Bosnia and Herzegovina
According to the 2013 census, the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina decreased from 4.3 million to 3.5 million since 1991. Even though the Human Development Index increased by 5.2 % between 2005 and 2014, social and economic disparities are increasing, and poverty is on the rise, particularly in rural areas. Additionally, gender inequality remains problematic: of all working-age women, only 34 % are employed or actively looking for a job. With regard to men, the labor force participation rate stands at 57 % (SDC, 2016, p.11).
The startup and venture ecosystem in Bosnia and Herzegovina is growing, but it is still underdeveloped, unexplored and undocumented. The data provided below regarding the stakeholders active in the system is a result of available web and print information, and data provided by the South East Europe Startup Report 2018.
Based on the report, the number of programs for young entrepreneurs is expanding, from university programs through non-governmental organizations and government initiatives to professional incubators and accelerators. The geographical scope is also increasing highly and the aforementioned can be found in all bigger towns in the country including Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka, Tuzla, Zenica. Smaller towns are also exposed to this trend through larger initiatives and/or as a part of current projects. Bellow you will find a short description of the key players in a national startup ecosystem that have been most active in the past 5 years, and that have brought about some results and outcomes.
• The HUB387 is an information technology park, whose main goal is to create an environment conducive to strengthening of local IT ecosystem, promoting culture of collaboration and shared knowledge.
• Spark Business Park is an infrastructural complex located in the city of Mostar. It promotes new technologies and lifelong learning, a place where investing happens, and new products and services develop.
INTERA Technology Park
• INTERA is a non-governmental organization established with the aim of encouraging and supporting the development of economic processes in the region of Herzegovina. It was created as a result of the need for technological development and innovative projects and quality and educated workforce that will be competitive in the domestic and foreign markets.
ICBL - Innovation Centre Banja Luka
• ICBL is a concept that is significantly broader than an “ordinary” incubator. While the center is designed to have an incubator function, it contains education and training elements, conference facilities, and so called “business gardens” whose beneficiaries are students, faculty members, trainers, researchers, entrepreneurs and SMEs.
• BIT Center’s a main goal is to provide opportunity for young prospective experts and entrepreneurs to start and develop their businesses. It also offers office space with modern equipment, and provides its members with professional help in finance, marketing accounting and law. BIT Centar has its own Seed Capital Fund.
• QLab is a coworking space and community hub in Banja Luka. If offers its members education, mentoring and networking. It was founded by a group of freelancers who wanted to expand their network and create new products.
• Foundation Networks works on strategies that would contribute to the overall creation of a startup ecosystem in the country, including creation of a mentoring network, creation of a business angels network, and the creation of a formal network of national and regional incubator and accelerator programs.
• Mozaik is a social business incubator whose mission is to identify, facilitate, and accelerate the development of enterprising young leaders, so they can achieve their full potential and to put into function the untapped resources for the sake of socioeconomic development of BiH.
Based on the South Europe Startup Report 2018, accounting for more than the quarter of the GDP (26.2 %) the industrial sector in BiH represents a substantial driving force behind the economic development of the country. Most important and most developed industries in BiH are mining and metal processing, automotive industry, timber industry, and textile industry. Companies within these industries operate traditionally, without much innovation in their business models and activities, and are thus not in the focus of this Report. On the other hand, it is of substantial importance to discuss the IT industry as the fastest growing industry in BiH, with the potential of becoming a leading industry in terms of domestic revenues as a percentage of GDP. The number of ICT companies and startups in Bosnia and Herzegovina is growing rapidly, with BIT Alliance estimating around 1,400 companies and about 2,500 to 3,500 programmers that are now working in information-technology, communications, and computer programming.
There are many IT companies who are leading the economic growth of BiH, but who are also investing greatly in entrepreneurial education and in the startup and venture ecosystem in the country. The government is slowly (but not enough) recognizing importance of these companies for the overall economy.
Federal Ministry of development, entrepreneurship and crafts
• Its main tasks include regulation of business laws regarding the SMEs, creation of investment funds, entrepreneurship programs and grants, as well as institutional support and international promotion.
• USAID’s Partnership for Innovation project helps young market entrants improve their work readiness and skills to prepare for jobs in the ICT sector. It also assists SMEs to adopt and better utilize the latest ICT technologies and processes to improve their efficiency and competitiveness.
• Based on the South-east Europe Startup Report 2018 in the last year, UNDP has been actively working on developing the startup community all across the country. Over 200 business ideas from various areas with a social responsibility component were presented during six startup days which were held in Tešanj, Zenica, Sarajevo, Ljubuški, Bijeljina and Banja Luka, gathering more than 1,000 participants from 25 partner local communities.
• Restart aims to serve entrepreneurs, business-oriented individuals, and municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina needing better international networks, a better information base, as well as consulting regarding direct and indirect investments. Restart reaches out also to all other members of the Bosnian diaspora who desire to directly take part in the economic and social transformation of their homeland.
ZeDA - Zenica Development Agency
• ZeDA is the central organization providing support for the development of the city of Zenica, which they achieve through direct cooperation and strong support by the local government. They manage the entrepreneurial infrastructure, promote the importance of entrepreneurship and support micro business with their market placement. ZeDA has a business incubator and technology park with innovation development centers.
SECO Swiss Entrepreneurship Program
• Swiss EP contributes to improving the functioning of local financial markets and to nourishing a competitive body of entrepreneurs. The goal is to increase the countries’ attractiveness as a business location and to trigger national and foreign investments. Swiss EP therefore works toward improving the business environment for companies in the partner countries and facilitating access to external financing for SMEs.
Youth Employment Project
• YEP in Bosnia and Herzegovina offers support to the programs that promote entrepreneurship through the institutions of all entities. The most significant projects that they have done in this field are “Young Entrepreneur”, “Online School of Entrepreneurship” and general support in development of mechanisms that promote entrepreneurship.
The existing startup ecosystem in BiH has great perspectives to develop further in the next 10 years. However, the real question is “in which direction?”. Taking in concern the South East Europe Startup Report, they are placed high when it comes to ‘innovation’ indicators. Among the startups listed in previous sections, not a single one has a product that is unique, first-of-a-kind. All of them are good (or bad) copies of Western startups. What is unquestionable is that they have a great geographical location, a growing and high-quality IT industry, and a relatively cheap labour force. Hopefully, startups and all related key stakeholders will be able to use those advantages to boost the ecosystem, create innovative products and startup who will be ready to face the market, raise investments and scale.
The key stakeholders of the Bosnian & Herzegovinian startup ecosystem are (per type):
• Emerging startups, including the selection by Southeast Europe Startup Report 2018 by EIT Digital and ABC Accelerator: Koola, Fress, Vidiovo, Bizbook, Goodies, Printheos, Bookvar, Parttimers, Zoblak, Amplius, Kliker, Cadence, Giikly, blablaDev, Sophico.
Incubators, technology parks, accelerators, startups program
• Start center, ICBL, SPARK, INTERA, Networks, Fondacija Mozaik, Linnovate, Beezone, HUB387, Bit Centar, QLab.
• South Central Ventures SCV, ICT HUB Ventures, SEEBA.
• NSOFT, Mistral, Atlant BH, Authority Partners, Symphony, KLIKA, Ministry of Programing, BS Telecom Solutions, code-Nest, Comtrade, Green River Media, Lanaco, Mania, Misija:web, PING, Zira, BH Telecom, MTel, Unicredit Bank, Raiffeisen bank, Intesa Sao Paolo bank, etc.
• Federal Ministry of development, entrepreneurship and crafts, USAID, UNDP.
• University of Mostar - Sveuilište u Mostaru, University of Mostar - Univerzitet u Mostaru, University of Sarajevo, BURCH University, International University of Sarajevo, University of Banja Luka, etc..
Media supporting startup ecosystem
• Manager.ba, spark.ba, https://www.intera.ba/en, poduzetnik.ba, lonac.ba, AlJazeera Balkans, restart.ba, local TV stations and portals.
The main barriers are legislative barriers for start-up creation and development, which hinder the development of the startup ecosystem (stock options, special tax incentives for private investments in startups, flexible labor legislation, etc.).