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Innovation And Entrepreneurship – A Chance for Growth

The projects “New beginning” and “ICT Hub” are two initiatives with the same underlying philosophy: innovation and entrepreneurship are the major drivers of an economy.

The first helps beginners enter the waters of private business while the other is focused on supporting young start-ups. While most initiatives related to entrepreneurship are focused on start-ups that emerge and are driven by high unemployment, the potentially most successful entrepreneurs – those who are now working in corporations and have years of experience and self-confidence – are reluctant to test the water with no incentive in sight, says entrepreneur Dejan Randjić, who is currently involved in two initiatives supporting entrepreneurship: New beginning, focused on those who are thinking of going into the private sector, and ICT Hub, which introduces innovation to the process of running a successful business.

Randjić, CEO of DNA Communications, is Founder and CEO of ICT Hub, as well as being involved in the “New beginning” project, which is run by the Serbian Association of Managers with financial support from USAID.

What does it mean to be an entrepreneur in Serbia today?

Being an entrepreneur means being responsible for one’s own company, employees and business partners. Entrepreneurship in Serbia is underdeveloped and we have yet to learn and improve. There is a lack of accumulation of knowledge and a lack of the adoption of positive examples worldwide. Only at the end would I add the influence of the State, which in recent decades has not been at all stimulating.

I have been an entrepreneur for 16 years and I can’t say that the State encouraged new domestic initiatives during that period. The situation was even worse in the decade before that. That is why success is mostly the result of superhuman efforts and the stubbornness of an individual, not a logical sequence of events.

There has been a lot of talk about the support of start-ups, primarily due to the unemployment rate in Serbia, but too little attention has been directed at entrepreneurs who, with all their problems, have managed to persist on the market for years

This year, through the “Year of Entrepreneurship” project, the State has announced a somewhat different attitude, but the electoral process and government formation will certainly slow down the effects of these initiatives. I hope this will be an incentive for entrepreneurs as an ongoing programme, not just as a one-year story.

What is it that entrepreneurs can do for themselves in order to be more successful?

Innovation and the creation of new business models are the keys to success. 

In the case of entrepreneurs who are beginning the process of forming their own company, the key is choosing a narrow profile of activity and being aware that one does not need to confine themselves only to that which is entirely familiar to them.

Working on oneself and acquiring new knowledge is necessary to start a business that has the potential to succeed, but that is not a mere replica or déjà vu. This is what we do through the “New beginning” project, which is implemented by the Serbian Association of Managers and DNA Communications with the support of USAID.

There has been a lot of talk about the support of start-ups, primarily due to the unemployment rate in Serbia, but too little attention has been directed at entrepreneurs who, with all their problems, have managed to persist on the market for years.

How does one help domestic companies that have dozens or hundreds of employees and revenue that can be measured in the millions of euros to be more successful, more competitive and to increase exports?

In addition to the need for the State to define its strategy regarding entrepreneurship, it is high time that a change is made to the awareness and management model of domestic companies, through the introduction of elements of corporate governance and the transfer of expertise and responsibility to managers who are not simultaneously owners.

Unlike in the corporate sector, in our companies the opinion of one man still rules – he acts as the decision-maker in the process of production, sales, staff recruitment, finance and marketing. This Superman demonstrates his commitment to the company which he has founded and leads but fails to understand that at the same time he is the biggest obstacle to the development of his own business.

Who and when should these changes be introduced in the entrepreneurial sector?

Such a change must be initiated by the owners of the company. Unfortunately, this happens late or even too late, when the problems of the business become too great to handle. The most successful Serbian entrepreneurs have already recognised that and demonstrated it in practice, but that is still insufficient.

ICT Hub cooperates successfully with corporate partners and offers them the opportunity to approach innovation without the risk of corporate organisation endangering this process

On the other hand, the market will inevitably make an impact for this process to come, perhaps not through the improvement of existing companies, but through the correct establishing of new companies in time to come.

Do you mean new companies or those just entering “entrepreneurial waters”?

The greatest potential for the development of entrepreneurship is the people who are now working in corporations, who have years of experience, knowledge and a proper understanding of the market and, most importantly, their entry into “entrepreneurial waters” would not be the result of an emergency, but the desire for success and self-confidence.

If Wall Street bankers leave their highly paid positions in large corporations and enter the world of entrepreneurship, I don’t see why it would be impossible for us to do that same. Entrepreneurship is a global trend and it is inevitable that it will happen in our country. But that will not happen if there is no incentive, which will give these great people the signal to take a step that also carries risk.

You have just touched on the dilemma of “entrepreneurship or the corporate way”. Are these two directions completely opposed and what will their relationship be like in the future?

Unlike before, when at the beginning of one’s career one should choose corporation or entrepreneurship, today’s business model and market demand a more flexible observation of this division. Entrepreneurs need the experience of a corporation and to take on the elements of corporate governance, while corporations increasingly require the entrepreneurial model of thinking and flexibility in order to react to market changes quickly.

What changes and needs are you referring to?

I will illustrate this through two current world trends which, from different points of view, give a clear picture of relations between corporations and entrepreneurs/ start-ups.

Firstly, when corporations and start-ups are competitors it is a phenomenon that could be called the rebundling of large businesses. Large businesses are being taken over more and more, sometimes even completely, by start-ups which started with just a few people, such as “Uber” in the transport sector or “Airbnb” in the domain of tourism. There are also other such examples in the financial sector.

The portfolio of services that were once marketed exclusively by banks has been used for the development of hundreds of successful start-ups and their market share is growing constantly. Corporations now deal with this trend by the acquisition of those who become a threat to the market, but it would not be a surprise if we see acquisitions in the opposite direction soon.

Another phenomenon shows the great need of corporations to be innovative in their operations and to implement new business models, but they usually do not succeed due to the fact that their corporate organisation prevents them from doing so. Every successful CEO faces this corporation limit and consumes a lot of energy to overcome these barriers. In fact, the practice has shown that the much-desired process of innovation hardly ever comes from within and must be initiated from the outside. Here we come to a solution that lies in cooperation between large and small, namely corporations and start-ups that are capable of creating an innovative solution much faster and more efficiently.

Does ICT Hub deal with that? How do you see the development of the local start-up scene?

In addition to the basic mission, which is related to the development of IT entrepreneurship and supporting young start-ups, ICT Hub cooperates successfully with corporate partners and offers them something called “corpo-startupization”. We provide our partners – big companies – with the opportunity to come to innovation without the risk of corporate organisation endangering this process. In addition to innovation in terms of internal and developmental processes, we provide companies with the ability to find partners on the local start-up scene and thus introduce innovations and new business models to the scope of their business.

Our start-up scene is rapidly expanding and we can expect great results in the future, not only in IT companies dealing with software development for foreign customers, but also through the creation of local start-ups that will offer their solutions to the world market

The fact that an increasing number of corporations wish to become partners with ICT Hub is proof that this process provides very good results. In addition, this process encourages professionals from various industries to step into IT entrepreneurship and offer their services to large corporations, perhaps those who are their current employers. In the coming months, ICT Hub will launch the first domestic investment fund with the purpose of investing in local start-ups in the early stages of development, which will further stimulate the most successful to opt for IT entrepreneurship.

In two years of doing business, more than 250 young people have gone through the ICT Hub and have incorporated about 70 new companies. Thousands of visitors took part in some of the 150 events organised at the ICT Hub. Our start-up scene is rapidly expanding and we can expect great results in the future, not only in IT companies dealing with software development for foreign customers but also through the creation of local startups that will offer their solutions to the world market. There is already enough capital and investors and it is necessary to encourage a sufficient number of people who have knowledge and experience in various business sectors to form teams and set off towards the creation of their own business.

Do our companies give enough importance to marketing as a way of achieving their business goals?

Like in other areas, everything depends on the quality of people who are doing business. Professionals in communications agencies and decision-makers in corporations have a key influence on the development of this field. Today, services in the field of communications have slipped too much into the area of commodity services.

The main criteria for cooperation are price and delivery deadline, which compensate for the lack of quality of what is offered. Maybe that is the reason why we have so many commercials and advertising solutions such as “beef fillet for only RSD 499”, without a strategic approach with the sole aim of attracting the interest of a consumer immediately.

New beginning

The “New beginning” project was established back in 2014, long before we discovered that 2016 would be declared the “Year of Entrepreneurship”. Through its activities, materials, communication and entrepreneurship fairs, “New beginning” offers encouragement and the necessary information to those wishing to start their own businesses and become entrepreneurs. Thousands of people of various profiles have passed through this project and through dialogue with them, we have received confirmation that such activities are missing and that we should continue in that direction.