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Fund for Innovation and Technological Development Redefines Governmental Startup Support

Fund for Innovation and Technical Development in North Macedonia found a way to become a partner with the local startup community and provide more extensive support.

One of the main drivers of the startup ecosystem in North Macedonia is the Fund for Innovation and Technological Development (FITD). As a primary funding resource for most startups and accelerators in the country, this institution is taking a leading role in driving startup development in the country, alongside Startup Macedonia.

The Fund for Innovation and Technological Development in North Macedonia was founded in 2013 as a government agency. With open calls and projects that encouraged collaboration between academia and business, FITD supported over 550 companies. Besides working directly with companies, FITD also enabled three leading accelerators in the country—Seavus accelerator, X factor, and UKIM—to provide the necessary knowledge, support, and funding to companies through their programs.

However, even though 70% of companies that FITD funded are startups, the organization was never really considered an integral part of the community. FITD was perceived as a part of the government and administration, an institution far from being perceived as a crucial component of the startup ecosystem. In 2020, that image changed.

With a desire to be proactive and closer to startups, the Government of North Macedonia selected Kosta Petrov as acting director of the Fund for Innovation and Technological Development in November 2020. Coming from the world of entrepreneurship and marketing, Kosta knew that one of the most important things to do to rebuild the image of FITD was to become a partner of the startup community.

My whole idea is to change how people perceive the Fund. I don’t want people to see the Fund as an entity that gives grants. What we are working on is for the private sector to consider us as partners. So, our idea is that besides providing funds, we also offer help to startups in other areas.

Kosta Petrov, Acting Director, FITD

One of the first things FITD did, under the leadership of Kosta Petrov, was establish a strategic partnership with Startup Macedonia, intending to structure the dialogue with the startup and innovation ecosystem in the country. Another important step was engaging more with the Swiss EP team (Nina Nikolkj became the main advisor to Kosta and FITD on startup related topics) and international experts. One such example is a series of internal strategy development workshops with FITD management supported by Swiss EP expert Sebastian Diaz Mesa. This collaboration led to several important developments:

  1. Organizing the first National Startup Summit in May 2021, where all actors of the startup ecosystem and the government united and discussed future opportunities
  2. Establishing of the National Startup Council, a working group that aims to help transform North Macedonia into the Startup hub of the Balkans. in just a few months, The Council produced Policy Change Paper and presented it to the Government in October 2021.
  3. The startup ecosystem research: Showcasing its challenges and opportunities

I feel that we’ve sat down together, and we are figuring out ways to change the system and do it quite quickly. My personal view is that COVID-19 is an excellent opportunity for my country to ask itself what is my unique selling point as a country? Where do we see ourselves in the post-COVID economy? And I believe that startups and innovation are a way to create a modern, global story.

Kosta Petrov, Acting Director, FITD

Besides engagement in the area of policy, FITD is also active in other fields. Here are some of its recent successes:

  • In February 2021, FITD launched the first national Corporate Innovation program, enabling the collaboration of the corporate sector and startups.
  • The team opened negotiations with banks, resulting in an “innovators” package where entrepreneurs who received grants from the FITD could have easier access to bank loans.
  • It introduced the first National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence
  • In collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, FITD is working on the Digital Nomad / Remote workers Visa and Program.
  • It established a strategic partnership with Amazon Web Services resulting in different benefits for the local startup community.

And, according to Kosta, this is just the beginning.

We want to make the Fund approachable. What makes us different is not the logos, not the branding or the content—it is the fantastic work we’re doing; it’s the people we have in the team. My end goal is for us to be seen as a friendly organization that understands you, helps you, and is realistic. I want to move FITD away from an image that, even though we are a government organization, we are spending government money, that we are a charity. I don’t want people to think that we are throwing away money. I believe what we are doing are strategic investments.

Kosta Petrov, Acting Director, FITD

With a deep understanding of the startup ecosystem and entrepreneurship, Kosta Petrov is changing the perception of FITD in North Macedonia and government startup support in the region. Hopefully, other countries will follow this example, establishing similar agencies to boost entrepreneurship through an array of financial instruments and technical support. Soon, we could have similar individuals in crucial positions ready to redefine the local startup scene and the role of government in startup development.