skip to main content skip to main navigation

How to Build a Business in Bosnia and Herzegovina? The OREA Example

OREA is an online marketplace where you can find authentic handmade products from Bosnia and Herzegovina. OREA is ready to grow and expand to the entire region.

After more than ten years spent abroad, a group of friends decided to return home and start a business that would benefit the entire community.

Senita Slipac lived in Los Angeles for almost 20 years. She loved to bring authentic handmade items from her homeland Bosnia and Herzegovina, and give them as gifts to her friends. Everybody loved them. But, the trouble was that Senita could only get these items when she was in Sarajevo.

Senita's friend Amra Džeko had the same problem—to get original Bosnian gifts to her friends worldwide, she had to buy them in her homeland. Being a model and actress, Amra knew that she could use her influence to promote arts and crafts from the country.

Together, the two friends teamed up with Kerim Kalamujić and started a business. Combining their strengths—Senita is a business developer, Amra works on marketing and promotion, and Kerim is in charge of technical assets—the team knew that they have a chance to succeed.

Before we officially founded our business, we wanted to be sure that this was something that people would use. We needed to know if artists and craftspeople would be willing to place their products for sale on our platform. So, I started talking with them. I wanted to know the problems and challenges they were having, how they were selling their products currently, and how to improve the process. After talking with over 50 people, I had a much clearer vision of what OREA should be.

Senita Slipac, co-founder and CEO at OREA

OREA was founded in 2017 in Sarajevo. The platform's primary purpose was to present the work and products of local craftspeople and offer them for purchase worldwide. The team's ambition was to create a platform for the entire Western Balkans region. However, they quickly realized that administration and an underdeveloped e-commerce ecosystem were challenges they had to overcome at the beginning of their business journey, so they chose to focus on developing first on the local market.

Since people in Bosnia and Herzegovina weren't used to shopping online and weren't very comfortable paying online, the OREA team realized they needed some offline activities to gain trust and introduce themselves. The Art Market was born. Organized as a fun activity for the entire family, Art Market gathered manufacturers and buyers in a single place, with many additional social activities. As a result, the team gained public attention and trust from the local crafts community.

Another benefit from Art Market was a partnership with Visa and local banks, which supported the team in making online purchases much more accessible. Also, the Swiss funded project Market Makers recognized the company's potential, and joined in.

However, with the outbreak of COVID-19, Art Market was no longer an option. But online shopping was.

The global pandemic disturbed a lot of markets, including ours. But, in the e-commerce area, it was a positive disturbance. People started buying products online, and we were happy to see them use our platform. On the other hand, we can proudly say that we helped many craftspeople stay in business. You can imagine how good it felt to hear from people "complaining" that they are overwhelmed with work and that they even have to hire someone to deliver everything ordered through OREA on time.

Senita Slipac, co-founder and CEO at OREA

The OREA team highlights as their most significant success the fact that they have kept their business alive for three years now. They have faced many different challenges, successfully overcoming most of them.

We made it to survive the past period with all the ups and downs it put in front of us. We overcame some of the challenges on our own, but for some others, we needed help. And the Swiss EP team helped us a lot. We highly value the knowledge we got from participating in the Investment Readiness Program for Female Founders, Content Marketing program, Next Level Demos program, and also from mentoring sessions with different experts. It feels magnificent when you're getting constant support and validation from someone, which is what the Swiss EP team does for us. The opportunity to learn and grow from the best in the business is something that we could not have afforded on our own but thanks to the support from Swiss EP that was all possible.

Senita Slipac, co-founder and CEO at OREA

After three years in business, OREA is ready to expand regionally. The team learned how to deal with different challenges, and they are prepared for the new chapter in their development. 2022 will be an exciting year for them, and we hope that, soon, we will see them present in all countries in the Balkans region.