European SME week – optimism, innovation, and Serbian potential

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An article by Ilija Stojanovic      ilijaproblem solving pulsar

Three days of highly interesting and useful content for all participants.

The final event of 2016 European SME Week was held from 23rd to 25th November in Bratislava. I took part at the event as a delegate at the SME Assembly to represent the organisation nominated for one of the six prize categories of the European Enterprise Promotion Awards.

During the workshops, panel discussions and various interactive modules at the Incheba Expo Centre, we have discussed the current situation and the guidelines for the future. The event has been organised together with the 2016 SME Assembly and the European Enterprise Promotion Awards ceremony.

This was the event with huge advocacy potential. Participants were some of the most important stakeholders in the entrepreneurial world, for example: Entrepreneurship Unions, the EU and the EU members states institutions, Civil Society Organisations, international startup ecosystems, etc. I’ve noticed that networking among participants was not the only objective of the gathering. At least equally important was the message sent towards the wider community of entrepreneurs and different target groups.

How other stakeholders perceive the event and the SME’s community is clearly seen as important.

Image by [Ilija Stojanovic].

The European SME Week is a pan-European campaign that aims to promote entrepreneurship in Europe. It helps existing entrepreneurs find information on available support and tries to encourage more people to set up their own businesses. Coordinated by the European Commission, this campaign consists of events throughout the whole year. The main event of the European SME Week is organised every autumn together with the SME Assembly and the European Enterprise Promotion Awards Ceremony.

SME’s are more than just a catchphrase.

In more economically developed part of the Europe, when compared to Serbia, SME’s are more than just a catchphrase.  I will paraphrase the official host of this year’s event, Slovakian Minister of the economy: Big multinational systems are important for macroeconomic stability and export, but SME’s are generating quality of life by providing new jobs, products and services tailored to fit to each of the local communities. And whole event was designed accordingly: excellent organisation and management, efficient use of technology and multimedia documenting. Personally, I think this event could have been organised with less resources but modesty was not the essence of the message sent from this gathering. It was optimism!


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European SME sector is again full of optimism.

The World Economic Crisis is passe. You don’t hear anyone speaking about finding the way out of recession, nor even about the recovery from it. Everyone is focused on the creation of more favorable environment, increasing participation of particular social groups: youth, women, rural population, etc. which weren’t equally involved in the entrepreneurship, opening of new markets, creation of efficient  support mechanisms, and so on.   

My impression is that current activities are structured in order to articulate a new wave of entrepreneurial spirit, rather than initiate it. The results achieved are presented as a good basis for the future activities, and reasons for optimism are found in rapid development of innovation mechanisms, which are the only tool that can increase and preserve global competitiveness of the European economy.

The European Enterprise Promotion Awards reward those who promote entrepreneurship and small business at the national, regional and local level. Initiatives from all EU countries, as well as Iceland, Serbia, and Turkey can take part in the competition. Since 2006, over 2,800 projects have entered the awards and together they have supported the creation of thousands of new companies.

The objectives of the awards are to:

identify and recognise successful activities and initiatives undertaken to promote enterprise and entrepreneurship

showcase and share examples of best entrepreneurship policies and practices

create a greater awareness of the role entrepreneurs play in society

encourage and inspire potential entrepreneurs.

Selection criteria:

Originality and feasibility

The impact they have on the local economy

The improvement of local stakeholder relations

Transferability of the project to other regions in Europe.

Image by [Ilija Stojanovic]

Innovation as a keyword!

Innovation personified in ever growing startup ecosystems – companies optimised for fast growth based upon innovative products designed for the global market – is probably  the most important category in the contemporary SME discourse. Significant number of workshops and panel discussions on product and process innovation, and mechanisms for support of SME’s inevitably leads to this conclusion.

innovation in financing of the creative industry; crowdfunding; virtual reality; entrepreneurial education; international startup ecosystems – are only some of the innovations many names.

Even promotion of the entrepreneurship needs to be innovative. For this occasion Get In the Ring concept is used. This implies two startup representatives inside the boxing ring fighting for the support of the audience, and the winner takes the investment for development of the product. Not that I support all this Donald Trump style banalisation of the entrepreneurial activity, but to be completely honest, he won the elections, and did so by innovating the whole approach to political marketing.  


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Serbia has the potential

And for the end I’ve saved the best. Even if I think of myself as a world citizen, I couldn’t help myself feeling some kind of pride for being  part of a Serbian delegation, which has had finalists in two out of the six categories for which European Enterprise Promotion Awards are being presented to.

In Promoting Entrepreneurial Spirit category, Serbia was represented by an organisation I was involved in at the time – SEE ICT a.k.a. Startit. Their I know we can campaign targeted Serbian IT community and was aiming to motivate people to become part of the fastest growing global industry that offers jobs and salaries, significantly above the Serbian national average.

In the category of Green Markets and Efficient Use of Resources, Office for Local Economic Development of the City of Novi Sad won the award with their project Linden Honey for Sustainable Development of Danube Macroregion. Project was designed to provide a system of support to beekeepers and production of honey with licenced geographical origin and certified quality. My sincere congratulations to them. Their award has been hard fought and well deserved.

Image by [Ilija Stojanovic]

How to convert potential energy into kinetic energy

These two examples are proof that Serbia is ready for big things. Even if they still are only islands of good hope, we can say that something has already started to move in the right direction. Finally we have received European recognition, a reference that many times before it had been a make it or break it factor behind the perception of domestic entrepreneurial initiatives.

So, our quality is now recognised by  Europe. This fact is well known to people from the Ministry of Economy which coordinated both initiatives.

To sum up, this information should be heard not only by the large number of people but equally important by decision makers. We have individuals with a great potential, capable of doing great things. Creating a favorable environment for them to work in, has to be our next priority.

The award categories are:

Promoting the entrepreneurial spirit – promote an entrepreneurial mindset, especially among young people and women

Investing in entrepreneurial skills – improve entrepreneurial and managerial skills

Improving the business environment – support enterprise start-up and growth, simplify legislative and administrative procedures for businesses

Supporting the internationalisation of business – encourage enterprises and particularly small and medium-sized businesses to benefit more from the opportunities offered by markets, both inside and outside the EU

Supporting the development of green markets and resource efficiency – support SME access to green markets and help to improve their resource efficiency through, for example, green skills development and matchmaking, as well as funding

Responsible and inclusive entrepreneurship – promote corporate social responsibility among small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurship among disadvantaged groups such as the unemployed, legal migrants, disabled, or people from ethnic minorities.

The Jury’s Grand Prize can be from any category and will go to the entry considered to be the most creative and inspiring entrepreneurship initiative in Europe.

An article by Ilija Stojanovic


Ilija Stojanovic – PROJECT COORDINATOR & STARTUP DEVELOPER – Born in Leskovac, Serbia, studied in Belgrade, Serbia, Trento, Italy and Ljubljana, Slovenia. He holds a Masters Degree in Comparative local development and he is PhD candidate in Balkan studies. He has six years of experience in project cycle management within several fields: youth policy, public administration, media and IT. Ilija is currently the head of the Project Office in Startit Center Belgrade, the leading Serbian IT hub and unofficial headquarters of the national tech-community. At the moment he is working in the team implementing ambitious strategy aiming to educate and prepare 100.000 young Serbian people to effectively participate in the IT industry and compete on global scale.

Contributor and proofreader Slobodan Ocokoljic


Slobodan Ocokoljic – COORDINATOR OF THE PROBLEM SOLVING PULSAR THINK NET Researcher / Manager / Translator – Constantly on the move and in pursuit of missions impossible to accomplish. Slobodan studied Political Science and Local Economic Development. After 6 years of working both as a researcher and project manager, in 2016 he started working as a freelancer. He lived, studied and worked in Belgrade, Trento and Budapest. Two years ago, he moved with his family from his homeland to Italy. Thus, he is interested in connections and influences between places and people, economic development and human development, environmental protection and human rights, as well as urban/regional development and business innovation. He firmly believes that no other force has stronger gravitational pull than knowledge, that’s why he chose the name Sigma Infty, as a synonym for the infinite thirst for knowledge.

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