Country Guide

Macedonia

Macedonia
Nina Nikolich

Guest Editor

Nina Nikolich

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.


Guest editors are local ecosystem leaders: successful founders, investors, or thought leaders. Have someone in mind? Nominate a country guest editor.

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.

Startup ecosystem summary

Key Startup Cities

Skopje, Tetovo, Bitola

Connected Country Ecosystems

Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia

Differentiators

  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Connected and collaborative community
  • Great pool of tech talent

Challenges

  • Small consumer population
  • Lack of C-level managers, sales and business development experts (in the tech/startup world)
  • Government / bank regulation and lack of online payment services such as PayPal and Stripe

Editor's Guide

Introduction

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.

Outlook

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.

Featured Tech Startups

Editor’s choice of the country’s top 10 emerging tech startups.

Startup Showcase

Editor’s pick of which ‘Featured Startup’ is especially worth following and why.

Sales.Rocks is a startup focused on SaaS B2B automation. Founder Carsten Broich has been an entrepreneur since he left school in Germany. In fact, Carsten has never been employed by anyone other than himself. During his first year at the university in the Netherlands, Carsten founded Sample Solutions, a data provider with a transactional business model. In 2016 Carsten and his friends visited Skopje and he fell in love with its people, tasty organic food, nature, vibrant city and the low living costs. Later in the year, Carsten returned to Skopje to open a branch of Sample Solutions in the city’s first coworking space and hire his first employees. “Here people use the English language perfectly, they are very open for collaboration, there are good flight connections with major EU cities and we operate in the same time zone”, Carsten summarizes his decision to set up business in Skopje. Only three months later, Carsten’s team had taken over all desks in the coworking space. It was time to move on and find a private office. Fast forward to 2019, Sales.Rocks has 2 offices in Skopje and employs 60 talented young people, many of whom might not have emigrated had Carsten and Sales.Rocks not created the opportunity for them to stay and thrive in North Macedonia. Clearly, the Macedonian ecosystem has all the ingredients required to build and grow a globally competitive startup at exponential speed, including access to tech talent, business friendly climate, dynamic ecosystem, funding opportunities, space and at competitive costs.

Focus Industries

Editor’s choice of the industries with the most potential for technology disruption and growth.

Artificial IntelligenceThere are a number of startup teams that are exploring opportunities in the AI sector, from chatbots as a service between corporates and customers, to AI for fashion (leading local startup Pixyle). In general, there is a growing AI community in the country.
EdTechWe are facing a global educational challenge, especially with the pandemic crisis. Reinventing the wheel will take a lot of time and effort. A benefit of having a small market (2 million population) is that opportunities can be tested fast and pivoted even faster. One of the most successful startups in the country is an Edtech company: Brainster.
MarketplacesCreating platforms to serve the market as an intermediary is growing in popularity, especially in times of digitalization of services and with consumers becoming more comfortable shopping online.

Talent

Editor’s perspective of the maturity level of talent in the ecosystem.

  • Technical TalentAdvanced
  • Marketing TalentUndeveloped
  • Experienced TalentModerate
  • International TalentUndeveloped

Culture and History

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.

Country Snapshot

Economy

Startup funding
Startup funding
US$15.4 million (2019)
Standard of living
Standard of living
Global rank: 75
Innovation
Innovation
Global rank: 57 (2020)
Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship
Global rank: 66 (2018)
Annual GDP growth
Annual GDP growth
3.6% (2019)
(Global avg. 3.0%)
Ease of doing business
Ease of doing business
Global rank: 17 (2019)
Ease of starting a business
Ease of starting a business
Global rank: 78
Research and development
Research and development
0.4% of GDP
(Global avg. 2.3%)
Contract enforcement
Contract enforcement
Global rank: 47

Sources

Startup Funding: Guest Editor
STANDARD OF LIVING: International Monetary Fund - GDP per capita (PPP)
INNOVATION: Global Innovation Index
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Global Entrepreneurship Index
ANNUAL GDP GROWTH: World Bank
EASE OF DOING BUSINESS: World Bank
EASE OF STARTING A BUSINESS: World Bank
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: World Bank
CONTRACT ENFORCEMENT: World Bank

*Updated with latest available data based on listed source.

Society

Population
Population
2.1 million (2020)
Government
Government
Parliamentary Republic
Stability
Stability
Global rank: 65 (2020)
Internet usage
Internet usage
79.2% (2018)
Smartphone usage
Smartphone usage
N/A
Literacy
Literacy
97% (2014)
Population under 15
Population under 15
16% (2019)
Median age
Median age
37.9 (2018)

Sources

POPULATION: Worldometer
GOVERNMENT: The World Factbook
STABILITY: Global Innovation Index
INTERNET USAGE: International Telecommunications Union
SMARTPHONE USAGE: Newzoo
LITERACY: World Bank
POPULATION UNDER 15: World Bank
MEDIAN AGE: The World Factbook

*Updated with latest available data based on listed source.

Community

Active Investors

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.

incubators

BitHub Bitola (Bitola): Works with idea stage businesses.

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.

accelerators

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)

Startups Raising Capital
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Government Programs

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.

Non-Government Organizations

Startup Macedonia: The official umbrella association of the startup ecosystem.

Swiss Entrepreneurship Program: Key supporter and facilitator of ecosystem development in the country.

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