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Serbia’s female founders launching first-ever mentorship program

In June 2019, 25 Serbian women entrepreneurs broke long-held cultural norms to launch Serbia’s first formal women startup founders mentorship program with the support of Swiss EP.

Serbia’s female founders launching first-ever mentorship program

But in earlier stage ecosystems, where often a “do-it-yourself, trust no one” attitude prevails, mentorship is uncommon. It is vulnerable to put your business out there, to share challenges openly, to admit failure, or even worse, that you don’t know the answer. It is even more vulnerable to do so as a woman in a strongly patriarchal society, as are the Western Balkans.

In June 2019, 25 Serbian women entrepreneurs broke long-held cultural norms to launch Serbia’s first formal women startup founders mentorship program with the support of Swiss EP.

It all started two years prior, when 7 driven women from the Serbian ecosystem attended the first Swiss EP-organized women entrepreneurs week in Zurich and realised that together they are stronger, more likely to succeed, and that they have a lot to learn from each other. So, they founded a network for women entrepreneurs in Serbia, pulling more and more like-minded people in. This broader group then came together for a weekend of self-reflection and goal-setting, where they shared their joyful, painful, inspirational stories, and created the foundation of the mentorship program. They defined what mentorship is and isn’t to them, what accountability looks like, how to build trust, and developed expectations around communication and meetings.

But most of all, they connected deeply, personally, and emotionally, with each other. They created belonging and community. They trusted. They saw what it means to mentor and be mentored--because everyone can be both. At the end of the weekend, they said their goodbyes with long hugs, huge smiles, laughter, tears, buzzing with energy and next steps.

While the program is still in its nascency, these female founders have a clear vision for the future, and Swiss EP is so proud to have played a role in supporting the first programs dedicated to female founders in Serbia and helping these founders take their first breaths of mentorship air. Because now they see how vital it is to scaling their businesses, not only in Serbia, but globally. And they want to keep this momentum going for themselves and the women who will follow them. This is our mission in action.