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Barbara Fischer - insights into the startup ecosystem in North Macedonia

Barbara Fischer got first in contact with Swiss EP as a jury member of the 2nd women entrepreneurs week in Switzerland 2019. Since then, she is committed to help startups, in particular female founders, in the Western Balkans. Here are her insights.

Barbara Fischer founder of Arena Ventures, works with tech startup founders and helps them grow their businesses. Due to her committed engagement with Swiss EP, she has an insight into the Macedonian startup scene and that was an occasion to talk to her.

Could you share with us a little about your professional background and how you stumbled into the ecosystem community?

In my past, I started and built a B2B SaaS Marketing Tech company which I sold after seven years in 2012. After a couple of positions with global corporates, I started Arena Ventures in 2016 because all I wanted to do is work with technology founders and help them grow their businesses. At Arena, we help start-ups across Europe with business development and fundraising services.
In 2019, I met with the Zurich based Swiss EP team and we started working together. In the Balkan region, I work predominantly with women entrepreneurship communities and female founders. The local Swiss EP teams and I help women founders with a wide range of services that help them grow their businesses faster, e.g. workshops on business strategy, lectures on start-up fundraising and 1:1 coaching sessions. Also it was my great pleasure to take part and support the Womenpreneurs Stories initiative and the 5 day bootcamp for 7 amazing 1st time female founders and am looking forward to future collaboration and strengthening the capacities in this community.

What is your impression about the Macedonia startup ecosystem its potential for a startup success and the current services and opportunities that exist for startup growth?

The start-up quality I see in North Macedonia is high. I have met with a number of great companies in e.g. the FinTech, Tech for Good and EdTech sectors and believe that they have got potential for international roll out. What is still missing from my perspective, though, is a clear overview of the Macedonian investor landscape. There are private and institutional investors in North Macedonia, but often the start-ups are not aware of them.

What are main challenges for MK startup ecosystem in your opinion?

The challenges in Macedonia are largely the same as for other European start-ups. Founders need to find the funding for their MVP, find a market to address and generate sales, attract the right talent, scale the business successfully, etc. In this regard, MK is no different to other countries.

Do you think Macedonian startups are investment ready and have a good knowledge of the investment terminology?

Most of the start-ups I have met in the context of my engagement with Swiss EP do have a good understanding of the current investment terminology. Obviously, seed stage start-ups often still need guidance on certain aspects of the fundraising process, e.g. which investment options are available or legal-related topics, e.g. what a term sheet includes.
Many of the MK start-ups I have met and work with are investment ready. However, some of them chose to grow organically and wait with funding until they are ready for international expansion.

What do you recommend to startups in terms of negotiation with investment funds?

Just like any investor would do a reference check on the founder/s and the company, I advise start-ups to do reference checks on the investors, be it business angels or Venture Capital funds. In my opinion, it is paramount that there is a good cultural fit between the start-up and the investor. After all, this business relationship is going to last for many years, and you want to make sure that you like the people you work with and share the same values.

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Profile Barbara Fischer
Arena Ventures