The Call for Solutions Sustainable Food Systems is now open

The Municipality of Milan, leader of the European Food Trails project, and the Italian innovation hub Cariplo Factory, are launching the Call for Solutions. It is aimed at start-ups and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to identify innovative solutions to improve the sustainability of food systems of 11 European cities. The four-year Food Trails project (2020-2024), funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, brings together a consortium of 19 European partners, including 11 cities, 3 universities, and 5 organizations, led by the Municipality of Milan.

Food Trails aims to support cities (BergamoBirminghamBordeaux MetropoleCopenhagenFunchalGrenoble-Alpes Metropole, Groningen, Thessaloniki, Tirana, and Warsaw) in designing, developing, and implementing innovative, sustainable, and inclusive food policies. Among these actions, the Call for Solutions Sustainable Food Systems was launched for identifying start-ups and SMEs.

The subjects chosen in this phase will have the opportunity to participate in the Match-Making Day to be held in spring 2023. Furthermore, they will develop a pilot project within the Food Trails project and gain international visibility, becoming part of the most important network of cities and food stakeholders in Europe.

Find out more


Read More

Open call for Soft Skills for Digital Innovators training program

In today’s digital age, innovation is happening at an unprecedented pace. Whether it’s the rise of new technologies, the development of groundbreaking software, or the emergence of novel business models, the pace of change in the digital world is breathtaking. As a result, digital innovators need to possess a unique set of skills that can help them navigate this ever-changing landscape. While technical skills are important, they are not enough on their own. Soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and teamwork, are also critical for success in the digital world.

To help digital innovators develop these skills, we are excited to announce an open call for participation in a new Soft Skills for Digital Innovators Training Program. This program is designed to provide participants with the skills they need to thrive in the fast-paced and rapidly evolving digital landscape.

The Soft Skills for Digital Innovators Training Program will cover a wide range of topics, including communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and leadership. Participants will learn how to communicate effectively with their colleagues, how to solve complex problems, how to work collaboratively with others, and how to lead teams in the digital age. The program will also cover the importance of empathy, adaptability, and creativity in the digital world.

One of the unique aspects of this program is that it is designed specifically for digital innovators. We understand that the needs of digital innovators are different from those of traditional business professionals. The program will provide practical, hands-on training that is tailored to the needs of digital innovators.

The Soft Skills for Digital Innovators Training Program is open to individuals at all stages of their career, from recent graduates to seasoned professionals. It is designed to be accessible and inclusive, with a focus on creating a diverse and collaborative learning environment. The program will be delivered through a combination of online and in-person sessions, with opportunities for networking and collaboration throughout.

At the end of the program, participants will have a comprehensive set of soft skills that will help them succeed in the digital world. They will have the confidence and knowledge they need to communicate effectively, solve complex problems, work collaboratively with others, and lead teams to success.

If you are a digital innovator looking to take your skills to the next level, we encourage you to apply for this exciting training program. The Soft Skills for Digital Innovators Training Program is a unique opportunity to gain the skills you need to thrive in the fast-paced and ever-changing digital landscape. Don’t miss out on this chance to invest in yourself and your future.

Apply today!

Read More

Open Call for the Aspiring Entrepreneur training program

Are you an aspiring entrepreneur looking to turn your ideas into a reality? Are you ready to take your career to the next level and learn how to start or maintain a successful business? If so, the Aspiring Entrepreneur Program is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for!

The Aspiring Entrepreneur Program is a 10-week cohort program that focuses on education, mentorship, and support to help you develop the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in the business world. The program is designed to guide you through the process of starting or maintaining a business, from ideation to launch and beyond. With the guidance of experienced entrepreneurs and industry experts, you will leave the program with a validated business idea, an action plan, and a new entrepreneurial mindset that you can use to excel in your current job or start a business.

The program is open to anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit, regardless of their background or experience level. Whether you are a seasoned business professional looking to start your own venture, a recent college graduate seeking to build a career in entrepreneurship, or someone who has always had a business idea but didn’t know where to start, the Aspiring Entrepreneur Program can help you achieve your goals.

Throughout the 10-week program, you will learn how to identify and validate a business idea, conduct market research, develop a business plan, and create a pitch to attract investors. You will also receive mentorship and support from experienced entrepreneurs who have been where you are and can help you navigate the challenges of starting and maintaining a successful business.

But the Aspiring Entrepreneur Program is more than just a business education program. It’s a community of like-minded individuals who share your passion for entrepreneurship and are committed to supporting each other as they work toward their goals. You will have the opportunity to network and connect with other aspiring entrepreneurs, building relationships that can last a lifetime.

At the end of the 10-week program, you will have the knowledge, skills, and mindset you need to turn your business idea into a reality. You will also be part of a community of aspiring entrepreneurs who will continue to support and encourage you as you build your business.

If you are ready to take the first step toward achieving your entrepreneurial dreams, we encourage you to apply for the Aspiring Entrepreneur Program. This is an opportunity to learn from experienced entrepreneurs, connect with like-minded individuals, and develop the skills you need to succeed in the business world. Don’t miss out on this life-changing opportunity – apply today!

Read More

Open call for The Ignite Entrepreneurship Program

Entrepreneurship has become a buzzword in recent years, and for good reason. The ability to create, innovate, and solve problems is becoming increasingly important in our rapidly changing world. However, many young people are unsure how to turn their ideas into successful businesses. That’s where the Ignite Entrepreneurship Program comes in.

The Ignite Entrepreneurship Program is a unique opportunity for youth to identify their passions, practice their creativity, and take their ideas through a step-by-step process to turn them into viable businesses. This program provides a linear path for young entrepreneurs to follow, from idea generation to market research, business model development, and ultimately, pitching their ideas to investors.

The first step of the Ignite Entrepreneurship Program is ideation. Participants will be encouraged to brainstorm ideas based on their passions and interests. From there, they will learn how to evaluate the feasibility of their ideas and determine if there is a market need for their product or service.

Next, participants will go through a design process to learn how to develop a prototype of their product or service. They will learn about user experience, design thinking, and rapid prototyping. This stage is critical for ensuring that the product or service will meet the needs of the target market.

Once the product or service has been designed, the participants will learn how to conduct market research. This is an essential step in understanding the competition, the target market, and the overall demand for the product or service.

The fourth stage of the program is business model development. Participants will learn how to create a business plan that outlines the company’s mission, vision, and objectives. They will learn about pricing, revenue streams, and financing options. This stage is critical for determining the financial viability of the business.

Finally, the participants will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to investors. This is an exciting opportunity for participants to showcase their creativity, passion, and business acumen. The Ignite Entrepreneurship Program will provide participants with the tools and resources they need to create a compelling pitch and secure the funding they need to turn their ideas into successful businesses.

The Ignite Entrepreneurship Program is a unique opportunity for young people to develop their entrepreneurial skills and turn their ideas into successful businesses. By providing a linear path from idea generation to pitch, this program takes the guesswork out of the entrepreneurial process. It provides young people with the guidance and support they need to succeed.

If you are a young person with a passion for entrepreneurship and a desire to turn your ideas into successful businesses, we encourage you to apply for the Ignite Entrepreneurship Program. This is an opportunity to learn from experienced entrepreneurs, connect with like-minded individuals, and develop the skills you need to succeed in the rapidly changing business landscape. Don’t miss out on this exciting opportunity – apply today!

Read More

Drone Day

Dear friends. On April 9 from 10:00 to 16:00 we organize the Day of the Drones. You are invited to a special information day. It is the preparation of summer school for young people aged 10-14 years. Children from the age of 8 are also invited to DDay, who we are sure will be curious to fly with a small drone.
Our vision is that through the “magic of drones”, to open a new door for young people passionate about the technologies of the future.

Together we will practice and fly with several types of drones. Let’s give our children an experience they will appreciate for a lifetime!

Let your dreams fly high” Course

What the course offers:

General knowledge of drones and UAS systems.
A bit of drone history.
Rules how drones are used.

The theoretical and practical lesson for programming the flight of a drone.
Programming languages. Individual and group exercises.

Possibility to create applications for drones.

Read More

Southeast Europe Startup Report 2017

EIT Digital together with Slovenian-based innovation partner, ABC Accelerator, has published the first-ever South-East Europe Startup Report.

The report depicts in detail the most promising Startups and Scaleups of the region and the state of the innovation ecosystem in 8 countries (Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania).


The startup ecosystem in Southeast Europe (SEE) is alive and well. In all eight countries of the region, there are startups, supporting institutions, interesting technology, and founders with an ambitious mindset believing that even in this part of Europe, globally successful companies can be created. In 2017, there was evidence that this is indeed the case. Outfit7, a family entertainment company with Slovenian founders and pioneer in the field of digital entertainment, has been sold for 1 billion USD  to a Chinese investor in January, thus becoming the first unicorn in the region. It might not be the last

  • companies like Celtra (SLO), Rimac (CRO), NSoft (Bih) and Nordeus (SRB) are increasing their valua- tions fast, joining partnerships with high-profile corporations, and planning for potential IPO’s.

These companies also act as focal points in their local communities/ecosystems. Inspired by Norde- us’s success, the nascent mobile gaming industry has started to develop in Belgrade, Serbia. Similarly, NSoft is supporting the development of the local startup ecosystem in BiH. Zemanta, the pioneer in digital marketing, has arguably spurred the development of the whole startup community in Ljubljana, Slovenia, after its establishment a decade ago. In addition to providing direct support, these companies have motivated and inspired an entire generation of entrepreneurs and promoted startups as a potential career choice to young professionals with global ambitions. These startup pioneers are still guiding the way forward.

Zemanta has been acquired by the global leader in its industry, Outbrain from Israel. Additionally, Rimac has raised money from its most important partner, the global leader in electric battery supplies from China, which is also its potential exit partner. The frame (SRB) has raised a 16 million USD round from Bain capital and Microsoft. Partnering with the global leaders in their strategy to succeed – and to exit. Successful exits seem to be the next step in the development of the local ecosystem and its leading companies. These will help to spawn the next generation of regional startups. When successful, an exit can bring new strategic partners, significant amounts of new money, forming the basis for the next round of investments, and experienced founders that want to repeat their success story.

The next generation of startups in the region will be more experienced, better funded, and faster. They will aim for global success from their inception. A series of successful Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) by this new generation of Slovenian startups has raised more funding in 2017 than the total combined value of public financial support in the whole region – in the last decade. These startups are now among the global tech leaders and have turned Slovenia into a hub for blockchain technologies, and an example for ICO startups in the SEE region. Other industries are sometimes less well known, but no less funded or ambitious. Seven Bridges (SRB) is a three-time Bio-IT World Best of Show winner that has raised 50 million USD to transform biomedical data companies, and Genialis (SLO) follows in similar footsteps.

While the regional startups’ ambition and potential are not in doubt, they could use more support. Regional governments are often unable to support these financially or simply lack knowledge about how to

do it best. Moreover, the lack of equity (the ‘equity gap’) for seed- and early-stage financing is especially detrimental for the development of regional startups and impacts their survival rate. Additionally, the lack of national cooperation is worsened with significant obstacles to travel, especially in terms of visa requirements. Most importantly, however, potential founders in the region need to believe that they can create globally successful companies – and convince others to follow them on their path. Recent successes are the best growth drivers the SEE region could hope for.

For more …

Read More

PowerPoint or Prezi: Which Will Tell Your Story Best?

This is a guest post by Dakota Findley 



Delivering a speech or presentation to a group of people? You need a visual aid. Visual aids not only help keep the audience focused, but they can enhance the overall experience of your presentation and prevent audience boredom.

There’s been a lot of negativity lately about PowerPoint, but many of those bad feelings come from poorly designed PowerPoint presentations. PowerPoint slides aren’t meant to be something the presenter reads directly from, nor should the presenter attempt to cram every word they plan to say into the overall slide show presentation.

When done well, PowerPoint still offers quality options and many benefits to presentations, but there’s another type of presentation that’s become popular: Prezi.

People tout Prezi as the answer to PowerPoint, but in reality, they serve very different types of presentation styles. The tool you choose depends entirely on the kind of experience you want your audience to have. Let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of both and how you can decide which one is best for your presentation.


PowerPoint is a straightforward, workhorse presentation deck that allows you to summarize information for your audience and keep them on track.

It helps with linear storytelling or presenting in which all the information builds on the previous information, and there are logical introductions and conclusions.

How it Works

PowerPoint works best with simple fonts (only one or maybe two) and using only highlighted points instead of typing out paragraphs of information.

Think of how you might outline a text to study for a test. The format of PowerPoint works much the same way and is intended as a focused guide for your audience. Delivering the slides is a matter of using the outline without reading the slides directly. Never turn your back on the audience.

It’s best at getting the audience to a stopping point. All the information builds to one conclusion or summary.


  • PowerPoint is easy to manipulate, and most anyone who has used a computer will be familiar with the program’s design. It provides templates for simple drag-and-drop text and pictures, plus video capability. It is excellent for introducing the topic of the presentation and highlighting key points just as headings do in an article.
  • At the end of the presentation, the slides are printable so you can send the audience home with the highlights and resources to remind them of the core of your presentation.


  • To be honest, a lot of the drawbacks are due to user error. PowerPoints tend to look the same because people rely on the pre-created templates and boring fonts.
  • If your story or presentation isn’t linear, then you’re faced with flipping back and forth through slides, which looks unprofessional, or recreating slides over and over, which seems redundant. It also can’t be used for free because it is part of the Office suite, and Mac users might find that converting to Keynote loses some formatting.


Prezi is a newer presentation software that uses motion, space, and zoom to create effects that mimic the freer flow of conversation or non-linear storytelling. When you need to build information to a wow factor, or you are attempting to inspire your audience to take action through a pain point, Prezi’s dynamic presentation is the best choice.

How it Works

Prezi doesn’t use slides. Instead, it uses a “path” design that leads viewers from information point to information point.

The main points on the path are clickable, and each click zooms in so that the audience can see the details. Returning to different points is easy because as you zoom back out, all the clickable headings are visible.

This is a more intuitive setting that doesn’t have you flipping through slides or exiting presentation mode to the dreaded computer view to find a piece of info again.

Prezi is best at getting your audience to a starting point. The information presents a scenario or story, and your audience should leave fired up to take action at the end.


  • One of the great features is that in exchange for making your presentation publicly searchable, you can use the presentation software for free, which is great if you’re trying to reduce expenses.
  • It starts with a virtually blank canvas, so each presentation tends to be more creative and less like one thousand other presentations. It is excellent for non-linear storytelling, and for presentations where you know you’ll be returning to the same piece of information again and again.
  • Even though it’s about seven years old, it’s still less familiar than PowerPoint for many audiences, giving it the instant wow factor. It’s excellent for inserting sound files and other kinds of media.


  • It takes more time to create a quality Prezi presentation because you have to start from scratch. If you’re looking to create a quick presentation in a couple of hours, you might find yourself out of luck.
  • Prezi does offer a few preset templates, but these are very limited in scope and less customizable than PowerPoint templates. Prezi shines when you start from scratch but is very limiting otherwise.
  • You have to upgrade to a paid version if you plan to keep your presentation private, and unless you upgrade, you won’t be able to work on your presentation offline.
  • A huge downside is that Prezi presentations aren’t printable. You’ll have to alter the format of your presentation or create an entirely different printable handout to give your audience the recap handouts.
  • Ultimately, if you aren’t very tech-friendly, it can be a steep learning curve to use Prezi, unlike the ubiquitous PowerPoint format.

Which is Best?

In the end, the software you choose will depend on what sort of conclusion you want your audience to reach and what sort of experience you are designing for your presentation.

If you want them to leave informed with a synthesized conclusion, PowerPoint is your winner. If you want to inspire your audience to see the big picture and to make their own judgments and take action, Prezi is the clear choice.

Read More

Why “Document Everything” is Poor Advice

This is a guest post by our Entrepreneur in Residence Michael Boland (@michaelbolandco)



A Developing Trend

I’m frequently approached by start-ups and entrepreneurs looking to build up their brands, create relevant content, and expand their networks. Oftentimes, these same people have Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts for their businesses with no actual product or service in existence or on the horizon.

I’ve been guilty of this mindset too and find that we often get tied up in “building our brand” instead of proving our value to customers — a great customer experience is sometimes neglected altogether. I expect the fields of service and experience design to boom in the coming years as this problem persists.

This trend is something I like to call the “Gary Vee mistake”. Emerging as an extremely popular entrepreneur and now media guru among my generation, it is easy to get excited and inspired by Gary Vaynerchuk’s short videos, interviews, and advice clips. He is a hustler who spent much of his teens and 20s building successful businesses and brands.

He has spurred a new marketing fad with his famous mantra “document, don’t create”. Entrepreneurs everywhere are now filming their every move, photographing their logos all over cities, and publishing content at a borderline obsessive rate. Because of this new movement, I’ve heard entrepreneurs from all walks of life representing different industries offer the same advice: “document everything”.

But this article is not a hit-piece on the people following Gary Vee’s words and mass-producing content. It is rather an alternative perspective — one backed by collected start-up and business experiences from around the world: North and Central America, Western and Eastern Europe, North Africa, and most recently the Middle East.

In a 2012 Nielsen Report, data from 56 countries revealed that 92% of respondents trust “earned media”, such as recommendations from close friends and family ¹. This number has fluctuated between 88% and 92% in recent years ². Online consumer reviews were the next, most trusted media.

This is where I find the conundrum: I see entrepreneurs producing content before ever developing a viable product or a trusted user/customer base. I can’t recommend your product if I can’t find value in it or in your customer service — regardless of your brand’s “likes” on social.

Therefore, I’ve thought through a few of the main reasons I think constant content production is just bad advice (or at least very short-sighted). It’s a mixture of feelings and facts so please take what you will from it. Let’s begin!


Media Saturation

As the Gary Vee craze sweeps the globe, you better bet business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs are taking notes and joining the content bandwagon. Even on this platform, Medium, it can be difficult to determine if an article is a genuine piece of human creativity or a subtle, impish marketing ploy.

I predict that as brand content creation rises on social media, praised by the marketing and advertising realms, people will continue to turn to trusted reviews and family and friends for sound product/service advice and recommendations. When content ads are disguised as authentic articles, who can you trust?

Wouldn’t it be a shame to find out when you scroll down to my name that I work for ___ Media Company? It makes you question everything I am expressing in this article. Hopefully, it makes you question my intentions and motivations.

I think as the social media marketing trend grows, the companies that thrive will be those that engage in “deep relationships”, borrowing from the terminology of Cal Newport. In his book Deep Work, Newport defines deep work as uninterrupted work — the kind that sends us into a trance-like state ³. It is work that brings us true passion, fulfillment, and expertise. It also works that is missing in most of today’s companies.

Similarly, I think “deep relationships” are the future of business. A human-centered, trust-focused approach to product/service design and customer experience will win out in the long run. As constant noise bombards our senses to buy this product or rep that brand, we’ll continue to fall back on the companies that offer real human help, quality products, and genuine care for the best interests of their users.

Adding to this, companies that return to their roots and focus on building the best company culture while investing in and caring for their employees will reap the rewards of good work. Word of mouth is powerful and I’m more willing to buy your product if I know you treat your people right.

It is entirely possible for a brand to have a strong social media presence and bring real value to the lives of its customers. But what I’m seeing is a growing imbalance of priorities in which content production takes the wheel while value, trust, and genuine relationships are left to the wayside.


Unrealistic and Unhealthy Expectations

Just the idea of constantly documenting sounds like hell to me. Then again, I am that person who frequently considers deleting all of my social media accounts and taking a digital hiatus.

Let’s think about this logically. What happens when you promise constant content and documentation? Well, you set unreal expectations for your customer base and brand identity.

I’ve seen too many entrepreneurs who make this mistake burning out early, struggling to keep up with content creation. Their content quality eventually fades away and they resort to dirty tactics: accepting any and all content on their platform or copying/stealing content from other producers (often without credit or hyperlinks to the creators).

Furthermore, what happens if you ever decide you want to stop? How much of your customer base support you because of your content? How will they react to your decision? What I’m trying to say is, if you’re going to “document everything” and promise content, you better know your customers and be able to make true on that promise.

My suggestion? Only document what brings you joy. Share what you think is going to add value to and positively impact human lives. The world doesn’t need more static or disingenuous content. More than ever, it needs your realness, your passion, your humanity. However, I don’t think that it is effectively being fostered through media content (at least not in its current state).

Focus on developing strong bonds in your local community. Get to know the entrepreneurs and businesses working around you. Listen to people and try to find sustainable solutions to their real needs. Give back to your community. Planned obsolescence is not the future and you will be far ahead of the curve if you realize that today .

Documenting everything is also unhealthy. There is countless evidence to support the negative psychological, mental, and emotional health effects of constant social media use and content sharing . Instagram was recently noted as “the worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health” . Maybe it is time to reconsider those implications…


The Commoditization of Humans

Humans are becoming brands in their own right. Many of us have personal brands, customized logos, and freelance websites that we use to market our work and skills to the world. While innocent on the surface and a way to be relevant and competitive in a globalized job market, there is a pernicious and dark side to this.

I call it the commoditization of humans. We are more and more becoming products, selling ourselves: our advantages, creativity, skills, experiences, etc all the time. We don’t need to have a personal brand to do this either. We do it every day when we post on social media. How often do we share the struggles, pain, and sadness that we feel in our lives? Rarely, if at all. Anything deemed less than happy is kept hidden while we project a perfectly fake representation of ourselves.

We’re always trying to show the best sides of ourselves, whether we use social media professionally or personally. From this fact alone, half of our humanity is already sterilized by the network. The other half we share is at best, a semi-accurate snapshot of our lives and at worst, a planned misrepresentation of our current realities.

Mix these warped sociodigital norms and behaviors with content marketing and the monetization of human networking and we’re left with a shallow culture of selfishness, paranoia, anxiety, and unhappiness.

We need to remember that the ability of humans to communicate with the world is still a new phenomenon. We’re still infants learning how to use this internet medium, making mistakes and abusing privileges along the way.

As of right now, the “Big Five” technology companies own and guard most of the data you share on the internet (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft) . The power of these companies is raising a global red flag. Dishonest and manipulative tactics have already been leaked via documents from secret meetings while intrusive marketing practices are engineered based on the rich personal data people and businesses share through their platforms.

We have become the products. The products, services, and brands that you are promoting on social media can and will be used against you, to sell you the things these companies want you to buy, to show you the media and news they want to influence you, all in order to siphon as much data from you as possible . Where do you draw the line for privacy? Are the brand and marketing gains worth the intrusion and violation?


Dunbar’s Number

The human brain can only maintain a finite amount of human relationships at one time. This was first realized in the 1990s by anthropologists studying the brain sizes of primates and the average group size they lived within.

By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the primate data, the scientists came to the conclusion that the human brain can manage between 100–250 simultaneous relationships, sitting comfortably at 150 .

I have close to 1,400 friends on Facebook. I recently created a business page to share some of my creative works and connect with others interested in collaborating or working on similar projects. I sent an invite to all ~1,400 friends to follow/like my page. As of today, I have 131 likes on the page. After scrolling through, these are all people I, at one time or another, had a close relationship or friendship with. This is Dunbar’s Number at work.

Dunbar’s Number is the same reason that historically, human tribes would lose stability and dissolve into separate factions. After 250, humans have extreme difficulty observing and keeping track of their relationships.

Under normal circumstances, egotistical individuals and those with malicious intent could be discovered within the tribe and punished. But when the tribe grows beyond its limits, bad actors are not as easily tracked, imbalances of power form and the tribe splits.

Personally, when I realized the significance of Dunbar’s Number, it released a tremendous weight from my shoulders – one that constantly nagged me to build, connect, network. I still do those things, but I am more aware of the process and selective in my decisions.

My point? It is not feasible to build such large networks and maintain them. Therefore, try to form authentic relationships with those in your vicinity wherever you may be. When you move on, do the same thing in the next place. But don’t try to force the growth of your brand, because the truth is you probably only really connect with 150 people casually and 4 to 6 people deeply at any given time ¹⁰.


A Giant Clusterf**k

It’d be an understatement to say that we have no idea what we’re doing. Most of us want to be successful (however we define that), make an “impact” (again, however, we define that), and have a fulfilling work-life ¹¹. Yet, I don’t see how that is possible when “document everything” and its other variations are the popular advice of the day.

I don’t just find this advice particularly useless, but see its staunch simplicity and general lack of awareness (of the emerging negative implications it has had in many avenues of human life – health, media/journalism, sustainable business practices, etc) as careless and harmful.

The culture of social media may be more toxic to individuals than it is helpful. This isn’t set in stone and can definitely change. But for now, the oligopoly running the show and the successful companies making big gains off your data is more than happy to persuade you to market yourself, document and publish content, and become dependent on their platforms for the success of your business.

By the same token, social media culture eliminates what truly makes us human in the shallow interactions, networks, and content that it fosters.

The human element is becoming increasingly uncommon in modern business practices and great customer experiences are becoming rare and surprising. Yet, we insist that more content, photos, and videos is the answer.


Looking Ahead

Having worked alongside businesses and startups around the world, helping humans find clarity, meaning, and true community, I am convinced that the way moving forward for entrepreneurship does not lie in documenting or publishing content, but in focused intentionality and relationship building.

Those who produce less (or no) content but put all their energy into providing the best service possible, unique and meaningful customer experiences, and strong, close-knit company culture will be the ones who flourish into the future.

When content is produced, those who record impactful moments and document genuine and unadulterated human experiences will be the ones who gain the continued trust and support of customers and communities.

As I mentioned in the beginning, the future is human-centered and trust-focused. Content obsession and social media overstimulation will only hasten the entry of this new paradigm (which is already upon us in many respects).

Until then, I’ll continue to observe the clusterf**k that is compulsive content production wherever I am, hopeful to help end the self-destructive tactics many entrepreneurs are using to promote themselves and their products.

Maybe it is just part of growing pains and learning how to use social media and communication networks. That is why I do think (and hope) that this is just a passing phase, a quick fad that wakes us up to what is and should be important in business: trust, relationship, community, and creating awesome things that will improve the lives of the people they reach.

Read More

OFICINA HUB BLOG – Michal Bohanes: The one thing that has made the biggest difference in my development as an entrepreneur

This is a guest blog by our Entrepreneur in Residence Michal Bohanes @mbohanes.


Supercharge your own learning and networking by creating an email list for startups in Albania.

Who is this blog post for: Anyone in the Albanian startup community. Either you are working full time at a startup (congratulations!) or you have a full time job and work on a project on the side. Either way, you are trying to get something off the ground.

Imagine an entrepreneur, let’s call him Arber. Arber is starting a business selling personalised gifts online. He has a few thousand email addresses from potential customers and he would like to do some good email marketing with this list. He has never done any email marketing. He doesn’t know much about it — should he just send through his personal email? Or are there tools he can use?

credit: Mike Wilson

Now imagine that Arber has access to a group of 250 experienced entrepreneurs. He simply sends an email to an email list with these 250 people on it, asking if there’s someone who has experience in email marketing and who could spend an hour with Arber on the phone giving him some instructions.

A few hours later, he checks his inbox (yes — Arber works productively and only checks his inbox three times a day). And there’s seven people who responded:

  • Three of them offering to speak to Arber
  • Two saying that they are interested as well and that they would like to be included in the learning session
  • One sending a link to an email marketing agency that they have worked with and recommend
  • One sending a link to a book and a series of blog posts where Arber can learn about email marketing

Does that sound like too good to be true? Well, this is daily life in most startup ecosystems. And it’s probably the single most important thing for my work in London.

In London, I’m part of a group called the ICE list. ICE stands for International Conclave of Entrepreneurs. You can join if you are the founder of a business, two people who are on the list recommend you, and if you participate in a trip with a group of ICErs. Once you’re on the list, you get access to 250 startup founders, investors, and tech industry executives.

This is how I get introductions, how I learn new things, how I hear about interesting events — and how I came to be in Albania: Someone I know posted on the list in January “Hey, some people in Albania are looking for an Entrepreneur in Residence. Get in touch if interested.”

I can’t overemphasise how important it is to have such a group. If there’s anything that will turbocharge the Albanian and Balkan startup ecosystem in its learning and development, this is it.

If there’s anything that will turbocharge the Albanian and Balkan startup ecosystem in its learning and development, this is it.

So, how do you build such a community?

You will say — Sure, set up an email list, easily done. What’s the big deal?

Well, this is actually harder than it sounds. Why? It requires quite a bit of trust. Why?

  • You are often putting your ignorance on display. There’s nothing wrong with ignorance. We all are ignorant about 99.9% of everything. But not always are we comfortable saying this publicly. If you don’t ask for help, you won’t learn. So you need to be vulnerable sometimes and ask for help.
  • People need to feel that there is a give and take. If you help others but never receive help in return, you will disengage. If there are free riders on the list, their presence will slowly spoil the experience for everyone else.
  • When you provide introductions, you want to make sure that the person who gets introduced will not do or ask for something inappropriate. It could damage your relationship with your contact.

The trust requirement means that you can’t allow just about anyone to join the list. You can only let in high quality people who will share their knowledge, follow through on their promises, and not embarrass you.

What’s the first step?

The first step is to build a community core. 2–3 people. The ICE list started in 2007 when 3 friends in London, Alex, Peter and Andrew, realised that being a founder was pretty lonely. So they decided to go on a trip together and take a few of their friends along. After the trip, they all stayed in touch through the email list.

Don’t start this alone. Get a friend or two who are as committed to the idea as you are. Consider the email list a little startup in itself. It’s always better to have a co-founder.

Set up the technical solution

It doesn’t really matter which service you use, as long as it’s reliable. The ICE list uses (£12.99 / month), but you can also use Google Groups as a free alternative (Select group type “email list”). Another good paid option is — get in touch with me via Linkedin or Twitter, I should be able to get you a discount. You can initially pay for the service yourselves, and once you have 20–30 good members together, spread the cost out and have everyone pay €10 per year as membership fee. You will be able to pay for the emailing tool and have a bit of extra budget for incidentals.

When a member sends an email to the group alias, all members receive the email in their normal email account. (When a non-member sends an email to it, it bounces and informs them that they are not authorised as senders.)

“Can’t we use Slack or Snapchat or Whatsapp or Instagram or Facebook?”

No. And I’m very serious about this. Don’t be tempted by these services. Do boring email instead.


  • None of these services have good archiving functions. One of the best things about ICE is that you can search for past discussions. ICE is now 10 years old — that’s a real treasure trove of information. At some point, you will remember “ah, we once had this discussion about equity distribution between co-founders, let me look it up” — and you search in gmail, and boom, there it is, a discussion you had 3 years ago. Try THAT on Facebook.
  • You can’t send attachments on these platforms. Yea, maybe on Facebook — but it’s a bad user experience. And you can’t search within attachments on Facebook. In Gmail, you can.
  • The signal-to-noise ratio is very, very poor on social media. You will get a lot of idle chitchat on them, people sending GIFs and LOLs and emojis and similar stuff. The valuable information will get drowned out.
  • You will get distracted. Thousands of engineers in all of these companies are spending their waking hours coming up with ways how to distract you. You may plan to interact with your entrepreneur friends, but you will find yourself, after watching 12 cat videos and clicking on 3 random news stories, wondering where an hour went.

Do not use social media as the main vehicle of the community.

Once you’ve selected your email delivery service, get your 2–3 friends on it. Congratulations. Your community was just born.

For the rest of the article, let’s call your new group CEB (Conclave of Entrepreneurs in the Balkans) — yep, you should aim at going beyond Albania soon — there’s no point limiting yourselves to a 3m market. (Also, come up with a catchier acronym than CEB. ICE is cool (ha!) because you can play around with it with various initiatives — holiday on ICE, Icicles, ICE on fire, whatever)

Establish who is in and who is out

You need to establish who you want on the list. Discuss this in your founding team — it’s an important decision you’ll be making.

The risk is, if you allow people on the list who are too different, you risk losing engagement.

Imagine you’re all startup founders on there and someone on the list asks “what is a startup?”. You’d be rolling your eyes and think “who let that one in?” — Right?

This may sound elitist, but it’s a fact: You need a certain level of common interest and shared experience.

It doesn’t have to be terribly exclusive. Your rule could be that membership is limited to people who

  • Are founders — defined as someone who is working more than 15 hours a week on a project that, if they received funding for it, they would quit their full time job for. Their project must be something that, if successful, is profitable and self-sustaining.
  • Or who work in senior positions in startups. This allows the second-in-line person to join who has almost as much responsibility as the founder/CEO.

This is just a suggestion. You come up with your own membership criteria. But you need have SOME criteria.

You need a certain level of common interest and shared experience for the list to be successful.

When in doubt, don’t let people in. It’s better to grow slower but maintain quality.

If you are selective, it gives you the advantage that you can reach out to high-profile entrepreneurs who are more ahead than you, the founders of CEB, are. If you can guarantee them that the community are all founders and a trusted circle, you can get the star power, and with it, great knowledge and contacts.

The list will be a convenient excuse to start networking with entrepreneurs you don’t know yet.

Establish the list rules

At some point, you will get behaviour on the list that you’re not happy with and you’ll have to establish some ground rules. For example, on ICE, we started having too many people who were posting their job adverts. This became a bit of a drag — too many “we’re looking for a marketing manager” type emails. Others started to complain, and some said that they are opening ICE emails less, as a result.

So we set up the rule that job postings are not allowed. When someone breaks the rule, we remind them publicly for everyone to see. If they broke the rule despite warnings, we would remove them from the list (hasn’t happened so far).

Don’t be too detailed about the rules — you don’t want this to be too regimented. But do remind people of a few good practices such as:

1. Don’t ask questions that can be easily found online (e.g. “what’s the difference between a patent and a trademark?”)

2. Be specific what you want from people on the list. Eg. asking “I need help starting a business” or “How to advertise on Facebook?” are not good questions to ask because they are so broad. Instead, phrase things in a way that makes it easy for people to respond with a specific offer to help. E.g., in the above cases:

  • “I need some advice about which kind of co-founder I need. My own background is X and I wonder if, for my business idea, I need something with skill Y or skill Z.”
  • “I have problems understanding how I can use Lookalike Audiences on Facebook advertising. Can anyone who has used this feature jump on the phone with me please?”
  • Not only does this make it easier for others to offer help, you also show the group that you’ve done your homework and that you don’t want people to explain the world to you — you only need specific advice.

3. Don’t go fishing for likes or follows. CEB is not your marketing pool but your mastermind group. It’s not respectful to use them as click cattle. There is a fine line here — on the one hand, you want to keep people informed about what you do and get a little bit of support, on the other, you can’t go around asking people to like every picture you put out on instagram. A good compromise here would be that it’s ok to ask for support when you launch a new business or product. These things happen rarely enough. But asking for support on marketing campaigns etc — that’d be a big no-no in my book.

English is the list language

You won’t be surprised to hear me advocating for making the list language English. You will of course be tempted to use Albanian, but I think you should be strict here and consider list postings in Albanian a rule-breaking that can, if repeated, get you banned from the list. Why?

  • You want to expand this soon to other countries. I’d much rather have the best 100 people from Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia on the list than the best 100 people in Albania alone. The earlier you show yourself open to non-Albanian-speaking audiences, the easier it’ll be to get the best people to join.
  • Forwarding threads — imagine someone has a question which leads me (being a member of the list) to think “oh, they are discussing this topic that my German friend knows a lot about, let me ask her.” If the thread up until then is in English, I can simply forward to my German friend and ask her “hey — can you please comment on this and say what they should do?” If the thread is in Albanian, I either have to summarise (which takes time) or use google translate (which can result in gibberish).
  • It’s much easier to start with new habits than to break existing ones. This is why it’s not a good idea to start in Albanian with the plan to later change it to English. People will forget that there’s new members on board and it’ll be a struggle to change.
  • It builds goodwill in a region where language barriers run along the fault lines of ethnic tensions. You’re looking forward and not back.
  • It’ll improve people’s English.
  • Albania is such a tiny market — any successful startup has to think beyond the country. No unicorns will get built by serving the local market alone. Speaking English on the list will further instil this globalist perspective.

To reinforce this, I recommend you get some of the best entrepreneurs in Macedonia on the list from the beginning. That way, you’ll have an easier time convincing the most obstinate Albanian speakers that it’s rude to exclude the Macedonians from the conversation.

English is the lingua franca of startups. Speak and write it well.

Have an offline initiation activity, ideally a trip

ICE is ICE because of the offline interaction of the members — largely facilitated by the trips we take. It makes a HUGE difference to know each other in person and spend some quality time together. You’re much more likely to help someone out if you played beach volleyball with them or built a snowman together.

You can’t join ICE if you haven’t been on a trip. ICE does 2 trips per year — a ski trip in March and a summer trip in September.

The first ICE trip I went on was one of the best vacations I ever had — we went to South Africa, did a safari, visited local entrepreneurs, drank wine at vinyards near Cape Town, climbed Table Mountain and swam with sharks (ok I didn’t do that bit). The group were existing members and around 20% newbies. Early stage founders, experienced entrepreneurs, investors, recruiters… all in one big group of 40+ people.

If this sounds expensive, it wasn’t too bad — ICE is so big and influential by now that we regularly attract sponsors for trips — companies with deep pockets who benefit from exposure to a group of ambitious entrepreneurs. Their contributions lower the cost for everyone.

You don’t have to go on trips abroad to build relationships, though. A long Sunday hike in the mountains, a weekend at the beach — there’s plenty of fun activities that you can do on a super low budget. Even a regular evening playing board games will do. But the more time you spend together at once the better: A weekend together is better than 5 evenings in a row.

credit: Phil Coffman

Whatever you do, it should be something that allows you, the founding members, to see if whoever wants to join you has the right personality and mindset — are they generous, positive, helpful, fun to be around? What do they bring to the table?

Avoid activities that minimise interaction (e.g. trips to the cinema or museum). Also just doing drinks in a café isn’t great because it’s such a low-stakes environment — you only sit and talk, and words are cheap. If you travel with someone, however, you get a much better idea of their personality — do they share? Are they good at organising and improvising? How do they react if things don’t go their way?

Do applicants have the right personality and mindset? Are they generous, positive, helpful, fun to be around? What do they bring to the table?

Drinks are better than nothing, of course — and I recommend you do at least a dinner together. But the more actual activities you do together, taking yourselves out of your normal surroundings, the better.

After a trip, you decide on who should be accepted into the group. In ICE, the pre-vetting has been usually done before the trip already, so it’s an exception that someone on a trip won’t get invited to join the group afterwards. We’ve had an instance where a candidate behaved improperly towards a few women on a trip, and we paused his application. He apologised to the women in question and his behaviour was not bad enough to ban him outright, but he had to go on another trip to try again. He behaved well this time and was allowed on the list.

The right mindset on the list: Share and contribute

I once knew a woman who quit her job in risk management in a large bank. I asked her if her boss already had a replacement for her. He didn’t. I told her that a friend of mine had the perfect profile and was looking for a job. What a lucky coincidence, I thought! I was excited to be able to help my friend out and that the leaver’s boss would fill a position without paying expensive headhunter fees. Everybody wins.

I asked the job leaver if she could do an intro to her boss. She told me “why would I do this? I don’t get anything out of this.” I said that her ex boss would be grateful to her and my job hunting friend even more so. She replied that she didn’t know my friend and that she’d be taking a risk to her reputation if my friend ended up being a bad fit.

This story is meant to illustrate the exact opposite of what you need on the list. You need people who enjoy helping out — with their contacts, their expertise, their well-informed opinion. When I heard that the woman was leaving her job, my pulse jumped! I was so happy that I could possibly help my friend out. (Sorry to bring myself in as an example of virtue — but this is the kind of attitude you need to have on the list.)

One of the reasons I enjoy working in technology so much is that people are so incredibly helpful. It’s an attitude that permeates the entire sector. Asking someone I know for an introduction, picking someone’s brain about a topic they know a lot about — all this is daily bread in the London tech scene. And ICE reflects this — Here’s a random list of topics on ICE in 2017

  • 41 “talent available” emails: People recommend non-ICE friends who are looking for jobs. Because great people are always in short supply, we encourage ICErs to recommend them. In 2016, over 14% of these recommendations have directly resulted in a job, which saved the hiring companies a combined £125,000 in recruiter’s fees.
  • A question from someone about non-compete clauses in a consulting contract. 9 people responded (on a holiday!) within 3 hours with very specific advice on how to handle it.
  • Over 20 requests for introductions. Almost every request had at least one response.
  • And so much more.

Asking questions on the CEB list

My conversations with entrepreneurs in Albania and Macedonia have given me the following ideas for possible topics to discuss on CEB:

  • I spoke to the inventors of a device that saves money for people who use solar panels at home. They needed introductions to independent engineers who can help them get credibility with investors by providing a testimony that their product works as advertised. These founders could therefore write on CEB “Dear all, does anyone of you know an electronics engineer / technician who has a background in solar panel energy? If not, do you know anyone who works in company X, Y or Z*? We are looking to get external validation on our product and need someone to review our work and provide a public endorsement. Of course, we are willing to discuss a possible equity participation in our business for the right person.” (* you’ll have to research which companies are relevant for this)
  • Another request the same guys could do on the list is about filing a patent: “Dear all, we’re looking to file a patent application for our invention. I’ve read up about the process and wanted to ask if there’s anyone on here who has done a patent filing recently and who we can ask a few specific questions we haven’t found answers for. (I think it would take around 15–20 minutes of your time). Even if there’s noone on the list, I’d greatly appreciate an intro to someone off list. Thank you!”
  • I met a company in Skopje who had a good consumer product and were already selling in shops. They were ready to pitch for investment. However, their pitch presentation was very poorly structured and they lacked confidence when pitching on a stage. A question they could ask on the list is “Dear all, we have a product, we have traction, but our pitch sucks. We are ready to get investment, but I think we’re selling ourselves short. Is there anyone on here who is good at pitching? Could I ask you for an hour of your time to give me some actionable feedback? Also, can anyone on here recommend any good online resources for pitching? I found a few random things on Youtube and it all felt very artificial. I’m a bit of an introvert, so need to find a style that suits my own.”

Btw — remember how I said earlier on that you need a certain calibre of people on the list? This is where it becomes important: If you have too many newbies and inexperienced people, such difficult questions have a low likelihood of receiving an answer.

Make sure you don’t tolerate questions that can be easily answered through Google. That’s really annoying. For example, notice that in the above question about patents, I phrased it in a way that shows that I did my homework. There must be SOME online information about patent applications in Albania. I am being respectful to the CEB members’ time by first reading up online and only then asking for help on specifics and direct experiences.

Answering questions on the list

Every email you receive on the list should trigger your desire to help. Unless you already have a very giving mindset, you need to change the way you think about requests on the list. The list is now a bit like your family — and when a family member needs help, you should try to provide it.

In an average month, I probably respond to 1 email on ICE in depth and to another 5, I respond with short messages. This is not because I’m lazy to do more, I simply don’t have anything to contribute in the other cases. But thankfully there are enough people on the list so that almost every email gets an answer.

The list is like your family — and when a family member needs help, you should try to provide it.

Examples for how to answer requests:

  • Someone asking for an introduction to someone at Google? I go and check Linkedin to see if I am connected to someone relevant. If I am, I write to the inquirer asking: “Hey, I can intro to XY, I’m reasonably close to him and he’d probably answer my email. He’s a bit junior but let me know if you don’t receive a better offer and I’d be happy to help.” I’m writing this to the person privately (not via “reply all”) because it’s not necessary to let everyone else know that I know XY. I don’t want to spam the list.
  • Someone asking for recommendations on email marketing platforms. I’m using Aweber and I like it a lot, so I write a longer email (replying to everyone on the list because there could be others who might find this information useful) where I describe the pros and cons of Aweber in detail.

I’m a member of all kinds of networks (alumni group of my university, Facebook and Linkedin groups etc) but no other list triggers my willingness to help as much as ICE does. Because of the personal connection I have with these people.

Your role as a founder of the list

Imagine someone asks CEB for help three times, and they never receive a response. That sucks, right? And if it continues like that, they will stop asking. Because they feel bad that they haven’t received help, they will be less willing to help themselves. And CEB will slowly die.

This is a big risk early on, when the list starts. A big responsibility lies with you, the list’s (co)founder, to not let this happen. People need to feel that they can find help.

Make it a habit to monitor questions people asked that didn’t get (good) answers and try to help them, especially if one person is affected multiple times. If they are asking for an introduction and noone responded, see if there’s any possible way you can help. Spend a few minutes searching Linkedin if you can find a relevant person. Send an email to 10 people (outside of CEB) you know and ask them if they know someone for this person.

Obviously, again, you can’t completely lose yourself in these efforts. But this is why it’s so important to have co-founders so that you can spread the burden.

List hygiene

Besides suspending people for bad behaviour on the list, it’s a good idea to regularly “purge” the list from members who don’t contribute. ICE doesn’t have a rigid formula for it, but we do a yearly review of members and if someone has never written anything on the list, we consider removing them. Every year, we remove somewhere between 10 and 30 people from the list.

Regular summaries

Sometimes ICE gets so busy that we don’t see the forest for the trees — so one of us does a monthly summary email where we highlight the key points what happened on the list in the past month. This also helps separate the important from the trivial. The summaries then are compiled in a giant summary document that everyone can access and search in.

credit: Kevin Curtis

Knowledge repository

Based on people’s recommendations, we keep a database of products and services. Someone asks for a good PR firm and seven people respond with their recommendations? I take these recommendations and translate them into the database for future reference. Three months later, someone else needs a PR firm? They can go straight into the database and don’t have to email the group.

And that’s it! Don’t hesitate — just do it. Be the first to launch a Conclave of Entrepreneurs in Albania and beyond. It’s going to be one of the best things you’ll be doing for your professional and social life.

Let me know in the comments section if you have questions. I tried to anticipate a few of them below


“I can’t give up my life to help people out. There must be a limit to my support to others — I need to take care of my business first”.

Of course, that’s true. You can’t be all Mother Teresa on your friends and sometimes you will have to say no when tempted to help someone. Your business is your first priority.

However, helping others out is a close second in my list of priorities. I’d much rather sacrifice some spare time watching a film or hanging out with friends if I can genuinely help someone I value and like. (There’s also endless evidence that being useful to others is a fundamental driver of meaning and happiness for pretty much everyone across all cultures, faiths and classes.)

I think the best middle ground is to establish a boundary for yourself and allocate e.g. 3–4 hours per week that you will spend helping your network. You know when your limit is reached — but try to push yourself. The more you give, the more you receive in the long run.

“Great advice.” (oh, thank you :-)) “But what if, after this blog post, dozens of mini-CEBs start cropping up? They will end up competing and fragment the already small startup ecosystem in the Balkans into tiny fiefdoms. Shouldn’t we try to unify everyone into one big group?”

It’s a fair question. But it shouldn’t lead to you to spend a year planning. It’s better to act quickly and later to consolidate competing groups.

First of all, let’s not forget — quality over quantity. A group of 50 helpful, committed leader types is vastly better than a hodgepodge group of 300 disengaged people whose only unifying trait is that they vaguely like the idea of working in a startup.

Just set up the group. Then, as you network your way through the ecosystem while recruiting new members, you might hear of another group. Chances are, they will have a different focus than you. And if not, if they literally are doing the same thing — perfect! Just join forces and don’t have a big ego about it if the other group is bigger and has higher calibre people on it.

“What if I don’t know any influential local founders?”

Try to get an introduction to them via someone who knows them. This is why it’s so important to have a good presence on Linkedin. If you really can’t find anyone to introduce you: Find out their contact details and write to them. What’s the worst that can happen? They will ignore you. Chances are, they won’t. Because after all, you are stroking their ego by telling them that they are among the most influential founders in the region.

“We already have a Facebook group where founders help each other out.”

Read the section on Facebook and other social media higher up in this article. Trust me on this. Facebook is NOT the tool to do this. It’s distracting and offers far worse features than email (no good searching, loss of history, poor attachment management). Facebook would be good if you wanted to maximise reach and get as many people in as possible. But you don’t want that — you want quality over quantity.

“But email doesn’t allow for likes and comments.”

This is not a popularity contest. Likes don’t matter in this context. And you CAN comment on email — it’s called an email response. The problem with Facebook comments is that they tempt you to write quick, low-quality responses that you wouldn’t dare making on email to a large group of people. It’s so easy to post a silly emoji or an LOL in a comment thread. All this amounts to a massive sea of clutter and distraction where it’s hard to filter out the relevant stuff. I challenge you to dig up an interesting comment someone has made 3 months ago. It’s going to be very hard. Try the same in email. Far easier (especially if you use gmail with its amazing search functionality).

You can follow me on Twitter: @mbohanes

Read More

Investors say: “Good teams never become out of date…”

It is commonly thought that in the Balkan region future entrepreneurs do not lack of ideas but of funds… 

In fact, several Accelerators have funds to invest in the region, also almost every country in this area has an Angel Network and a couple of Venture Capital Funds also are active in the Balkans. At a closer look we can notice that the region does not lack funds, should we think the opposite also for the idea part of the statement?

In less than 8 months, a Venture Fund comes in Albania twice, this time to invest. During the Global Entrepreneurship Week in November, a week full of activities to support the entrepreneurship ecosystem all over the globe, and Tirana as well, for two days you could have met them at Oficina. The team of three, led by Mrs. Tatiana Zabasu, the Managing Partner of South Central Ventures, supported also by Swiss EP, met with several actors and listened to the pitches of 11+ startups. During one of the breaks, Mrs. Zabasu was very kind to give an interview.

  • Can you describe South Central Ventures in 50 or less words?

SCV is a team of professionals managing the largest early-stage fund in the Balkans, the Enterprise Innovation Fund. The fund has been operating since early September 2015 and is focusing on tech companies with high growth potential, coming from the Balkans. We are a team of 9, operating from their offices in Zagreb, Belgrade, and Skopje. The core team has been active in VC investing for more than 10 years, and during this time we gained valuable experience and knowledge of the start-up ecosystems in the region.

  • How can Albanian Entrepreneurs benefit from SCV Fund?

Albania is one of the seven countries SCV focuses on, and although we do not have an office here, we are trying to do our best to screen the Albanian start-ups and promote the fund among them. We are primarily looking for early and early growth stage investment opportunities, but also have an allocation for seed investments. There is no specific procedure for raising funds from SCV; start-ups just need to get in touch with us and present what they are doing. If we find a business interesting, we’ll definitely get back to them and discuss the opportunity further. For a start-up, getting an investment should bring more than just money – access to our network of investors, entrepreneurs, potential partners… We can in some cases “open the door” to larger established companies, and help young teams with our experience and knowledge.

  • What kind of Startups is SCV looking to invest in?

We are focused on tech companies, in their widest definition. Nowadays, most industries are changing due to new technologies, and we are looking for companies that know how to apply novelties in a variety of areas – from agriculture to medical products. What we need to see is the potential to grow, thus we are seeking teams with global aspirations, the ones that look beyond the borders of their country and its immediate neighbors.  We want to help start-ups to expand in new markets and grow, so what we are looking for is interesting, scalable products/services developed by good teams, which are operating in growing, potentially large markets. We look for teams that can “make it big”.

  • What does it take for a Startup Team to impress you? What are the things you do look in these teams?

Well, first they need to convince us that they know what they are doing and why they are doing it. Solving a big pain of a group of people, or creating an opportunity to improve the way things are done or general well-being of people. They need to present the opportunity for growth and explain why they are the ones who will seize it and win the market. We need to see the determination, passion, and persistence, as we all know a life of an entrepreneur is oftentimes not easy, and there are ups and downs to persevere.  Without passion and persistence, that is very hard. Plus of course experience, domain knowledge…

  • Except of the financial part, what other perks can a startup team get from an investment of SCV?

For one thing, raising an investment means you’ve managed to convince a group of people that there is potential and that you are the ones taking advantage of this potential. This may help you with building trust with your partners, clients, people you’d like to see on your team… It sorts of contributes to your credibility. It gives you access to a wider network – of investors, potential customers, maybe an investor can help you get a meeting with a large company you otherwise wouldn’t have the access to. Through the network, also the pool of knowledge you can tap into is much larger, which can be really important and beneficial in any stage, but particularly in the early stage, when most likely your team is not complete and there are “holes” you need to fill. Also, sometimes it may be just good to have someone monitoring your startup more objectively; as your business is “your baby” you tend to see things differently than someone who looks at it with less emotion. Not to mention that when deciding between different options, you can discuss possibilities with someone who has probably seen companies in a situation similar to yours and may be able to give you good advice.

  • Comparing the two concepts that often are misunderstood in our region, Idea/Product and Team, which one is the most important based on an investor point of view?

They are both important, although I’d say we pay a bit more attention to the team. A great team can always improve the product or pivot it or adapt to the changes in the market. Every product needs to be sold at some point if you want to make a good business, and even if the product is not perfect, a good team will be able to get some value from it. On the contrary, you may have a perfect product, but if you are not addressing the right customer segment in the right way, or if you have no one to sell it, it will be difficult to win. Plus, the product if not developed further and tailored to market needs may become obsolete. Good teams never become obsolete…

  • What advice would you give to a first-time entrepreneur or a young startup?

Once you define what and why you want to achieve, get the market feedback as soon as possible. Adjust based on that feedback and then work hard to “make it happen”. It sounds very simple, but we all know it is not.

Vasken Spiru

Digital Media Content Coordinator Swiss Entrepreneurship Programme

Read More