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For a small country, Slovenia has quite a number of success stories to tell. This is an interesting fact for a peaceful nation that somewhere in history, decided poets and writers should be its national heroes, rather than warriors and politicians. But there is something exceptional about the Slovenian culture that adopted the German way of working and the Balkan way of relaxing, since in the past few years, the Slovenian startup scene became one of the most vibrant in South-East Europe.
There are at least a few hundred active startups in Slovenia. Slovenia's Digital Champion Ales Spetic estimates there's more than 500 of them, since he's seen 130 applications for the TSstartup accelerator in a single year. In 2012, one of the most active Slovenian entrepreneurs and angels Jugoslav Petkovic counted 86 startups with more than 800 employees joining the Silicon Gardens initiative. The numbers vary, but the estimates also depend also on what you consider a startup is - a registered company or just a group of people with great ideas and the ability to execute them.
As you can see, there's a lot of things happening around here, and in case you want to learn more about this growing community, here are the most significant things about the Slovenian startup scene.
1) The previous generation set the standards
If today's startups play around mostly with modern digital technologies, the previous generation of entrepreneurs managed to ship their high-tech engineering products worldwide (meaning crazy things such as sailing yachts, ultra-light planes and exhaust systems). Thanks to these people, the benchmarks were set very high, and young startups fully understand that for success, they need to flirt with the global markets. Strong focus on niche products is another lesson we've learned from the elders.
2) Incubators and VCs are popular, but not essential
There are already a few companies who managed to raise some serious cash (Zemanta, Celtra, Iddiction, etc.), some even with the help of local VCs. Besides, there are many others who were invited to international startup incubators, such as Seedcamp, 500 Startups, Y combinator, Wayra, TechStars and others. We are also seeing local startup incubators and other initiatives emerging (TSstartup incubator, Slovenian Startup house, Hekovnik startup school, etc.), which means an ecosystem that supports all the ambitious entrepreneurs is growing fast.
Joining an international incubator would be the preferred choice of a typical Slovenian technology entrepreneur - the main reason behind it being the better exposure and access to global markets, rather than capital.
3) The government does not help much, so people improvise
The Slovenian government isn't that focused on supporting the small-business and startup sectors, even though this may be very important for our nation's future. There aren't many truly effective programmes to stimulate and support these vulnerable firms. Luckily, there are companies, groups and individuals who compensate for this fact, and we have numerous events and gatherings that are happening on a weekly basis, which enables knowledge and experience to circulate freely. Most startups keep local development teams without much help from the government. Which brings me to the next point...
4) The startup community is awesome
Things would be pretty sad if it weren't for the community. It's the informal startup community that pretty much holds everything together, a large group of entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, supporters and people who are just curious. These individuals make sure that any news about achievements spreads around the internet in minutes, so those who are involved, know pretty much all there is to know about Slovenian startups. It's an interesting situation we have here, where everybody involved knows everybody else.
I'm very proud that young Slovenian entrepreneurs see the world differently than a typical Slovenian does - those who are in front help those who are behind. Hopefully, this mentality will persevere for years, and younger generations will join this affiliation! There are only two million people living in Slovenia, which means that every person and success counts.
5) The entrepreneurial ecosystem is growing beyond IT
While most successful Slovenian startups are focused on information technologies, this is not the only industry that is thriving. In the past year, we've seen many projects making an impact on the crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter. These are very important because they don't have much to do with software, but rather with industrial design. Slovenian design was always highly recognised, so it's nice to see yet another tradition being carried on. Our government should obviously start thinking not only about strategic sectors (startups), but about strategic industries as well.
The Slovenian startup scene is full of interesting startups and even more interesting people, who will hopefully find even more prospective fields in which to make a global impact, and receive all the help they can get - public and private. The brains and the will are definitely here. Our fathers have showed global success is possible even if you come from a tiny nation, and younger generations are determined to follow their lead.
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