#StartUpSelfie w #BalkanChangeMakers

Summertime means taking time off, relaxing on the beach, recharging batteries and usually putting August on a slow workflow mode. But, then you meet startup enthusiasts, you grab a coffee, you discuss an idea and you decide to make it happen. Marilyn Harris has spent the summer of 2016 traveling across South-East Europe on a student grant sponsored through the U.S. Department of State and administered through the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO to explore the startup communities in this region. We met in Skopje, then we met again in Prizren for Doku:Tech and together with another startup activist from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Armin Konjalic, we decided to organize a working weekend called #BalkanChangeMakers‘.

Surely I was thinking that August will be slow, but boy was I wrong 🙂 In less than three very intensive weeks, we managed to put it all together – the 1st working group of startup activists from the Balkan countries.

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For the first time ever, 16 people, community leaders from seven countries across South-East Europe gathered for a working weekend to craft solutions to critical problems holding back the growth of start-up ecosystems in the region: How do we continue to inspire and motivate people to pursue entrepreneurship?  This is a grassroots event, organized for and made by young adults who have a shared vision of fostering the entrepreneurship and start-up ecosystems in their countries through collaboration and knowledge-sharing, with the goal of crafting two to three pilot initiatives which will be carried out across the region in the coming months. The organizing efforts for this event are recognized and supported by the SECO Entrepreneurship Program (SECO EP), a project that is supported by the Government of Switzerland and implemented by Swisscontact, together with J.E. Austin.

#BalkanChangemakers’ Weekend started on Friday, August 26th on the shores of Lake Ohrid in Struga, Macedonia. Participants for the weekend include representatives from SECO EP Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Oficina in Tirana, Albania; HUB385 in Zagreb, Croatia; Innovation Centre Kosovo and UNICEF Innovations Lab Kosovo in Prishtina, Kosovo; and StartUp Grind and StartUp Weekend in Skopje, StartUp Zone in Ohrid and Startup Macedonia. Also in attendance were startup community members including  Vollo from Croatia, and Brainster from Macedonia.

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“I’m super excited and thankful to have this opportunity to work with like-minded people from the Balkan region. Looking forward in establishing stronger connections throughout the weekend, so we can help in making the Balkans as a single startup ecosystem.We all need to live digital to create new digital. There are huge opportunities to be developed across the region. We have enough power to make a change, all we need are actions and hard work and results will follow.” – said Marko Jukic, Founder & CEO at Volloo (Croatia).

At this weekend’s workshop, participants split into three teams and generated a range of ideas to creatively address these needs. From over 100 ideas, the group culled possible solutions down to five, and pitched the rest of the group on which ones to develop further into a pilot initiative. By midday Sunday, the entire group combined aspects of these ideas into a solution which can be implemented within twelve months with clear, discrete steps and ownership for each milestone. This solution is an online platform for the Balkan countries, targeted at improving communication and information sharing across regional hubs to provide entrepreneurs with a more complete picture of opportunities and resources available to them. This initiative will be accompanied by a region-wide event at a later date that will help encourage cross-border networking and internal start-up team cohesion.

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#BalkanChangemakers‘ is a very important initiative and a very much needed one when it comes to developing new and more effective ways to mutually support the startup ecosystems of each of the Balkans countries. All these countries share pretty much the same kind of experiences in their startup communities, and by being connected and learning from each other, we can speed up the development and catch pace with Europe. My expectations from this weekend were to initiate conversations for mutual collaborations and to showcase the willingness and the need for such initiatives. I believe that was achieved successfully, and that in the near future we will all see the benefits from that.” – Jasna Trengoska, Co-founder of STARTUP ZONE (Macedonia).

The weekend was an important first-step in supporting cross-border collaboration, and the team is excited to develop this initiative further in the coming months. We are interested in including startup community leaders from all Balkan countries and also actively seeking partnerships to realize this bold creation. Startup activists from all Balkan countries – you are welcome to join!

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As an economist I am aware that if small markets start working together they have greater opportunities to grow and be competitive even outside their geographical area. After starting working with Swisscontact SECO EP, it became clear to me that the whole region is composed of fragmented markets, each one with their own gaps. In every regional event I participated, this idea has been validated by like-minded community members of the Balkans. The region wants to work together!

#BalkanChangeMakers’ Weekend is the first initiative in this direction. Thanks to Nina Nikolikj (MKD), Marilyn Harris (USA)* and Armin Konjalic (BiH) and our Design Thinking Facilitator – Tracy Sparks (USA/MKD)* who together with 12 other like-minded startup community leaders  from allover the Balkan Region, have shared their vision of fostering the entrepreneurship and startup ecosystems in their countries through collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

In this two-day hardworking workshop we all settled the fundamentals of a regional collaboration in a already fragmented region. Believing that entrepreneurship and young people never see boundaries, (especially in the Entrepreneurship 3.0 era we actually live in), I see this event as the opportunity young people have to change things for good.” – said Vasken Spiru, SECO EP Eco-system Facilitator in Albania.

So much brain power we had in one room for the weekend! Looking forward in continuing to work with these amazing people and happy to involve many more from these and other Balkan countries. Feel free to reach out balkanchangemakers@gmail.com

Stay tuned for the launch of the 1st pilot project coming from #BalkanChangeMakers this fall…

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Summed up: Our 2 days in a 2 minute video  🙂 Enjoy!

Cheers

*This blog post was written by Nina Nikolikj with contributions from Tracy Sparks and Marilyn Harris. If you are interested to contribute ping me at startupselfie@gmail.com

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