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Online programs in the Western Balkans: are they here to stay?

After supporting three different fully online programs in the Western Balkans, we made a few conclusions — online programs enable flexibility, wide networking, and they are released from logistics constraints.

In the past few months, we’ve been hearing many assumptions on what the post-COVID-19 world might look like. One of the popular predictions was that most activities would remain online. That could be true, especially when organizing niche programs to support specific types of groups or individuals.

We had several opportunities to observe and support online programs in the Balkans region. All programs were organized entirely online without any activities on the ground, and all of them were very successful. Why is that? And how can that value to attendees continue to be delivered—online or off?

Angel Academy, Banja Luka edition

The Western Balkans Angel Academy was a significant initiative that helped us identify and encourage activities among potential angel investors from local ecosystems. While the first cohort of the Academy gathered individuals from the entire region, the second cohort was more focused and localized.

Branko Kecman, a participant of the first Angel Academy, saw the opportunity for taking the Banja Luka entrepreneurial ecosystem to the next level and decided to organize a local edition of the Academy. He invited Efino and Swiss EP to support his efforts, which we gladly accepted. Branko gathered a group of nine interested investors, and the program started in April 2021.

Even if participants were mainly from the Banja Luka area, five workshops and two additional meetups were organized entirely online. Most (though not all) participants could meet in a physical space and attend a workshop, but the new way of working gave them a different perspective and enabled them to maximize time well spent on the program. This was also true for the Efino team who could now work with the group directly, without the constraints of traveling.

The main benefit of making the Angel Academy Banja Luka program online was flexibility. For participants, guests, and lecturers, it was essential to know that they could attend workshops from their own offices without putting any extra effort into transport and logistics.

Sales ScaleUp program

This program was tailor-made for teams that wanted to improve their sales game to grow their businesses. It was organized in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A few organizations (Innovation Fund Serbia, ICT Hub, Preduzimanje, and Start) realized that sales were becoming an issue for teams and decided to offer a hands-on program to help them out.

Out of the 27 teams who initially applied, 20 attended the first workshop, with a few team members attending simultaneously. The number of attendees gradually dropped over time, but by workshop number 5, there were still 12 teams remaining in the program, with over 25 participants in the final workshop. Besides high engagement in live sessions, each recorded version of a workshop had an additional 40 views on average.

It’s important to point out that teams who attended workshops were not located in a single city. They came from Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis, Kragujevac, Sarajevo, Banja Luka, and even from Ljubljana, Zagreb, Munich and London. If the program had been delivered in an in-person format, most of the participants would have been left out.

Investment Readiness Program for Female Founders

Developing healthy and investable startups means them achieving a high level of investment readiness. However, if you wish to organize such a program for female founders only, finding a suitable audience in an isolated ecosystem could be very tricky. This is why we gladly supported Preduzimanje from Belgrade and Women Founders Network from Tirana when they decided to team up and organize such a program together with Efino.

The program created quite a buzz in the region, garnering 58 applications for only seven seats reserved for entrepreneurs from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Serbia. Selected teams started working in mid-May, and during the series of three workshops, three specialized working sessions, and 30 one-on-one mentoring meetings, they learned and prepared most of the documents and requirements for starting the investment process.

The online component enabled women from different countries to create a specific community where they could learn from each other and get ready for one of the essential processes in the life of a startup: investment.

Are online programs here to stay?

We would say: Yes. Supporting and closely observing three different programs created for different audience types helped us see the potential of such arrangements. Even if organized locally, online programs enable both attendees and lecturers to be more flexible and to the point.

Also, we saw that networking is possible in such conditions, even cross-border, among people who might not meet in an offline world. A broad spectrum of online tools combined with live working sessions and targeted networking is an excellent mix that can create massive value for participants.

Of course, live contact is still a vital social component and one of the key ingredients in building relationships and trust. But online programs might be the next best thing, especially when it comes to education and learning activities for specific target groups. In addition, online programs enable people from different locations to gather and attend the same activities, removing constraints imposed by logistics and traveling.