SEEU TechPark: “One European Ecosystem Allows Knowledge Exchange.”

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SEEU TechPark member Emilija Gjorgjevska on supporting startups in the Balkans, the role of governments & the future of the European startup ecosystem.

Describe SEEU TechPark in 50 or less words.

SEEU TechPark is a technology park located on South East European University campus in Tetovo, Macedonia. It opened on May 15, 2013 by the Board of the University in order to create conditions to stimulate the creation of new startup companies, creating a synergy between the companies and encourage the growth of existing SMEs, which in the long term provides new job opportunities.

Which technologies, industries or regions do you focus on?

In general, we support: technology, computer software, professional services, consultancy telecommunication, computer hardware, e-business and e-commerce, wireless technologies, software apps, and digital media related businesses. But, we are definitely not restricted only for those areas. So basically, anyone with a feasible & innovative business idea is welcome to join us.

What is your role at SEEU TechPark and how did you get involved?

I am a new member of the team. Before I became a part of SEEU TechPark, I went through different programs related to innovation, startups and entrepreneurship, supported by relevant institutions: Austrian Development Agency, European Commission, the World Bank Group, British Council, Nesta etc.

Besides that, I am a student at the Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering – Skopje and I operate as a Macedonian national ambassador for the NGO Girls in Tech. The rest of the story: Gogo, the TechPark Manager, found me on LinkedIn and invited me to visit them on the SEEU TechPark. We had a cup of coffee with Prof. Azir Aliu, the CEO, and when they offered me to join them, it sounded like a perfect match. The team, location and working conditions are great and they really want to change things for the better. I especially like the fact that the team is trying to be diverse by including members from different genders and ages. Right now, I work as a Community Coordinator. We have a lot of interesting events in the following period, so make sure to keep up with our updates 🙂

What’s the scope of SEEU TechPark?

Our services include dealing with startups – giving professional advising and providing co-working space. SEEU TechPark provides access to the SEEU infrastructure and services designed to support the day-to-day business needs of members. We have a website, building security, tenants-only meeting rooms, conferencing facilities with advanced audio-visual systems and video conferencing.

We also provide access to SEEU’s Career Center, coffee shop, restaurant, supermarket, car parking for staff and visitors, facilities management services, complementary Wi-Fi in common areas, tenant’s service desk and reception.

Tell us a bit about your programs – what can startups expect and what do you ask for in return?

In the “StartUp Marathon” program participants can learn the very basics of starting up and running a business. It’s completely free, and it runs 2 times a year.

Our “Incubation program” is also free for the first 6 months – we teach/mentor/consult the teams in the different professional areas like legal issues, financing, negotiation, presentation skills and etc. Then they should incorporate, and some of the services are subsidized (not free, but not market-valued also!), like: office space, advanced trainings, book keeping, consulting etc.

The “Getting Financed” program gives the startups access to VCs, start-up capital, Business Angels; pretty much anything that can help them financially.

Along the way, we try to give them “Internationalization” in participating on international events like: NASA Space Apps Challenge, CodeFest, Entrepreneurs Weeks, IASP Conferences etc. and boost them with local events, challenges, hack tons, conferences and innovation-driven people and stories. Our startups find them useful – and we try to provide them the very best of those services.

Why should a startup apply at SEEU TechPark?

We offer a friendly environment for startups, where they can access all the information and services that they need in order to create mature products ready for the market. Our team consists of professionals that are passionate about their work and about startups in general. We want to provide a mutually beneficial experience and so far, it seems that we are on the right track.

What do you think makes a startup successful? Which of the mentioned qualities are usually missing?

The financial situation on the Balkans has been deteriorating in the last couple of years. As a result, people prioritize earning money to pay their bills, over creating something innovative that will contribute to the society. People are more likely to work as freelancers and feel happy when they earn a good amount of money according to our standards and are less likely to create something of their own.

In addition to this, startups get little to no support from the governments in terms of bureaucracy procedures and taxes. Under these conditions, people find it too risky to become part of the startup community. Even the ones that do decide to take this step are usually not aware about the services offered by institutions such as SEEU TechPark and start their business uneducated, increasing their chances to fail. To conclude with, there is a lack of innovative spirit, even though there is a huge potential for innovation, which is the key element for the success of startups. We want to change the mindset focused on short term solutions for earning money to cover living expenses to a mindset focused on long term solutions that also create value for the community.

With insane growth of startup organizations joining the ecosystem in Europe – how do you make sure you stand out?

Tech Parks are a new trend on the Balkans. Things are slowly changing here, in comparison with other parts of the world. In the same time, people from Balkans proved that we have the potential to create something interesting and valuable for the global market, especially in the IT sector – iVote, Fueloyal and Dronamics are just a few of the examples of successful startup stories from the Balkans.

However, in general, we lack the knowledge in creating business and marketing strategies that are globally acceptable. Right now, SEEU TechPark is the only technology park in Macedonia and we are trying to take the initiative in solving these problems. To sum up, we are trying to build a stable startup ecosystem, and an innovation driven, service-based local economy by contributing to the globalization of local startups.

Which startups success stories went through your program already?

There are definitely a couple of examples that we can list: First Technology Solutions, CREA – KO, Bridge Technology, Neting Solutions, Turbosoft and AdaptiveScale – all of them are our tenants and they operate in different IT areas.

First Technology Solution, for example, participated in Belgrade Venture Forum this year and started some potential negotiations with a major European investor. Turbosoft is a regional player in providing effective software applications for professional financial services and they are in this dynamic expanding point. Bridge Technologies on the other hand have made it to EU markets by recently contracting a major mechanical industry player in Germany. These are small steps in development, but huge steps in experience for their ambitious management and funders.

Great success stories can sometimes come from our TEC (Technology Entrepreneurs Club) Members, which are basically companies that are not located in the SEEU TechPark buildings, but use our services remotely. Like, X3M Games that already gained some VC in Estonia, and now they plan global expansion with another gaming project form EU VC fund. Something that we are mostly proud of is, the fact that the people behind these kinds of stories are always eager to sit with us and transfer the know-how with the startup or incubator teams. That is something that you cannot find elsewhere, and of what we are definitely proud!

In what ways do you measure your success and how do you make sure you don’t lose track?

We have a ton of paperwork in terms of Internal Procedures, Public Procedures, Terms and Services and set of policies & regulations regarding the services we provide to our customers, that keep us focused on what we can do best. Because we are in the tailor-based startup service, most of the times we try to focus more on the outcome and the end results, meaning that we usually go for that extra mile providing a little bit ‘extra value ’for our customers at the very end. But sometimes, we cannot solve some client issues and that’s OK. We try not to lose track by having this motto: “The clients business matters must be initially resolved by the client – SEEU TechPark can help, but not run their business”.

If you had the chance to accept one particular startup right away, which one would it be?

It would probably be the mixture of: Twitter, Dropbox, SpaceX, Zynga and Netflix! Too much to ask? Ok, I’ll go with Skype 🙂

If there is one thing you can wish for improving the European startup ecosystem, what would it be?

I really think that the European ecosystem should work on being equally accessible to all the countries in Europe. Even though we are focused on creating a stable local startup ecosystem, we believe that in the long run, there should be a general European ecosystem that will allow us to exchange knowledge, experiences and opportunities and provide the necessary support to startups to be successful on global margins.

What advice would you give entrepreneurs for their startup?

Be passionate about what you do and always try to create something valuable that will differentiate you from the others. Do the research, put it on paper and back it with evidence showing that there is a demand for your product. Talk with your future customers on daily basis. Ask them about their problems and needs, instead of explaining your business idea in the first place – you will get biased opinions.

Collaborate with Tech Parks and similar institutions in order to avoid making mistakes – they will help you to shape your idea and to create a mature business product. Entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs often confuse a good idea with a good business idea. There is a huge difference between them. Build your team. Develop your team. Create a network of people around you who can help you now, in 2 years, in 5 years and in 15 years. Create the basic prototype and test it with the customers, so that you can validate your idea even before you officially launch your business. You will save precious time and money if you identify the key problems in the early stages.


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