With GDP per capita being around 20.000 EUR and the estimated population in 2017 slightly over 2 million, Slovenia is arguably the most developed post-communist country in Europe. Slovenian startup ecosystem has seen rapid development in the last years. The first fast growing startups were created in mid-2000s; however, the ecosystem has really taken off after the economic crisis hit Slovenia after 2008 and especially after 2011. Private investments into Slovenian companies and professionalization of startup world helped consolidate the ecosystem in the past years.
Slovenian startups have achieved significant investments and exits. Exits of some of the most promising and visible companies like BitStamp have increased media attention and increased the awareness and attraction of entrepreneurship and start-up creation as a viable career choice for younger generations – often building upon the existing attraction of IT development service companies that have been established a few years ago. A total of 10 % of funds raised by the Slovenian startups come from different crowdfunding sources, especially Kickstarter where Slovenian projects are among the most successful (per capita) in the world. Nevertheless, government and accelerator funding is the key funding source to a number of supported startups, showing their importance in the early/ seed stages of the startup development. Merely 5 % of the invested capital is coming from Slovenian investors, which shows certain under-development of the Slovenian capital market even though it is probably the most developed country in the region. As regards the development of the ecosystem, emphasis has moved from quantity to quality, fragmentation is being replaced by collaboration of key stakeholders which have become a crucial partner in policy dialog.
In recent years, the number of startup support entities and events has increased in numbers and the quality is steadily improving as well. In accordance with the ecosystem development phase, entities and activities from the capitol city Ljubljana are expanding into other major Slovenian cities, usually university cities (especially Maribor, Koper, Nova Gorica).
According to the Southeast Europe Startup Report 2018 by EIT Digital and ABC Accelerator, the great majority of startups are still in IT, but there are also very positive stories involving start-ups with B2C and physical products. Startups have lately been emerging in more and more ‘non- IT’ industries as well, which shows a growing expansion of the startup ecosystem.
Blockchain expansion that started in 2017 dominated a good part of 2018 as well. According to the Crypto Nation Report, Blockchain startups put Slovenia on the map of blockchain destinations. For the first time in history, some Slovenian startup entrepreneurs did not have to relocate to raise significant funds for their startups. These startups were able to keep R&D and all other activities in the country.
Slovenia has different programs for public and private institutions or partnerships executing startup support programs. In order to simplify administrative procedures for high tech companies, Slovenia has made a significant progress in introducing the startup Visa, facilitating procedures for foreign investors and rewarding key members of startup teams with options. Systematically public-backed promotion of startup entrepreneurship can be found in Slovenia where national entrepreneurship and startup awards are regularly supported by the government. The government extensively supports the PODIM conference and series of events which promote public startup empowerment programs.
With regards to public campaigns with startup content in public media, there is an internationally acclaimed and awarded TV show “Prava ideja” (The Right Idea) promoting startups and entrepreneurship, produced by the Slovenian national television. “Tovarna Podjemov – Start:up Slovenia” supported by public funds gathers most proactive players of the national startup ecosystem and manages the main national website focused on startup promotion.
In recent years, a trend that has progressed and is becoming more and more prominent is an increased corporate involvement in the startup ecosystem. Usually corporations enter the startup scene with sponsorship of startup events or physical resources. This is later upgraded by internal innovation workshops and hackathons with an aim to provide corporate PR and “innovation show”. Once the first steps are done and corporates learn the ropes, they start with true innovation sprints, corporate hackathons to develop ideas for upgrading their business models and active involvement in startup conferences seeking for complementary startups. Some corporations established their private accelerators and VC funds. Although their impact in the ecosystem is still relatively insignificant regarding investments and numbers of accelerated startups, they have brought knowledge, experience and business network to the startup ecosystem.
The Slovenian startup ecosystem is quite tightly knit. Many people know each other on a personal basis and are open for mutual cooperation to facilitate the advancement of the ecosystem. Formal cooperation between stakeholders is taking place under the Startup.si association. According to the Southeast Europe Startup Report 2018 by EIT Digital and ABC Accelerator, the startup ecosystem has a good balance between public and private institutions, different types of stakeholders (incubators, funds, public institutions etc.) and even with some corporations. In addition, it is also very open to cooperation with neighbouring startup ecosystems, in particular with Italian, Austrian, CEE and Western Balkan startup ecosystems.
The key stakeholders of the Slovenian startup ecosystem are:
• Emerging startups selected by Southeast Europe Startup Report 2018 by EIT Digital and ABC Accelerator: Verity, Patron, Mali junaki, Tingles, ShineBrown, Sleepy Bottle, Beeping, Flaviar, Flexkeeping, Meblus, InsurePal, Invoice Exchange
Incubators, technology parks, accelerators, startups programmes
• ABC Accelerator, Tovarna Podjemov – Start:up Slovenia, Ljubljana University Incubator, Technology Park Ljubljana, Katapult
• Slovenian Business Angels, RSG Kapital, STH VC Fund, ABC First Growth, Silicon Gardens Fund
• Kolektor, Petrol, Zavarovalnica Sava, Pošta Slovenije, Nova KBM, Zavarovalnica Triglav, Telekom Slovenije, BTC
• The Slovene Enterprise Fund, SPIRIT Agency
• University of Ljubljana, University of Maribor, University of Primorska
Media supporting startup ecosystem
• Startup Slovenia – www.startup.si, Startaj.si, Prava ideja (“Good idea”) by RTV Slovenia, Mladi podjetnik
• PODIM Conference, Meet&Match by EIT Digital and ABC Accelerator, Štartaj Slovenija by SP
The biggest challenges are legislative barriers for startup 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.) of the national startup ecosystem and manages the main national website focused on startup promotion.