The Montenegro startup ecosystem is in the early stage of forming. It all started with Digitalizuj.Me and their efforts to develop a startup community. The first startup competition was organized as part of Spark.me conference. The conference brings together influencers of new business development from all over the world and gives the whole region an opportunity for networking and learning in the fields of business development, digitalization of business, and new marketing methods. It is held annually and in 2018, with 600 attendees from all over the world. The conference is organized by the agency of the national domain registrar Domain.ME in cooperation with Digitalizuj.Me.
So far, a dozen of startups were founded by Montenegrin founders. About ten of them got their first investments, although most of them got it from the foreign investors, which is the biggest reason why those startups were incorporated in countries where those investors are.
The cooperation with media is on a high level. All traditional and digital media are highly interested in reporting about the startup ecosystem and high-tech development, even though there isn’t much initiative on their side in creating more content to promote startup entrepreneurship.
The Montenegrin ecosystem is built out of the bricks that are still barely connected due to different understanding of the startup concept. Major reason for that is probably lack of formal roof association and lack of initial financing so there is still no first success story which may connect stakeholders.
In the last year or two, more and more institutions and organizations are helping grow startup ecosystem in Montenegro. The most active organizations and institutions are Digitalizuj.Me, Ministry of Science, Digitalna Fabrika startup accelerator, IPC Tehnopolis, University Donja Gorica, University of Montenegro, UNDP in Montenegro, etc. Center of the ecosystem is still the capital (Podgorica), but hubs are starting to evolve across the country, in cities such as Niksic, Pljevlja, Bar, etc.
Montenegro's economy has continued to transform into a more service-based one. Largest industries in Montenegro include steelmaking, aluminium, agricultural processing, consumer goods and tourism. When it comes to startup industries, there’s not a large enough sample of startups to establish the verticals, but most of them are IT, with some developing fintech and agritech solutions.
Policy measures supporting startups in Montenegro are mostly limited to plans and recommendations, often based on policy support facilities from the EU. With lack of specific policy measures. There are no specific policy measures influencing startup ecosystem currently. This is the result of overall low levels of competitiveness and innovativeness as the total investments into R&D are limited to only 0,4 % of GDP.
Ministry of science is currently working on the startup and innovation framework. Other ministries are not involved at the moment. Government of Montenegro should reinvent their role in the startup ecosystem based on the recommendations from the H2020 policy support team. In the “Montenegro Economic Reform Program 2016-2018”, it is planned that the existing lending scheme will be updated with new lending lines, such as micro loans, lending to SMEs operating in the ICT sector, no-interest lending to university students for business startups, and a combination of non-financial and financial support for business startups. A special reform segment pertains to the introduction of a new financial instrument for financing equity capital for startups and innovative enterprises and enterprises in the development phase engaged in innovation activities.
Since its foundation in 2011, Digitalizuj.Me has been actively working on raising awareness about the possibilities brought to us by the digital revolution and development of the startup community in Montenegro. Ever since it has been organizing startup meetups, lectures and workshops with a goal of expanding and strengthening the ecosystem. Digitalizuj.Me has also been connecting established startups with hubs across Europe, enabling them to learn, develop and get funding. Along the way, other organizations started similar programmes, including other NGOs, accelerators and coworking communities.
Although it is emerging as a dynamic destination for entrepreneurship, Montenegro must do a lot
to put itself on the map as a startup destination. Government support, changes in the education system, and a more
vibrant network of VCs, angel investors, and mentors are still lacking in order to help the country get there. These are
key reasons why most of the startup founders are moving abroad in order to incorporate their companies.
In general, Montenegro continues to have very few enterprises that are basing their activities on innovation, knowledge and modern technologies. Furthermore, the present cooperation of enterprises with scientific and research institutions is still in an initial phase, thus it has not yet produced significant results in the field of innovation.
The key stakeholders of the Montenegrin startup ecosystem are:
Tehnopolis is state owned coworking and incubator with no startups currently incubated. They have few micro businesses incubated instead.
Beta Bar is the first coworking space in Montenegro for everyday tasks, rooms for intentional collaboration, access to mentors for business development and opportunities to connect with the Bar community. Beta Bar provides young, emerging talents with opportunities to be the agents of change and local economic growth, alongside companies which share our values.
Playworking combines the excitement of an active retreat in a scenic locale with the productivity of a workspace away from all the distractions. Based at Adventure.House on the Adriatic coast of Montenegro, participants can enjoy expertly crafted and nutritious meals, hiking trips, kayaking, paddle boarding, goal-setting and focused productivity sessions.
Balkanoffice is a unique coworking space situated in the old town of Kotor in Montenegro that offers a wide range of services and facilities for its residents to work and grow.
Innovation centre coworking office was created to support Montenegro’s growing entrepreneurial, startup and freelancer scene, the Innovation Centre is located within the superyacht marina village of in Porto Montenegro, Tivat.
University of Montenegro has its seat in Podgorica, the capital city of the Republic and included 19 faculties, three institutes and three independent study programmes. The University has established the Balkan Institute for Science and Innovation together with the Université Côte d'Azur from France.
Mediteran University is the first private university in Montenegro and comprises of 6 faculties. It is a member of the Balkan Universities Network, UNIMED, UNIADRION and Alum university networks. Since its foundation, the University Mediterranean Podgorica has been functioning as a single legal entity in accordance with the Bologna Declaration. The University has many international partner Universities such as Gazi University Ankara/Turkey, University of Debrecen (Hungary) and others.
University of Donja Gorica is the youngest, but most advanced by equipment.
The biggest obstacles for a Montenegrin startup ecosystem is low visibility in investors circles, weak connection between startups, institutions and private companies and a lack of entrepreneurial spirit and education among young people.
Here are enablement policies recommended by the expert group invited by Ministry of
science using Horizon 2020 policy support facility:
• Develop an entrepreneur-friendly bankruptcy law to encourage entrepreneurship, protect creditors and renew the business ecosystem.
• Establish an eCommerce taskforce lead by public administration and supported by financial institutions, payment platforms and online business representatives.
• To overcome high transactions fees, to establish electronic payments systems and to alleviate the negative impacts of the current situation.
• Enhance vertical government coordination; monitor and review the implementation of fiscal and legislative measures to create favourable conditions for innovative businesses.
• Define and agree on the commonly accepted definition and use of the concept for startups, which should facilitate the development of their support measures and subsequent monitoring.
• Ensure fast-track visa procedures for new and established talent and communicate the practice effectively.
• Develop targeted regulatory sandbox initiatives together with strategic (trade) partner countries to attract and enable startups test and develop new products and services in promising fields.