#SEweek16 Supporting the #MKstartups community via #StartUpSelfie

Startup Europe Week an initiative of Startup Europe and European Commission, that aims to put a spotlight on everything the regions are doing (and can do) to support European entrepreneurs. Startup communities from 40+ countries, 200+ cities around Europe have joined forces and celebrated entrepreneurship in a very unique way, during the first week of February 2016. It sounded very interesting to me and challenging in a way, so I decided to apply for a co-organizator for my hometown – Skopje. But, when I started filling in the application I’ve noticed that my country wasn’t included on the list… So, I decided to ping Igor Tasic the CEO and Co-Founder of this project, to see how can we get involved and put Skopje on the map as well. And it was simple as a twitter conversation

Soon after, we received an e-mail from them, with a list of all co-organizers for Skopje and guidelines for organizing local events. Given the opportunity, in the same moment I knew that I wanted to organize a conference where all relevant stakeholders from our community will gather to discuss obstacles, challenges and opportunities for startups. During our initial meeting we all (except one co-organizer which has already planned few events) agreed to organize this type of conference, even though we knew that it is going to be a challenge to gather all representatives from institutions, organizations, community members, business angels, VC and innovation funds…

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Even though we are doing this on a voluntary basis, we saw the potential since this type of conference has never been done before in the country. So, we wanted to do it for the first time ever, mostly for the startup community… at least that was my goal and my main motivation and I do believe that startups can be the driving force of the economy around the world!

In parallel to the big conference, we also organized a smaller event called Startup Founders Night mainly intended for startup enthusiasts to meet and network with startup founders. Personally, I put most of my time and efforts in the main conference that I wanted to go smoothly. From developing the agenda, logistics, sponsorship, arranging topics with the speakers, spending full weekend setting up everything on Xing and many things in between and during the event day…

So how it all went?

It was a long day conference named Supporting the #MKstartups community in the premises of the EU info centre, also our main supporter.  One of the co-organizers was responsible for session 1 where policy makers and officials from the relevant institutions were presenting the opportunities and support for startups. In this session participants were able to learn all tips and tricks, for when starting a business in the country. The EU delegate Jaromir Levicek presented the opportunities across EU for young entrepreneurs. Also, we had the pleasure to talk via skype with the EU Commissioner Isidoro Laso  Ballesteros: “We want #SEweek16 to encourage local governments to talk more with startups, to get the insight and to be more involved in the matter of boosting them. Usually governments seek expertise and look for different regions and ask international consultants, instead to chat with local startups and jointly to find solutions and opportunities.” – he stated.

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Session 2 was focused on startup insights from the #MKstartups community. Natasha Petkova as the rest of the speakers from this session, is an active member of the start community and has organized many events throughout the years. She highlighted the importance of startup events as a means of networking, developing ideas and building up the community. Petar Ninovski CEO & Co-Founder of Brainster, talked on the topic- From employee to entrepreneur, where he pointed out that he ‘put to sleep’ all his fears when instead of thinking what if my startup fails, he started visualizing what if my startup succeeds and so his focus went to that direction! Next up was Teddy Pejovski CEO & Co-Founder of G6 showcasing that your startup can grow into an established company if you put your priorities straight. When you start making profits for example you have the option, to get a better car or get a better accountant… Now as a parallel to having a Co-Founder from a non-EU country with a Co-Founder from EU country, Mitko Cabevski from U:Plug shared all the obstacles he is facing with the bureaucracy, even though they have received an investment and have a great product, all the other procedures are making their business development more challenging. Next up was Darko Buldioski CEO & Co-Founder of New Media MK, that had the topic that not many are eager to talk about. “Even though many of your startup ideas will fail, your life goes on and the experience you will get will prepare you better for other ideas that you can focus on developing. One factor that was crucial for the failure of some of our ideas was timing.” – he said. And if you ask me, timing and great team is everything!

During the past period as I’ve been actively involved in the #MKstartups community, but also going to many events and pitching contests, I have noticed that many of the startups are lost when it comes to promotion, marketing, but also how to present themselves in front of international audiences. In the same session, next up was Eva Piperevska marketing manager at G6, where she introduced some cool ways of marketing and briefly explained what is growth hacking… Even though growth hacking has been used a lot in the past years, around the world, for this market this is a very new term. And last, but not least, Viktor Dano Editor in Chief of it.mk was giving answer to the most asked question: Do startups have media fear? Most of the startups are afraid to share their story, but also are a bit lost on the way of how to approach journalists, because of their lack of knowledge and experience with media and public relations. “It is the right time to put a stop on the boring press releases and to focus on targeting the right media and media channels to share your story” – Viktor said.

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At the last session, stakeholders presented opportunities for lean startups, support and funding. Representatives from a co-working space, an accelerator, social innovation hub, but also from a business angel network, SC ventures and the fund for innovation and technology development shared all the opportunities available for young entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts. This conference was in a way a right platform, for all stakeholders not only to present all the available opportunities, but also after each session there was an open discussion, where we could discuss what is missing, what needs to be done and where to go from this point. One thing that bothered me the most was that, this conference had the aim to be a meeting point for all interested parties, where you can freely ask, discuss and initiate, but then everybody invited was there only for their session, without any interest of hearing out other speakers… or suggesting even a possibility of working together to better develop the local eco-system…

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Surprisingly, this conference caught a lot of media attention and we as co-organizers started an initiative of creating a digital booklet for #MKstartups as one of the final products. One thing that I feel needs to be pointed out is that, there is a lot of work that needs to be done from all stakeholders. The term startup even though is a trend it also brings a lot of responsibilities. Everyone is invited and welcomed to join the community, but as we all know, there are a lot of startup supporters, what we are missing is at least a similar number of startups that aren’t just a power-point presentation based, but real ones that are up and running. Maybe we will need some time until we have the first unicorn coming from this country, but as long as we put the ego aside and actually start working together, to help-each others out, the #MKstartups community is heading in the right direction…

It was an amazing experience to be co-organizer of such an event and I am thankful to everyone that supported this project and came to celebrate the startup way of life, with us.

Until the next Startup Europe Week Skopje, let’s all work together to build UP our startup community 🙂

Cheers

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