Serbia is increasingly becoming a country that attracts interest among German companies, either as investors or as businesses interested in integrating domestic suppliers into European value chains. There has been rising interest recently in Serbia’s fastgrowing start-up scene. All of these initiatives are enriching German-Serbian cooperation and creating space for new, exciting jobs that keep young Serbs at home

Martin Knapp assumed the position of a new director of the German Chamber of Commerce in Serbia and managing director of the German-Serbian Business Association way back on 1st September 2013. His job has become increasingly complex and sophisticated over the course of the last six years, as the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce supports many different initiatives that connect the German and Serbian economies.

Where are the greatest business opportunities for German-Serbian cooperation at present?

– The best opportunities definitely exist in two areas. First of all, Serbia is a very interesting location for German industry to invest. Our Chamber takes care of at least one new investor every month. On the other hand, more and more German companies are interested in suppliers from Serbia. Here we try to meet demand via the Western Balkans Purchasing Initiative.

Every year, German industrial companies find qualified suppliers from the countries of the Western Balkans through this initiative. The project is financed by the German Ministry of the Economy. This alone shows the importance that the government in Berlin attaches to the issue of suppliers. And it is not only about suppliers in general but in particular suppliers from this region, which is to be integrated into the European value chains.

The German Chamber of Commerce organises networking among German companies and young Serbian companies that have the opportunity to use their networks, not only in Germany but also on the global market. How much have Serbian companies utilised this opportunity?

– When we invited representatives of the Serbian start-up scene to first meetings shortly before the summer break, interest was very lively. This autumn we will launch a series of events at which our member companies and start-ups will get to know each other better. Of course, we don’t yet know how many cooperation deals will ultimately emerge. However, we firmly believe that there is significant potential. We just have to bring the right people together with the right partners.

Our Chamber takes care of at least one new investor every month. On the top of that, more and more German companies are interested in suppliers from Serbia

You noted recently that the development of young companies in Serbia is more than visible, though the pace doesn’t match that of Berlin, for example. To what extent are these trends interesting for German companies?

– The Belgrade start-up scene is very similar to that in Berlin, even though it is much smaller. For young professionals, especially from the IT sector, it is definitely an alternative to emigration. This is one more reason to promote these companies and open up business opportunities for them all over the world. 

Thanks to modern technology, where a modern, innovative company is physically located are becoming ever less important. Programs can be written anywhere where the quality of data networks allows unhindered communication with the rest of the world. Of course, there must also be a start-up-friendly environment. It is always about the triangle start-up – investor – the potential customer. We see our role mostly in identifying and attracting potential customers.

What are the common challenges faced by those new companies on the Serbian market? To what extent are they similar to those faced by mature foreign and domestic firms?

– IT experts, in particular, are in great demand everywhere, and many people are naturally susceptible to the temptations of large and well-known employers abroad. However, these young people should be aware that working for a Belgrade start-up can be more enjoyable and creative than working for a large international software company.

We will launch a series of events this autumn at which our member companies and Serbian start-ups will get to know each other better

However, it’s ultimately up to everyone to decide for themselves. Our vision is that Serbia itself will soon become so attractive that people from other countries will come here to work in these kinds of innovative companies. In any case, the quality of life in Serbia would support such a development.

Is the best trained Serbian workforce already in Germany? How do German companies based in Serbia reflect on the availability of the workforce?

– That would be a pity. No, at the moment new investors can still find the manpower they need. Of course, these workers need to be trained to meet the demands of their new jobs, but that is normal. As far as very young people are concerned, the new dual vocational training system was just launched on 1st September.

The reason that this hasn’t been noticed so much by the public has to do with the fact that last year there were already more than 4,000 trainees in almost 600 companies trained according to the new system. The business didn’t even wait for the official kick-off of the new system. This shows how strong the industry’s need is for well-trained specialists.

However, the success of the dual vocational training system does not only depend on companies. Young people and their parents should also understand that there is an interesting alternative to university studies or even a supplement to those studies.

In Germany, the most sought-after engineers are those who have previously completed an apprenticeship in a technical profession. The Serbian system makes it even easier for students than the German system. At least with four-year study profiles they automatically acquire entrance qualifications for higher education upon the completion of training.

Based on the experience of the operations of existing German companies, what incentives are most needed at the level of everyday business activities in order to spur growth?

– Investors actually need the same things at all times and everywhere, regardless of whether they are international or domestic investors. The stability of the business environment is of utmost importance. It must be possible to plan the course of a company’s life. Investors don’t like surprises from the government and the administration.

There must and will always be legal requirements of all kinds for the benefit of the general public, and as long as they are known in good time and can be taken into account, this usually doesn’t cause any problems. Legal certainty is also important. Court cases must come to a final decision within a reasonable time-frame.