On 14-15 May the PODIM conference took place in Maribor, Slovenia, and was all about “the entrepreneurial rollercoaster”. The two-day event was a gathering of entrepreneurs and stakeholders from CEE and included workshops, panel discussions, lectures as well as many opportunities for networking and exchanging experiences. With a travel time of only three and a half hours from Vienna to Maribor and a promising line-up of over 40 local and international speakers, inventures.eu couldn’t miss the chance to get there.
Having arrived at the conference venue Hotel Habakuk, the popularity of PODIM became more than obvious. Over 500 people had come to listen to academic and practical discussions, to bind new connections or simply to learn about presenting startups and creating business plans. The event aimed to “bring in today’s cutting-edge knowledge on technologies, marketing, product and service design and early startup strategies for building globally successful companies,” Stanislava Vabšek, member of the organising team, told us a few weeks back.
Facing reality, dealing with difficulties
While the ups in professional live are of course more desirable, the downs are worth considering, too. So, the lively panel discussion with Shira Abel (Hunter and Bard), Mark Plesko (Cosylab), Daniel Ackermann (Degordian) and Dilyan Dimitrov (Eleven) focused on the difficulties and false friends in the startup culture. Even though Plesko admitted, “If I had known all the obstacles in the path, (…) I wouldn’t even have started,” the speakers all agreed that failing is a necessary means to gaining experience and developing further. The only failure, as Andrea Spiegel (Forbes) would sum it up in her speech on Day 2 of the conference, is to stand still. These talks were some of the most visited and gave insights in the dark but character-building sides of the business.
The PODIM Challenge
For an event dealing with entrepreneurial skills, some competitive moments seem almost obligatory. So the PODIM Challenge provided a chance for five young entrepreneurs to pitch their startups and keep their fingers crossed for positive feedback from the jury. The product areas on stage ranged from travel services (Jetmap, Orioly), energy management (Via) and storytelling (Edgar, read our startup pick here) to hardware-oriented products like LACEnano.
Although the comments from investors and mentors such as Oliver Holle (Speedinvest), Ash Maurya (Lean Running) and Mark Johnson (read our interview here) were sometimes harsh, the expert opinion finally brought forward a winner. The tattoo machine LACEnano was the lucky startup to take home a 1.200-euro voucher for sales consulting. The comment of the following panel’s participant Michal Wrodarczyk (Fru.pl) “Competition is healthy; it keeps us at our tiptoes. We would not be where we are today if we would not have competition,” is one phrase that will echo in the heads of today’s pitching startups.
Encouraging Success Stories
While there are many situations that make young entrepreneurs doubt and reconsider important decisions,there are also stories of entrepreneurial fame and success. And so was the success panel focused on personal achievements and fame in the startup scene. Maja Jelisic Cooper (Televizija Classicum) and Robert Farazin (TVbeat), for example, have created and transformed several startups into functioning companies, and they talked about their products and the importance of letting go at a certain point.
“New technologies make it easier for startups,” Alastair Teare (Deloitte Central Europe) said. “That is also why it becomes easier to let go – because you can start something new.” While the speakers agreed that there is no startup they would not sell, profit is not the most important aspect in their business. “If you don’t have any dreams, there is no point in starting a company. And you have to measure success with growth. For me the key is growth, not profit,” Farazin summarised his personal feeling of success in a startup.
The Slovene startup of the year
Next to the many networking opportunities, one of the highlights of the PODIM conference was the announcement of the startup of the year. Out of 126 participants, five finalists were selected as candidates for the Startup of the Year award. To give an authentic insight to the host country of the PODIM conference, the award ceremony was presented in Slovenian. After showing the trailer of the finalists Adora Med, Enolyse, Chipolo, H2O-pal and Sunesis, the ceremony peaked in announcing the hydration monitor service H2O-pal as startup of the year. The team has designed a device that checks the consumption of liquid and is aimed at people who want to check their hydration level on a daily basis.
PODIM 2014 aimed to show the ups the downs of the entrepreneurial business and did so by inviting different people from various business areas on stage. Next to the lectures and panels, several workshops, matching and mentoring sessions provided interactive events with a hands-on approach. The main message of Podim 2014: Learn from the downs, don’t stagnate at the ups and enjoy the ride on the rollercoaster.
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