship in Serbia
Policy for SME and Entrepreneruship Department
EU Observer: Mass Unemployment in the Balkans
Serbia's new legal framework for regulating capital market to protect small shareholders

Spring School – University of Belgrade

For the last 12 years I have been traveling to Croatia over the eastern holidays, playing Tennis to prepare for the summer season. What became a tradition will this year come to an end however.

I successfully applied through the Stratscheg Center For Entrepreneurship for Spring School 2012 at the University of Belgrade and I am looking forward to stay in the capital of Serbia from 8th till 15th of April.

Although coming from a background in computer science, I find great interest in gaining supportive knowledge and understanding in economics, entrepreneurship, international business and strategy, as one might also suggest regarding my various activities in the past.

The topic of this year’s Spring School will be:

Doing business in digital environment

30 students from universities of Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia will have the chance to attend lectures, workshops, teamwork projects, debates and case studies prepared by the experts from academia and business sector.

In the process of preparation of the Spring School 2012, the organisers conducted comparative research among businesses and entrepreneurs in Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The main goal of the research was to gain knowledge about the business environment in the contemporary, digital age.
One of the purposes of Spring School 2012 is to thoroughly analyze results of the conducted research from different perspectives, particularly in depth analysis of financial, marketing and regulatory aspects of the digital environment.

 

spring school university belgrade
Image courtesy of instagramchikavili

StartUp Weekend Munich ’11

Launching a business, getting face time with thought leaders, extending your practical skill set, building a network of similar minded people and meeting potential Co-founders are probably listed under the “long-term achievements” of your to-do list, aren’t they? Now imagine checking those things off within a weekend! Blasting idea, and also feasible thanks to a series of events, called “StartUp Weekends”.

The idea is to offer an environment for developers, business managers, marketing gurus, graphic artists and startup enthusiasts to share ideas for new startup companies, form teams, develop prototypes, and launch startups. And this within 48 hours. Starting in 2007, the events organized by a non-profit organization based in Seattle, have spread to more than 35 countries, gaining worldwide popularity in the field of education and proliferation of entrepreneurship.

StartUp Weekend Munich - Ahrend

 

This year in Germany, StartUp Weekends were held in Berlin, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Munich, where I attended. On 24 June 2011 over 100 students and professionals came together at the Stratscheg Center For Entrepreneurship to join a startup team or get their own business idea transcribed.

Each StartUp event is structured similar: 
Friday: After registration and welcome speeches, every attendee has the chance to pitch his business idea, from which the 10 most voted ideas have the permission to get executed. This is when the teams start forming, discuss the ideas and begin working.
Saturday: Saturday is all about developing the business plan and building a prototype. Mentors from a variety of fields help teams one-on-one. It is up to the teams, whether they work through the night or not.
Sunday: On Sunday the teams have time to complete their work and also held their final presentation in front of the judges who then will award the winners. Awards will be given for the best pitch, most innovative idea and the overall winner.

After the StartUp is before the StartUp.

My team’s startup is called CloseGuru (http://closeguru.com/) and connects people with certain skills who are willing to share their passion with people who want to learn new skills and get inspired. Find like-minded people and enhance your skills by teaching while getting paid! Thanks to our skilled team and the coaches who understood to solve our initial communication problems, my team was awarded for ‘Best Pitch’.

 

Jan Ahrend on StartUp Weekend CloseGuru

 

Lessons I learned from the StartUp Weekend:

Communication is essential. Especially when your team consists of 9 members, coming from a business and computer background. Seeing a business idea from two totally different angels can lead to two different visions of the business. Constant communication brings all team members to the same level.

  • Understand your product. It’s like in the real VC world: only one try, only a few minutes to convince investors that your product is awesome. For those 5 minutes, you have to pick the most important aspects of your business.
  • If it wasn’t StartUp Weekend, I would have probably spent my weekend with overthinking the theoretical potential of the business instead of just building it. So just build it, just go!
  • “Was ich nicht weiß, macht mich nicht heiß!” You will only get judged on information that you are telling the jury. Simply leave information about already existing models away and get honored as being most innovative. (That’s what some other participating startups did at least and it unfortunately worked)
  • At the end it’s all about time. The fact that you have only 48 hours to launch a startup is an immense productivity booster. You stop worrying about the outcome and start building the desired product.
  • After the StartUp is before the StartUp. Although I decided against keep on working on CloseGuru, I made a little step towards my own potential StartUp. Speaking with so many passionate people is very inspiring and motivating.

Ahrend: StartUp Weekend Munich 2011

 

Attending a StartUp Weekend was definitely the right choice. I gained valuable experience, had interesting conversations and established new contacts. If you want to attend an StartUp Weekend in the future, make sure to check out the official event map.