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Swiss EP

Innovation Fund Serbia – key supporter of Serbian startups

Innovation Fund Serbia is a successful example of how the government can help and support entrepreneurs. Thanks to the SwissEP team in Serbia, IFS managed to adapt startup support program to the needs of the market, helping startups even more.

As the country's crucial financial supporter of startups and innovative companies, IFS is enjoying a prominent position in the Serbian ecosystem. In fact, it received 235 applications for financial support during its last call.

Governments around the world are searching for ways to boost innovation and competitiveness among local entrepreneurs. The goal of such activities is to increase wealth creation, income, and employment.

In Serbia, the Government's vehicle for strengthening innovation in private companies is the state institution, Innovation Fund Serbia (IFS). Swiss EP has been collaborating with this institution for more three years now.

As the country's crucial financial supporter of startups and innovative companies, IFS is enjoying a prominent position in the Serbian ecosystem. In fact, it received 235 applications for financial support during its last call, out of which 23 startups and 12 innovative companies were selected for funding.

Based on good international practices, highlighted to the IFS management by Swiss EP team members and experts, the companies now receive technical assistance and financial support.

"Giving them money is easy. The difficult part is to make them use it in the best way for their business to grow. For this, they need support by experienced entrepreneurs on developing skills such as business development and sales."

Dane Atanasković, Program Manager at Serbia Innovation Fund

Initially, short and intensive bootcamps were the preferred format for supplying technical assistance to the grant receivers. Based on feedback from startups and Swiss EP experts, the program starting in autumn 2019 was changed, making it more topic-based and stretched out over a longer period. Changing old ways is never easy. Hence, IFS managers should receive massive credits for being determined to make edits to the program to bring even more value to entrepreneurs.

This year's program focused on four specific areas of vital importance to any company with international growth ambitions: intellectual property, sales, marketing, and fundraising. Each topic comprised a full-day workshop followed by 1-to-1 mentoring sessions. This way, startups had time to apply new learning and skills between workshops. This new approach showed that when topics are more tailored to the entrepreneurs' specific needs and interests, they become more active, and the impact is much more significant.

As with every story this year, COVID-19 plays a part. When emergency measures were introduced in Serbia, limiting all travel, the IFS program switched online. With the direct support of Swiss EP, the program continued. Again, the IFS management showed excellent responsiveness to the crisis and commitment towards its entrepreneurs. During this period, it was observed that online webinars could not fully substitute face-to-face workshops. Still, the significant advantages of online mentoring compensated this. Time saved by moving online was converted into more 1-to-1 mentoring time for the entrepreneurs, stretching over a more extended period of time.

Following her webinars, Swiss EP marketing expert Rita Katona, hosted three months of mentoring sessions with companies in the B2C sector. The teams' feedback was extremely positive, highlighting how Rita brought them timely value in these troubled times. On sales, Swiss EP expert Fil Guijjaro hosted webinars and engaged in 1-to-1 mentoring with a focus on B2B companies. The sales and marketing modules' timing was impeccable, as all teams were affected by the COVID-19 situation.

"Working with Swiss EP has enabled us to transform the Enterprise training program significantly and make it more flexible, efficient, and attractive to participants. The team's commitment and devotion to the cause are certainly one of the main reasons why Swiss EP is the most important partner of the Fund in the field of mentoring and knowledge transfer.”

said Dane Atanasković in summer 2020.