Text: Stefan Ćulibrk
Belgrade Venture Forum held in the beginning of December in Belgrade, showcased the new trends in the IT industry, which is one of the most propulsive industries worldwide and especially in manufacturing-deprived and deindustrialised countries like Serbia
Serbia’s IT community has been rapidly expanding in the recent years, driven by the success of outsourcing shops. These days junior engineers doing the heavy lifting go for 600 to 1.200 euro a month. Runway for competing successfully on cost and quality of service is long. To put it in perspective, IT is still 4% of Serbian exports. Engineer salaries are multiple times the average. It is one of the no-brainer tickets to prosperity for the generations to come.
Industry experts note that long-term success depends on the upgrade from a cost-driven edge to an idea-driven one. As Nassim Taleb would say, outsourcing belongs to Mediocristan, home of business models where revenues are linear to the hours worked. Software products belong to Extremistan, where marginal dollar of revenue requires very little labour and the upside for those involved is infinite.
Belgrade Venture Forum stands for the biggest forum of enterpeneurship, innovation and investments in the Balkans. Regionally focused venture capitalists, angel investors and start-ups meet to discuss ideas, challenges and investments.
Local start-ups welcome the attention of the VCs, with whom they trade ownership stakes and promises for funding, know-how and connections in the Valley. This is likely their only available source of funding. Local banks haven’t moved on from an asset-heavy view of businesses. Their mindset revolves around securing hard collateral for loans. The fact that the same overvalued collateral got them into sky-high non-performing loans is somehow ignored.
Belgrade Venture Forum proved that the ecosystem is booming. Outsourcing shops breed skilled developers that excel working on challenging projects for established foreign players. Developers grow into product guys that add tremendous value to the ecosystem. Not to say that everyone can bootstrap a Nordeus (they can’t). Extremistan is a destination, but in a country where millions are living under 400e a month, we don’t need to choose. Change in the right direction of a 20-year status quo in living standards will happen with outsourcing as well.
Participants of Belgrade Venture Forum pitching contest didn’t lack bold product ideas. Voice recognition software for Croatian language, an app designed to engage idle basketball fans by allowing them to punt on directions of the game, social media influencing network that aims to grow revenue exponentially through an expansion in Asia are some of the notably bold ideas. To be fair, there is still a substantial knowledge gap between the harsh but fair questions of the VC jury and the responses of the participants. Certainly there is selection bias at play. The very best fly straight to San Francisco. Not to mention the old fashioned startups that make enough money off the bat and don’t need funding.
Packed room for Nebojsa Lazić’s talk on tech investing is an encouraging sign that entreprenuers are looking to mend their mistakes. His remarkably humble demeanour, down-to-earth attitude and focus on fundamentals are a fine balance to local entrepreneur’s audacity. Looking forward to see what they’ll do together.
The quality of local startups is only going to improve through iterations. BgVF and the growing network helps. Looking forward to the next BgVF!