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It is amazing to look at the development of the startup system in Serbia, and in Belgrade, in general. A few years ago, there were only a handful of startups that were trying to kickstart innovation and create a system that would enable future startups to have an easier time when launching their own idea. Most of the people the ecosystem comprised of were freelancers working for companies that outsourced work to the Eastern countries due to cheaper prices. In StartupBlink’s 2019 report, Belgrade is ranked 1st in Serbia and 115th globally.
As technology developed, and the internet itself, so did the startup ecosystem. No longer would freelancers work for a third party, but started pursuing their own goals. As time passed, Belgrade now has a bunch of startups developing amazing products and services on one hand, and on the other hand, accelerators, investment funds, venture capitalists and co-working spaces.
Currently, the startup ecosystem is exciting and intriguing. Young people, and even some older are coming forward and presenting their ideas and getting feedback from potential users of their products. Most of the new startups thrive on innovation, and not merely incremental change. Savamala, the rural area near the river Sava, is the Tech Valley for startup events. A place of innovation where the new ideas are born or presented to the public each year by the participants in the nearest cafes, “Savamala” even though small, is where the most of the startups are born.
While there is room for improvement, for a young system that started from almost nothing, the development in the last six years is satisfactory.
Belgrade startups that made a mark:
- Strawberry Tree (@e_strawberry): Strawberry Tree by Strawberry Energy has revolutionized the way people charge their mobile phones while traveling. The Strawberry tree functions by gathering energy via solar panels. The energy stored in the tree distributes it to the phones via USB charge connectors. There is also integration with cloud system which enables Strawberry Tree to gather the data by using sensors to get useful data about temperature, air pollution. Last year, this startup received $100.000 funding from the accelerator, Eleven making it the biggest funding in a startup in Serbia and the region.
- Nordeus (@Nordeus): Started by three ex-Microsoft employees, Nordeus is now a leading game developer in Serbia. Top Eleven, the game that made the Nordeus a giant in gaming development, started with simple premise: Developing a game on Facebook where everyone could manage their favorite football club. Today, Nordeus has a few dozen employees all around the world, including offices in London, San Francisco, Dublin, and Skoplje. Game developers like Mad Head Games, Digital Arrow, Eipix, and other smaller gaming studios were born from the success of the Nordeus.
- Frame (@frame): Although not originally started in Belgrade, this startup allows you to use any application, regardless of the browser. For instance, if your laptop doesn’t support Blender for some reason, by using Frame, you can launch the application and run it from your browser. Users can also connect it with other cloud services and embed it on any web page. Their success story has been covered by Bloomberg, TechCrunch, Forbes, etc.
Strengths of Belgrade’s startup ecosystem:
The biggest plus of running startup in Belgrade is the support of the community. People are friendly and willing to help when they see an interesting startup.
Additionally, there are a lot of conferences, events, and competitions for startups. As mentioned, Savamala is the center of urban happenings and makes a perfect location for a mini Silicon Valley. There is also the potential for a TechCrunch Belgrade.
The entrepreneurship spirit in the region is high, which inspires new startups.
Weakness of Belgrade’s startup ecosystem:
Some regulations have proved to a major hurdle for some startups. The tax for a new office depends on the part of the city it is located in. These problems are gradually being solved by co-working spaces.
Another major problem is raising capital for new hires, software, etc. The economic situation isn’t encouraging overall. Thus, startups are still regarded with a certain amount of skepticism.
Accelerators and investment:
One of the biggest and actually the only accelerator in Serbia is StartLabs (@Start_Labs). It has mentors from all over the world, with some of them hailing from Silicon Valley, teaching the startups how to grow and achieve their goal and providing them with resources in knowledge and money. Along with StartupLabs, Eleven (@elevenbg) and LAUNCHub (@LAUNCHub) from Bulgaria, are the usual choice of startups in the region looking for funds.
Voja Lalich (@vojalalich) is one of the best- known investors as well the founder and partner at StartupLabs. While there are a few individuals interested in investing in startups, the lack of clear regulations governing investors and the investment itself is a major hurdle.
Co-working Spaces and organizations:
Co-working spaces have expanded in the last six years. There are old ones such as Nova Iskra (@NovaIskra), In Center, Smart Office, Impact Hub Belgrade (@ImpactHubBGD), and new ones like Polygon, KZM ( Youth Office – A state-run office space provided to startups that pitched their project to the town municipality where the YO is located.), Potkrovlje Hub, and the upcoming Startit Centar Hub.
The strongest influencers in the ecosystem are organizations like Startit (SEE ICT is the name of the organization but Startit, as part of their project, is actually more famous than the organization itself) or Lean Startup Circle and others. Events are organized using Meetup.com or Eventbrite. The number fluctuates depending on the time of year and the weather, but there is always at least 1 event per month.
The energy of those behind Startit is one of the main reason organizations have started a number of different initiatives. To the community, they are what Nordeus is for gaming developers.
About the author:
Nikola Stojić is a fourth-year student at the University of Belgrade’s Faculty of Law. He is also a Founder of Grindam and Board member of Research Center for Defense and Security. His interest in startups and IT, in general, started in 2007. Follow him on Twitter @Zeusoft.
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