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The High-Tech Sector In Serbia: From ChallengesTo Opportunities

The information and communications technology (ICT) sector is far and away the most promising sector in the Serbian economy. However, when it comes to the high-tech sector, the list of fields includes an innovation ecosystem that’s growing well, an ever-increasing number of start-ups, digital solutions in the agricultural and food sectors, precision medicine and the BIO4 Campus

The high-tech sector in Serbia is growing at an annual rate of more than 20 per cent, which provides a significant contribution to the country’s economy. It currently accounts for 10 per cent of Serbia’s GDP and is among the top four export sectors, alongside the steel manufacturing, automobile and agriculture sectors. A total of 3,354 technology companies, employing 47,609 people, were registered in Serbia as of the first quarter of 2022.These companies deal with the development of software solutions for a range of industries, including agriculture, medicine and testing, as well as cloud and cybersecurity applications, online games and call centre operations employing a workforce with varying levels of ability. The importance of Serbia’s startup scene is also on the rise, with numerous companies having successfully piloted solutions in a range of industries.

In the face of high demand for competent ICT sector personnel among foreign companies operating in Serbia, as well as large companies and SMEs in the county that are entering into automation and digitalisation processes, but also applying AI in their business processes, the Government of Serbia is taking steps to resolve this issue by creating more places for students at universities offering relevant knowledge, but also by investing in technical infrastructure. The crowning glory of the progress achieved to date is probably the establishing of the Institute for Artificial Intelligence of Serbia. This institute, which trains doctors of science in the field of artificial intelligence, is commemorating just the second anniversary of its work this year, yet it has already been recognised as a centre of excellence in the region. This special edition’s interview with Dr Dubravko Ćulibrk, acting director of the AI Institute, provides insight into the Institute’s further plans and its role in Serbia’s transition to a knowledge-based economy.

Operationalising and commercialising solutions based in science can contribute to changing the structure of the Serbian economy, which is still dominated by traditional sectors. The Biosense Institute, as well as the long-awaited establishing of the BIO4 campus, are just two examples of these endeavours

Many of the challenges that remain ahead for Serbia in this transition fall under the jurisdiction of Jelena Begović, Minister of Science, Technological Development and Innovation, who is herself a very talented researcher and former director of the highly regarded Institute of Molecular Genetics and Genetic Engineering, but also other ministries that deal with innovation, digitalisation and education. These challenges include reversing the brain drain that deprives the country of tens of thousands of highly educated young workers each year, fostering innovation, adapting the regulatory framework and improving digital skills.

As the interview with Minister Begović suggests, the Government of Serbia is very well aware of these challenges and working consistently to improve the overall ambience and create an environment that will be conducive to innovation. The government implements various initiatives aimed at retaining and attracting highly qualified workers, such as encouraging the establishment and operations of startups and providing R&D support to the scientific sector.

It is worth noting that science plays an increasingly important role in this story. It has also received much better funding and support through the work of the government in recent years, but also through various EU initiatives aimed at encouraging top scientific breakthroughs that can be operationalised and commercialised.