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Swiss EP

Christina Forster: Swiss EP’s EIR program can help you grow

We talked with Christina about her EIR experience and the most important lessons she learned during her missions with Swiss EP.

Christina Forster is an online marketing expert. She is passionate about responsible and impact communication, environmental protection, and green and social businesses and organizations across the globe. Christina has been active in the Balkan region for the last five years, and she was a part of our Entrepreneurs in Residence program.

We talked with Christina Forster, co-founder of Heartbeats Innovation & Communication, about her EIR experience and the most important lessons she learned during her missions with Swiss EP.

Swiss EP: Hello Christina, how are you? You mentioned a few times that you always knew you would be a storyteller. Can you tell us how you got into the digital marketing space?

Christina: I would say I was lucky because I always wanted to tell stories. At the age of six, I already annoyed everyone in my family, saying that I will become a journalist when I grow up. It was always obvious to me — I wanted to tell and share stories. At the age of nineteen, I managed to make that happen. I moved to Vienna from Linz (my hometown) to study, and within six months, I already started working as an intern for a daily newspaper. I managed to make my dream a reality. At the same time, this experience was a big lesson for me—at a very young age, I realized that if you believe in something and keep pushing for it, it can happen. I think a lot about this lesson nowadays when I am an entrepreneur.

Swiss EP: That is a precious lesson. So, you were nineteen, living your dream, so what triggered the desire to make a transition from journalism to digital marketing?

Christina: The transition didn't happen overnight. I had been working as a journalist for about nine years, and I realized the same things started repeating year after year. When I understood that, I decided to gain some experience abroad. I moved to London, where I stayed for the next eight years, and that's where the change happened. While I was still in Austria, I moved from print to online (back in 2005), and London was the place where I learned about content marketing. It was a new thing back then—to build up a brand by telling stories. A few companies started moving away from conventional advertising with short, catchy messages and hired journalists to tell stories about their brand. I was fortunate to catch that wave. The company that hired me (Boden) was looking for journalists for their German-speaking websites. And that's where I got into content marketing. They were already working with target personas, and there I learned the importance of them. Once, we even rented a cinema in Notting Hill to watch a movie about our target personas for a whole afternoon—that's something that stuck with me! I acquired knowledge on how to build a brand online, and I became very passionate about it. I was still telling stories to a specific audience, only now I was a part of a team. I stayed at Boden for five years and I realized I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. After almost eight years, I went back to Austria and made another change: I started working more with organizations. I focused on responsible communication, on responsible storytelling, impact communication, and working with NGOs in emerging countries.

Swiss EP: Your work with organizations led you to the Balkans. How did you come across the Swiss EP?

Christina: Yes, my work led me to the Balkans, and in that context, I met Jakob, who connected me to the rest of the Swiss EP team. When I met Jakob back in 2016, I worked as an editor-in-chief of a startup magazine for Central and Eastern Europe and developed my own business in parallel. I just came from London, where usually things are formulated very carefully, and it can take some time to build relationships. And then I dove into the Balkans, where it's all about community and hanging out and talking and talking. That's when I fell in love with the Balkan spirit.

Swiss EP: You have been with us from the beginning, and you have worked a lot with different country teams, organizations, and startups. If you compare the scenery from five years ago to now, what has changed?

Christina: I think a lot about things that happened in the last five years, and I believe that the entrepreneurial scene in the Balkans is growing steadily. I saw many partners popping up during that time. Also, I've seen the entrepreneurs' confidence growing because they started to understand that different organizations, incubators, or programs like Swiss EP are there to help them. The passion was there from the very start, and now there is structure. Entrepreneurs now know that there's someone to support them while they’re trying to make their idea happen and eventually make a living out of it.

Swiss EP: Interesting observation. Thank you for your insights. You've been working in different cities and countries across the Balkans, do you have a favorite?

Christina: That is a very tricky question. Very close to my heart is North Macedonia. Not only because my partner is from there, but Skopje is also a place where my whole Balkan journey started. And I did for sure fall in love with Belgrade. I was based there for an entire year. I love the city. I love what's going on there. These two cities are very close to my heart for personal reasons. But I met extraordinary people from all the other countries, especially female entrepreneurs. Their stories are outstanding, and I believe that spoiled ‘middle’ Europe would be happy to have them. I'm talking about women like Arta (from Labbox), Zana (from Bazerdžan), and Blerina (with Active Albania). Even if I'm not an active entrepreneur in residence anymore, I am still working very closely with the entire region, and I love it.

Swiss EP: We love having you here. Considering your experience, what would be your message to people who are thinking about becoming an Entrepreneur in Residence in the Balkans but still hesitate.

Christina: I think it's a big win-win-win situation. It's not only partners you work with and the time you donate that they learn from you. It's also the other way around. I've learned so many things in the Balkans that shaped me as a person and an entrepreneur. The strong belief in new ideas and community spirit, it's something incomparable to any other communities I've been working with. It's a perfect combination of donating time and skills to work with partners and having parallel time to network and work on your business ideas and grow. All the Entrepreneurs in Residence I've been talking to share a similar experience—you become much clearer afterward about where you are going. It's an inspiring journey. Apart from that, everywhere you go, the food and drinks are excellent—it's such a vibrant region worth experiencing.

Swiss EP: We couldn't agree more. Thank you very much for your time and work in the Balkans. We are looking forward to seeing you again.