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Startup Macedonia – Community driven initiatives in times of global crisis

The Macedonian startup eco-system started an initiative that will spark a digitalization revolution in the country

For many traditional companies operating in times of high uncertainty can have devastating effects on their businesses. For startups operating “in crisis mode” is nothing new. Startups are used to adapt and pivot to survive and even thrive in challenging situations.

As the pandemic struck with lockdowns limiting the movement of people, one thing was for certain, ‘business as usual’ was out the window. For the foreseeable future companies must digitalize and achieve an online presence, or they will be out of business.
While some companies found themselves in trouble, other more digital savvy companies flourished. In fact, what would become the worst months in living memory for some companies, became a period of great demand for startups services. Through community efforts and collaboration, the startups in North Macedonia effectively seized available market opportunities.

“As soon the lockdown measures were in place, we reached out to Brainster, CEED Hub, Ecommerce Association and many more to join forces. With the support of Swiss EP Experts we created access for more traditional companies (SMEs) to the wider startup community with world-class experience and knowhow in digitalization”, Dejan Aleksov, President of Startup Macedonia explains.

In April alone, the Startup Digest Calendar of Startup Macedonia included 97 online events, where the main focus was on how companies can digitalize their operations. Swiss EP partner organizations Brainster, Ceed Hub Skopje, Startup Macedonia hosted online learning opportunities with Swiss EP experts, such as Neil Cocker, Max Gurvits, Afonso de Sousa, etc. reaching over 3000 viewers and 1000 unique participants. This was a small learning revolution in North Macedonia, which revealed the true impact of online education and opportunity in mentoring, investing, business development, etc.

The tireless team of Startup Macedonia didn’t stop there and initiated multiple specialized initiatives for startups to help SMEs on digitalization. It began as a discussion in the #MKstartups Facebook group among members of Startup Macedonia Founders Club on how to share tools and resources with traditional companies. As a result, Startup Macedonia launched Techpack, a learning and match-making platform, with the goal of supporting SMEs to stay in business while increasing the outreach of startups and reinforcing their market presence in North Macedonia. The timing for this initiative turned out to be perfect.

Meanwhile, the Fund for Innovation and Technology Development (FITD) announced an emergency call titled “Kreaton” for grants up to €10.000 for digital solutions to address the crisis. Startup Macedonia and other ecosystem organizations were ready to seize the opportunity and offered support to applicants. This paid off. More than 50% of the 15 winners are connected to initiatives of Startup Macedonia and Swiss EP partner organizations.

Local startups joined the initiative and provided solutions for digitalization to companies, such as digital prescriptions by Med-rep, digital notary services by Notarized, video conferencing for high schools by Vidict, and rewarding people to stay home by Challenger. To reach companies in traditional sectors, Startup Macedonia worked closely with the Swiss import-export promotion program SIPPO and the National Economic Chambers. Teckpack offers tools and education free of charge for limited time.

“Within 24 hours after the launch, Techpack received over 40 requests by SMEs. The website now offers access to 35+ digital services and access to video content including Swiss EP online training sessions. In total, 180 SMEs deals were made in the first month and a number of relationships have evolved into fee-based contracts following the free of charge period. SMEs are realizing the value of digitalization.”, concludes Dijana Despodov, project coordinator of TechPack.

We will see the tangible results coming from TechPack in the months ahead. For sure, this is an initiative that will spark a digitalization revolution in North Macedonia. Swiss EP will continue supporting partner organizations and startups involved throughout the process.