The startup scene in countries of the former Yugoslavia region is a promising one but still somewhat unexplored, which is why Bulgarian accelerators Eleven and LAUNCHub set out to organise Balkan Start Trek, a series of meetups with entrepreneurs from Southeast Europe from 14-18 October. Their mission was to open doors to the scene, meet new startups and to get to know interesting ideas.
After Belgrade and Zagreb, the Start Trek Balkan tour made a stop in Banja Luka, the second largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Bosnian meetup on 16 October was hosted by Innovation Centre Banja Luka, a centre for the support and development of entrepreneurship in the country.
About 50 people found their way to the event and listened closely to a select lessons learned.
Stand out, make yourself recognised
The first speaker of the evening was Itana Prljevic of Domain.ME, who stressed the importance of choosing the right domain and startup name.Domain names should explain the startup in one or two words, she said. They should be unique, catchy, memorable and SEO-friendly. Although .Me is the local domain of Montenegro, search engines are indexing it as a generic domain, because of its world-wide usage. .Me is characteristic for “Call to Action” phrases like join.me, connect.me and fb.me, for example.
Early stage Investments – cracking the code
Dilyan Dimitrov of Sofia-based Eleven talked to Bosnian entrepreneurs about how to apply to an early-stage accelerator. In his view, there are three rounds that a startup team needs to cover in order to get in.
Round 1: Desk research and filling out the application form. To put things in perspective, Dimitrov said that from 250-300 applications per window, only the best 60-80 make it to Round 2. A few of his tips on how to write a good application include:
– Match your project goals with the investors’ field of interest.
– Don’t submit sloppy applications. Don’t skip parts or copy/paste, and do pay extra attention to details. He estimated some 30 hours as the average time needed to write good application.
– Projects with one founder get rejected by default. Investors don’t investing in “do it yourself” applications. A startup team of 2-4 co-founders have proven to be the perfect firs so far.
– Investors are not interested in projects, which target a small market. Make sure your projects is aimed at a global market, and/or is easily scalable.
Round 2: Skype interviews. Out of the previously selected 60-80 applications, the best 25 get a ticket to the final round in Sofia. To improve your chances in the competition, referrals and traction will help you a lot in this round. Make sure you scan investors’ networks for potential recommendations.
Round 3: The presentation. From the 25 applications chosen in the previous round, the best 10-12 will be taken onboard of Eleven. In order to make it, Dimitrov’s advice is to work on your presentation skills. Introduce your team and emphasise previous experiences and useful skills of your team members. Also, investors are often times lazy people, he said, so make sure your presentation is simple enough that even your granny could understand it.
“What’s hot and what’s not?”
Since their start, the team of Eleven has invested in a total of 46 startups, five of which from Serbia and four from Croatia. They’ve also received around 30 applications from Bosnia and Herzegovina, but no Bosnian startup has made it to the final round yet.
Although the accelerator has invested a lot in online-only startups, they are looking to open up their scope. According to Eleven’s Ivaylo Simov, startups should attempt to meet the needs of industries like animal care, legal services and sports, to name a few. “Investors love to be a part of projects that will make our planet better place,” he said.
During the Start Trek tour, the two best pitches of the evening could win tickets to Vienna’s Pioneers Festival. The Bosnian startups, however, turned out to be a tad too shy as only one startup dared to pitch. The judges from Eleven were impressed with Styledict founder Michael and his presentation skills. They predicted that his project has a bright future and rewarded his team (partly due to lack of competition) with the tickets.
After the Belgrade, Zagreb and Banja Luka, the Start Trek tour continued to Podgorica and Priština. We can be sure to hear more from the region, which is yet to build up a stronger community, resources and experience.