The City Packed With Young Energy: Ljubljana

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Hard to pinpoint on a map to most people, Ljubljana has a vibrant tech scene and a young startup ecosystem that’s worth discovering at the heart of green Slovenia. Learn what you need to know to found your startup here.

Hard to pinpoint on a map to most people, Ljubljana has a vibrant tech scene and a young startup ecosystem that’s worth discovering at the heart of green Slovenia. Tempted to settle in one of the smallest capital cities of Europe on the sunny side of the Alps? Read on.

Don’t let its chilled riverbanks and picture-perfect landscapes deceive you; Ljubljana is kicking with entrepreneurial energy. Struggling with high unemployment (16.7%), the youth of this former Yugoslavian country is stepping away from old business models and corporation mindset to create their own jobs. No wonder Slovenia is currently holding the 15th rank worldwide for starting a business.

In The Heart Of Slovenia

Ljubljana has a lot to offer to potential entrepreneurs. Its welcoming atmosphere is more than matched by its professional capabilities – from the promising talent pool to the already existing startup community. Help from the state is not something to count on much, but at least you won’t come across too many entry barriers and you have a few private financing opportunities that may come in handy. As one of the up-and-coming cities of the Balkan area, Ljubljana has rightfully earned the right to be considered. Here’s a quick breakdown of the city’s pros & cons to help you make up your mind.

Why Ljubljana:

  • The relatively painless procedure to legally create a startup. Registering a standardized company or Druzba z omejeno odgovornostjo (D.O.O.) with the Agency of the Republic of Slovenia for Public Legal Records and Related Services (AJPES) requires a minimum founding capital of EUR 7,500 and can be done online via e-VEM portal
  • The welcoming local startup community with its events, meetups… and beer supplies
  • The talent-pool, with its strong workforce in tech and industrial design
  • The great number of excellent engineers coming from the local universities
  • The location, making accessibility and connectivity easy with most of Europe
  • Liberal and open-minded city, tributes proven to be a boost for creativity
  • Home to the largest and best Slovenian universities – more than 60.000 quality graduates waiting to be employed
  • Ski resorts are within a 40 minute reach and the city is surrounded by hiking trails
  • Quality of life and positive atmosphere, especially given the generally low prices
  • Relatively low corporate tax of 17%

Things You Might Want To Consider:

  • The small domestic market (2 million people in Slovenia in total). Could be problematic for testing the grounds, especially if you have strict specifications or a niche target
  • Bureaucracy – not to start the business but later on
  • One of the highest personal income tax rates in Europe (from 16% and up to 50% for the highest pay echelons)
  • Lack of support from the public sector
  • Lack of product developers
  • Old-fashioned investment mindset of the older generation, not prone to risks in favour of creative ventures

Ljubljana’s Upcoming Community Is Awaiting You

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Ljubljana’s startup community is just as the city: small but hyperactive and constantly making an effort to nurture a lively, innovative ecosystem. Ever heard of the Six degrees of separation? Given the size and population of Ljubljana, it requires even fewer degrees than that to connect with the whole local crowd. The urban legend even states that having three Slovenian friends is enough to link you to the President, which we will neither confirm nor deny. Everybody knows everybody, and the community is held together by close ties. On the business side, this turns out to be particularly convenient: Spending less than half a year in town you’ll know all the right people. Moreover, many startup founders here have experience with top-notch accelerators worldwide, such as Y Combinator, 500 Startups, Wayra and the like, and can offer some proper mentoring and networking.

Where To Get Info:

  • Check out InternetWeek’s calendar and sign up for their weekly newsletter to get events and news from the wider community.
  • When the page isn’t too spammed with irrelevant posts, Ljubljana Startup can come in handy

Other Useful Sites:

  • Startupjob.si is a job maketplace to grow your team or join one
  • stritar.net, a Slovenian blog in English about local startups’ kicks and wits
  • Sign up here for forming a big slack (chat) team for everyone involved in Ljubljana tech community

Regular Events & Meetups:

The community mostly relies on Facebook and word of mouth to keep track of independent events popping up here and there, however you can find some regular ones as well:

  • Numerous MEETUP groups based on specific interests can be found here
  • For early birds Likemind organises some casual coffee meetups
  • D-Talks are a series of events about web and mobile software industries

Yearly Or Major Events, Festivals, Conferences:

  • PODIM conference is held in Maribor, but given the size of the country and the importance of the yearly event and its panel of international speakers, it’s #1 on our list
  • COINVEST tech investment conference gathers 28 countries and brings together local startups and world-class investors
  • Slovenia also has its share of TED conferences on innovation and disruptive technologies with TEDxLjubljana and occasional local conferences in Bled, Maribor and Kranj
  • Internet Week organises an annual Startup Crawl across the country to showcase the awesomeness of the local scene
  • Traditionally connected with the tender P2 of the Slovene Enterprise Fund, which gives a 74,000 € grant to startups, Start:Up Competition encourages the development of innovative companies and contributes towards spreading positive entrepreneurship culture in Slovenia every year

Co-working Spaces In The Heart Of Ljubljana

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Coworking spaces are the future, especially for freelancers and entrepreneurs on the rise. By becoming a member of such a space, not only do you gain access to a desk, a coffee machine and an internet connection but you become part of a community of people just like you. Amongst them you may find potential clients, co-workers or professionals offering complimentary services to yours.
(Note: Given the small size of Ljubljana and Slovenia in general, the number of coworking spaces is restricted as well. Therefore we expand the list by adding some suggestions from outside the city lines)

  • Ljubljana: POLIGON Creative Center: perhaps the biggest bottom-up coworking space accompanied by the necessarily awesome community to back it up. Consists of a few offices, three separate big coworking rooms, which can also hold a couple hundred people for their usual events
  • Ljubljana: Little soho, a cosy office space with a limited occupancy of 10 people, which assures that the room will never get too crowded, too socially distracting or too loud
  • Izola: Riiba is located in the coastal city of Izola and inspires and supports ambitious local projects
  • Trbovlje: Punkt Zasavje – a rather small space located in a town one hour from the capital. Its residents mostly consist of artists and creative entrepreneurs.
  • Murska Sobota: Aurora Coworking brings local entrepreneurs together, encouraging collaboration between different fields of activity.

Looking For Budget Securing Options In Ljubljana

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As mentioned above, the old-fashioned investment mindset prevailing in the country tends to hinder the growth of startups, making seed capital relatively scarce. Not enough to kill the local creative spirit though: Many young businesses either bootstrap or turn to alternative options, such as crowdfunding.The country counted over 27 successful campaigns in in the past three years, gathering over 2.2M Euros. Ljubljana’s community has actually developed its own expertise in the domain and can be of great help for setting up a campaign.

However, if you’d rather stick to more traditional funding ways, several options for obtaining necessary assets are available.

Incubators:

  • With 20 years of exciting history and over 300 companies under its wing, Technology park Ljubljana offers some office space, a startup centre and related infrastructure to create a supportive and stimulating business environment for the development of high technology entrepreneurship. It also connects other tech parks and incubators across the country and has been recently connecting to neighbouring Austria and Italy as well.
  • Conveniently located right above Creative Centre Poligon, Hekovnik  gathers a tech community, a coworking space and a startup school offering mentorship, business programs etc.
  • Founded in 2004, the University of Ljubljana’s incubator LUI helps entrepreneurs testing their ideas and seeks to facilitate the formation of research and high-tech companies.

Outside The City Lines:

  • UIP, the dynamic University development center and University incubator of Primorska

Accelerators:

  • The first official accelerator to see the light in the country, ABC offers an initial investment of €15,000 per startup, combined with office space, IBM Cloud, Microsoft licenses, 50.000€ worth of cars to use, mentoring sessions with more than 120 tech and industry experts, corporate partners, serial entrepreneurs, and business angels participating, it exceeds €326.000 in services.
  • DsgnFwd is an accelerator focused on design, providing seed funding, product, identity, UX, web, and brand design, as well as launch support.
  • Installed in the Technology Park, 30Lean helps creating and running lean startups

Grants & Subventions:

  • The Public Fund of Republic of Slovenia for Entrepreneurship, or shortly the Slovene Enterprise Fund, offers seed funding to startups and SMEs in the form of public equity investment schemes called SK75 (€75,000) and SK200 (€200,000)
  • In cooperation with the Slovene Enterprise Fund, as part of the SK75 grant scheme, Start:up Geek House helps companies acquire a €75,000 convertible loan.
  • Financed by The SEF and Start:Up Slovenia, the P2 scheme is a €54,000 grant to develop a product over a period of two years with a mandatory participation in Start:up Slovenia Competition.

In need of more capital? Several Angel Investors conveniently gathered in the Business Angels of Slovenia Club, as well as Venture capital investors from RSG Capital and VentureLab can help out.

Other Investment Opportunities & Business Initiatives:

  • Slovenian-Italian crowdfunding platform Fusedrops specialises in creative projects
  • With offices in Ljubljana and London, D-Labs helps entrepreneurs create their startup by offering mentorship and business workshops
  • Austrian crowdinvesting platform CONDA recently expanded to its Slovenian neighbor
  • Entrepreneurial organisation SKIS provides information and support for activities in the field of tech and innovation
  • Informal entrepreneur association Silicon Gardens launched a micro funding programme backed by local and foreign investors to accelerate early-stage startups from Slovenia and the broader region to the international stage. The fund invests €20,000 to €40,000 in cash for 5% – 15% equity share.
  • BoundBreaker gives young teams the opportunity to visit Silicon Valley to present their projects to the potential strategic partners and investors.
  • The centre for entrepreneurship innovation CEED Slovenia seeks to stimulate economic growth through the development, integration and mentoring of entrepreneurs to strengthen their businesses and facilitate access to capital.

Don’t Hesitate To Ask For Additional Help In Ljubljana!

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If there is no one-stop-shop for foreigners looking to start a business here yet, the expert staff from the Technology Park or the team behind Initiative Start:Up Slovenia can point you into the right direction, explaining the first steps and legal matters. If you’re more into creative industries, go to Poligon with your idea; the team and residents will help out.

Shaken up by a new generation of technology entrepreneurs and a whole bunch of innovative minds, Slovenia – and Ljubljana in particular – is a hotbed for startups. If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and joining the Made in Slovenia movement, its friendly and collaborative startup community will have your back.

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Last updated: August 25th, 2016

The guides are like startup communities – they contstantly change and grow. Make sure to check for updates and if you have something to add to one of them or want to publish one for your city, get in touch right away! And don’t forget to enrich the startup ecosystem by creating your company profile at StartUs!

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