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13 December 2015

Encouraging Young Entrepreneurs in the Western Balkans

There's a growing buzz about entrepreneurship in the Western Balkans. Two recent participants of our Creative Enterprise Workshops talk to us about their plans for innovative creative businesses.

Under the expert tutelage of tutor Philiy Page (centre in photo), 23 young creatives from Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia attended our recent Creative Enterprise Workshops in Skopje to see if they had the potential to turn their creative practices into viable businesses.

We talked to budding creative entrepreneurs Tin and Ana about their ideas and plans.

Tin Deljanin (Montenegro) 

In November I completed a Masters in Communication in Media.  I figured out during my studies that social media could be used in different ways.  So I created an Instagram account for travel and lifestyle representing my home city of Budva. @WeLoveBudva represents my city – the sights, activities, food, beaches, clubs, nightlife… what people need from my town. @WeLoveBudva is now the most followed and the most engaged Instagram account in Montenegro.

Can you tell me more about your plan for your business?

I want to build my brand “We Love Budva” on social networks. Currently I have accounts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and via those channels I want to create powerful tool for digital marketing. Last summer, I began to make some money with adverts on my Instagram account promoting local business and entrepreneurs.  I choose advertisers carefully, only directing my followers to places which I want to represent and are familiar to me.  Quality matters, especially when starting out.

Next year I plan to make an app and/or website promoting tourism, lifestyle, outdoor activities etc. 

What are your aspirations for your business five years from now?

There is a real lack of interest in new technology in our region; digital is under-developed in the Western Balkans.  People don’t realise that social media is a marketing tool. Eventually it would be great to have my own digital marketing agency to help other people to create and promote their own ideas.

How have you found the Creative Enterprise Workshop  beneficial to you?

The training has been really useful for me. On the first day I met a guy from Bosnia- he was literally the first guy I spoke to and he had an Instagram account with even more followers than me! He gave me tips on how to improve my strategy and great information which I will be applying to my account. Even before the official training had begun I had a valuable learning experience because of being here.

Over the course of the training, I realised that I should think more broadly and have a greater vision for my business for the future.  Rather than sticking to one country I could think globally: “Act local, think global”. I am starting to think of the broader picture for my business. The extra social media workshop which Philiy ran for us on the last day introduced me to tools which I didn’t know existed and that will save hours of my time. Work which previously took me hours every single day, can be now schedule in advanced and I can set posts up to automatically go live according to my plans. It has revolutionised my approach to social marketing.

I think this workshop is invaluable for young entrepreneurs as it tests them and forces them to think about all of the factors that go into creating a business. It’s not just enough to have a talent or energy or money. You have to combine all of these things and develop new skills which will help you to guide your way through your business. I have found every minute of every day encouraging and every experience is valuable.

Ana Rafailouska (Macedonia)

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background:

I studied architecture, here, in Macedonia, and then did a Masters in sustainable architecture in Italy. I spent two years there, and it was just enough time to see and understand how the idea of sustainability can be applied in real life, not just through architecture, but through every other aspect of life by preserving and passing on tradition. This is exactly what drives me now and gives me a strong direction.

Besides having experience in architecture, I have been taking a design and manufacturing course in weaving for the last two months and I found this very supportive for developing my idea. I hope to offer innovative pieces of furniture that not only serve their function, but also redefine interior spaces and enhance the feeling of belonging through specific, symbolic designs.

Can you tell me more about your plan for your business?

The tradition in loom production in Macedonia dates back more than five centuries.  Although manufactured by local people, its development was mainly influenced by the Turkish presence.  There are similarities in the colouring, symbolism and the way of storytelling in the traditional rugs made here in Macedonia and the ones originating from the Turkish region. However, loom weaved products from each community have very specific features and this is exactly what I'm eager to define and preserve.

My idea sprang from the downtrend in loom production and the decreasing number of people skilled to make these products. I want to find a way to support weaving production by incorporating it in my products but also to create a network that will bring customers and producers together, as well as those interested in artisan knowledge. I would like to organize weaving workshops that could help in passing on the practical understanding of the process itself. At the same time I would also like, with all respect to the old way of working, to encourage the development of the design and the manufacturing of the loom products. I want my final products to be made with traditional looms and traditional techniques but designed according to the contemporary needs. The demand for artisan products is constantly rising and I believe that these products will find their way to a specific niche market.

What are your aspirations for your business five years from now?

I do not plan to grow my business into too large an enterprise as I think it has a specific, niche appeal.  My ideal goal for the future would be to achieve a retail price for my products which allows me the time to prototype new designs and continue my work developing a network.

My goal is to find a way to support the tradition locally, improve local people’s skills through my process and create a network between designers, users and skilled artisans (weavers, woodworkers, metal workers and so on). In this manner these traditions will be passed on to future generations. Along the way I will organise workshops, trainings, and educational programmes.

I see myself as an educator that can provide knowledge and opportunity for others.

How have you found the training beneficial?

This is a difficult time to start up a business in Macedonia. There are occasionally grants offered by consultancies to those brave enough to launch a new business but they are very rare and there is a lack of financial support provided by the government or other institutions. The taxes are high, the market is loosely regulated and in these circumstances  it is very hard to survive. Crowd funding is not really an option either; it is extremely difficult because the sites are mostly connected with PayPal which we do not have in this region, so there is no simple way to collect the funds.

With such challenges to face, everything about this training has been useful! I have never been to anything like this and wasn’t thinking about approaching my business in this way. Every step gives me a good base to set up my business. Before it was just a wish but I was not considering who would be my customers, how much it would cost me just to create plans of the products and the designs etc. Now, here, it is about a realistic story, from design to the customer and all the steps in between.

For resources on startup ecosystems in the Western Balkan Regions visit HERE

Download the English language toolkit for free HERE