Belgrade: Empowering an expanding Start-up Community

Entrepreneurial ecosystems
The Financial Times recently published an extensive article on the start-up scene in Belgrade. Swisscontact is fostering the Serbian start-up ecosystem as a facilitator through the Swiss Entrepreneurship Programme (Swiss EP), financed by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), since 2015. For the Swiss EP team, the article confirms that they are on the right track, collaborating with the relevant actors and pushing the start-up scene in Serbia to the next level.

The article in the Financial Times particularly emphasizes the strength of the Serbian capital in the ICT sector, which has access to a growing pool of talented tech professionals. On the other hand, many young people are leaving Serbia to seek their fortune elsewhere in the world. A better positioning as a tech hub could help to stop the brain drain.

Empowering, not driving

The Swiss EP supports building local start-up communities bottom up by working with ecosystem leaders in seven countries (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North-Macedonia, Kosovo, Peru, Serbia and Vietnam).

From the very beginning, Swiss EP assumed an indirect approach. In practice, this means that Swiss EP supports local organizations and communities in activity design and implementation, rather than implement its own activities. This approach generates strong local long-term commitment and ownership.

In Serbia, the programme team is working closely with several actors quoted in the Financial Times article, in particular with ICT Hub, including its investment fund. For Swisscontact, the article illustrates how well the approach is working putting viable existing players in the driver's seat and making them take responsibility for their own development. The Uniqueness of the Swiss EP approach is that the programme is entirely demand-driven.

Challenges similar in different countries

The quoted professionals in the article conclude that there is a sufficient number of tech talents in Serbia, but that there is a need to catch up in business development. The shortage of sales, management and other business soft skills is also a key finding of Swiss EP and parallels the situation in other Western Balkans countries in which Swiss EP is active.

Teresa Widmer, Global Programme Manager of the Swiss Entrepreneurship Programme, says: “The entrepreneurial ecosystems we work in are at the beginning of their development. They still struggle with a culture that is not always entrepreneurship friendly. Local organizations identify gaps in the ecosystem and work to overcome them. Swiss EP is bringing in experts in these identified areas to Serbia and other countries to enable them closing these gaps. We can now see the fruit of their and our work. Support organizations and individual entrepreneurs are taking great leaps in the right direction, improving performance and generating investments and jobs.”

The Swiss EP way to success

To illustrate the innovative approach of the programme, the Swiss EP team has condensed the most important aspects into a white paper. There, they explain their credo: “They lead. We support.” The paper can be downloaded from the Swiss EP website.