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DSI: Taking the Serbian Startup Ecosystem to the Next Level

With their activities in developing the startup ecosystem, Digital Serbia Initiative is helping the country move forward rapidly, especially in the startup investment space.

Digital Serbia Initiative is an organization created to help develop Serbia's strong, globally competitive digital economy. An integral part of that agenda is developing the startup ecosystem, and this is where our collaboration began.

Digital Serbia Initiative is a non-profit NGO that invests in strategic programs in formal and informal education, legal and regulatory frameworks, digital infrastructure, public dialogue on digital transformation, and startup ecosystem development. With over 30 market-leading organizations and companies from various industries, DSI is actively working on digitizing the most significant aspects of Serbian society.

Our story begins in January 2021. A young woman, Nataša Škrbić, has just joined DSI, in charge of the startup ecosystem development. One of Nataša's tasks is to rebuild the Business Angel Network formed within DSI a few years prior.

Nataša quickly realizes that setting the fundamentals for such a task requires previous experience that she doesn't have. However, she knows where to ask for support. Nataša reaches out to the Swiss EP team in Serbia and the team recommends Efino and Maria Carolina Romero as someone who could help.

It turns out to be a perfect match. From June 2021 on, Efino and DSI teams worked around the clock. The first thing they did was to build capacity in internal management to steer the Business Angel Network effectively. Next on the list was working directly with the Business Angel Group.

Collaboration between Efino and DSI culminated in November 2021, with Maria Carolina and Brigitte Baumann visiting Serbia.

The DSI team is very professional & enthusiastic, always open to new approaches and concepts. It was a pleasure working with such a committed and efficient team. I think DSI can positively impact the Serbian ecosystem by building an efficient business angel network that invests and mentors the promising startups in Serbia—looking forward to their success.

Maria Carolina Romero, Efino

The DSI team, and especially Nataša, highly value the opportunity to work with industry experts, such as Efino:

Our two iterations with Efino in 2021 have been an absolute blast! Cooperation with them is beneficial for the knowledge and skills we have received. They manage our expectations, resolve our fears, and encourage us to think bigger when it comes to making an impact in entrepreneurial and investment areas. Their vast experience in angel investing and angel network management was crucial for activating the DSI Business Angel Network and making the first investment. After organizing our work in line with their training and suggestions, we have received multiple comments on how angels and startups have never experienced such events and processes, and that says it all!

Nataša Škrbić, DSI Program Director for the Startup Ecosystem

To impact the startup ecosystem, you need to work on both sides of the equation. DSI knew this, so they started working with startups, too, preparing them for pitching alongside their work with business angels.

Swiss EP could also help in this regard, so we introduced Peter Bruner to DSI. As a very successful and experienced pitch coach, he was the perfect person for the job. During September 2021, Peter prepared startups eligible for investment for the pitching event in front of the DSI Business Angel Network.

The pitching event was a success. It ended with DSI's Business Angel Network investing in an up-and-coming local startup called Tapni. However, the true significance of the event is larger, knowing that six angel investors from DSI's group pooled their money, making the entire group an active investor. On top of that, the whole investment process and associated documentation are in Serbian, and they are entirely aligned with domestic legislation, making it the referent case for all future investments.

Having multiple opportunities this year to cooperate with Swiss EP has substantially changed the way we work and has enabled us to make an impact much faster! We have collaborated on several activities: from direct startup mentoring to internal organizational capacity building. We had no domestic communal knowledge. Because of the support we have received, we managed to create more activities, and more importantly, new values and benefits for the whole startup ecosystem.

Nataša Škrbić, DSI Program Director for the Startup Ecosystem

2021 was an incredible year for both DSI and the Serbian startup ecosystem. Along with relaunching the Business Angel Network, DSI worked very closely with the Serbian government to create a strategy for startup development that will hopefully systematize the support startups are receiving. As a result, the Serbian startup ecosystem now has an organization that can provide a solid framework for further development and the next level of support for all stakeholders. And judging by the requests that the Swiss EP is already receiving from Nataša, 2022 will be even better.