Co-founder at Startup Macedonia
Nina Nikolich is a SwissEP program officer, Startup Macedonia co-founder, and leader at Womenpreneurs Balkans. Nina's mission is to develop and strengthen the startup and innovation ecosystem in Macedonia and the Balkan region. She has been doing so since 2014 through the #MKstartups community and later on as Swiss EP program officer and co-founder of the association Startup Macedonia. strategically fostering collaboration and synergies among startups, partner organizations, policy makers, local and regional/international ecosystem actors.
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Disclaimer: all content within the Startup Ecosystem Summary and Editor’s Guide sections is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the guest editor. The guest editor is not responsible for content within the Country Snapshot and Community sections, as much of this content is compiled from external sources and does not necessarily reflect the guest editor’s view.
North Macedonia has an opportunity to consolidate its local ecosystem, by bringing together talent, density, services, culture, capital and a regulatory environment to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. In the Global Innovation Index, North Macedonia improved notably during the past three years. It went from 84th place (2018) to 57th (2020). The report details how the country’s performance is better than expected according to its level of development, and highlights Macedonia’s market sophistication. This allows better conditions for startups to grow from North Macedonia. Also, in terms of infrastructure, sustainability is highlighted as a strength, and the creative sector marks a particular area of strength.
The ecosystem is being built from the bottom up and primarily by startup enthusiasts and Startup Macedonia. More recently, the Government has started showing interest to support the further development of the ecosystem in multiple ways. The main mission is to position the country as THE startup hub in the Balkans. One big challenge for the current critical mass of entrepreneurs is internationalization, since they don’t have access to proper resources or services to accelerate their startup and to gain knowledge to scale and manage a global business.
One of the key opportunities is linked to Skopje being ranked as the #1 cost-effective tech hub of the future in the FDI (by Financial Times) global ranking. We are seeing growing interest from international founders and startup teams to set up their HQ in North Macedonia. That is why Startup Macedonia is now offering Soft-Landing as a service. Very soon a digital nomad/startup visa will be introduced which we expect will attract more international experts to the ecosystem, especially those with experience in go-to market, sales, and business development. An amazing opportunity to get first-hand experience in the ecosystem is the #SwissEP Entrepreneurs-In-Residence program.
Editor’s choice of the country’s top 10 emerging tech startups.
Editor’s pick of which ‘Featured Startup’ is especially worth following and why.
Editor’s choice of the industries with the most potential for technology disruption and growth.
Editor’s perspective of the maturity level of talent in the ecosystem.
Editor’s commentary on how the country’s culture and history have impacted the ecosystem.
The countries of the Western Balkans have been struggling with local highly qualified professionals leaving since the collapse of Yugoslavia. Until now, neither the promise of European integration nor foreign investments have been able to shield the country from this ongoing negative human resource trend. However, the startup community is shedding a light by supporting innovative founders in creating opportunities, and most importantly, competitive and attractive jobs.
One very key competitive advantage in North Macedonia is that entrepreneurs here are natural bootstrappers, and with the cost-effectiveness and super affordable living standard, it creates an opportunity for an extended runway once (local and international) startups get funding. The ecosystem keeps close contact with successful diaspora tech entrepreneurs in different geographical key markets (USA, UK, Germany, the Netherlands etc.), creating an opportunity for an easier soft-landing of local teams within these markets.
Interested in becoming more involved in this ecosystem and connecting with local ecosystem leaders? Let us know.
CEED Business Angels Club (Skopje): A professional network of Serial Entrepreneurs investing in pre seed and seed stage startups.
South Central Ventures (Skopje): SC-Ventures manages the Enterprise Innovation Fund and invests in early to growth stage tech startups with significant presence in Western Balkans. Tickets range from 100K up to 3M Euros.
Business Impact Lab Skopje (Skopje): Working with social entrepreneurs and implementing social impact step by step program in collaboration with Sparkasse Bank.
INNOFeit (Skopje): Centre for Technology Transfer and Innovations – INNOFEIT is part of UKIM University, and works on projects between academia and industry.
SEEU Tech Park (Tetovo): Affiliated with SEE University, SEEU Tech Park offers a variety of services to technology companies that want to operate in the North West part of the country.
Yes Incubator (Skopje): The oldest incubator focused on working with young aspiring entrepreneurs.
Business Accelerator UKIM (Skopje): Accelerator UKIM is a business-technology accelerator established to identify, and support the growth of the most promising technology entrepreneurs, startups, spin-offs and scale-ups in Macedonia. Support includes tailored pre-acceleration and acceleration programs, early stage investments (in the area of EUR 25k to EUR 75k), and access to international markets, networks and communities. (Source: Business Accelerator UKIM)
Fund for Innovation and Technology Development (FITD): Offers co-financed grants and other instruments for financing of innovation and technology. Provides direct support to tech companies starting with pre-seed support of 30.000 EUR up to 300.000 EUR for commercialization.
Swiss Entrepreneurship Program: Key supporter and facilitator of ecosystem development in the country.