History has shown that certain geographic areas experience exponential growth and development when the right people with a big vision and clear strategy come together for the greater good of all citizens. Developing a startup environment is no different. The necessary condition for a startup culture to blossom is that the various ecosystem stakeholders (entrepreneurs, academia, policy makers, blue chips, bankers and private investors) come together and in cooperation form a strong environment, in which entrepreneurs can strive. Different programmes and events – incubation and mentoring programmes, pitch and demo days, networking events, startup competitions and so on act as the “glue” bringing the stakeholders together.
Now, let’s see who are the most influential people in the Slovenian startup ecosystem, and why. Before listing the names I must mention that they are not ranked in order of importance, but rather according to their role in the ecosystem.
When talking about startup influencers, we must foremost mention entrepreneurs – the blood of every startup ecosystem. (1) Andraž Tori and Boštjan Špetič (Zemanta) are the first young entrepreneurs to prove that you can get funding from the best investors in the world and build an Internet technology startup from Slovenia. (2) Aleš Špetič, the former CEO of Zemanta, who has now established a new startup, CubeSensors, also invests much of his time and energy into developing the Slovenian startup ecosystem. (3) Jugoslav Petkovič, co-founder of Dlabs, Domenca and Mimovrste (the latter two companies were recently sold) is now an angel investor and mentor to many technology startups. (4) Andraž Logar from 3FS is also a big influencer, helping many mobile and internet startups take off.
There are many other startup entrepreneurs who are a very important part of the Slovenian startup scene. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough space to mention them all. Nevertheless, I would like to point out two of the most successful startup companies of all time from Slovenia. The first is Celtra, cofounded by (5) Miha Mikek and Matevž Klanjšek, while the second is Outfit7 (Talking friends), led by (6) Samo Login, now one of the richest people in the country. Both companies enjoy the status of an important role model in the community and help show young and ambitious people that you can succeed as a technology entrepreneur.
Let’s continue with the providers of capital. Every startup ecosystem needs capital for startups to grow. (7) Jure Mikuž is CEO and partner of the largest and most active venture capital fund in Slovenia, and he certainly plays one of the key roles in developing the Slovenian startup ecosystem. On the side of public financing is (8) Maja Tomanič Vidovič, CEO of the Slovenian Enterprise fund, which provides various grants and incentives for startups. (9) Branko Drobnak initiated the first formal business angel network in Slovenia and is also an active angel investor himself.
We must not forget the support environment comprised of incubators and technology parks. (10) Iztok Lesjak is an important member of the startup community, leading the biggest and one of the oldest technology parks in Slovenia. Ljubljana Technology Park is closely connected to Slovenian institutes in helping them generate high-tech spin-offs. (11) Marjana Majerič is his deputy and before working for the Technology Park, she cooperated with one of the first venture capital funds in Slovenia more than a decade ago.
(12) Matej Rus is the director of the most proactive university incubator in Maribor, and is also in charge of the annual national selection of the most promising startup (Start:up Slovenia) and the largest entrepreneurial conference in Slovenia (PODIM). He coordinates activities in close cooperation with his co-worker (13) Urban Lapajne, also an important representative of the Slovenian startup scene. (14) Barbara Bregar Mrzlikar is the CEO of the Centre for Executive and Entrepreneurial Development (CEED). CEED provides a mentoring programme for entrepreneurs on different subjects such as business growth, leadership, management and business finances. Finally, I must not forget (15) Kristjan Pečanac. He was the first Slovenian to build a technology startup in the 90s, when venture capital and technology entrepreneurship was more or less science fiction in Slovenia. Nowadays, he runs his own startup school for “silicon valley” type startups.
To be honest, every single person who contributes to the startup ecosystem is an important part of it. I should therefore have mentioned a few hundred or even a few thousand people – we have about 120-150 new startups every year. But since this would make this article way too long, more like a memorial, I kindly invite you to join us at one of the more than 100 events for startups in Slovenia, organised every year. Among these events you should not miss the PODIM conference, Slovenia’s largest and leading conference on entrepreneurship and innovation. At the conference you will be able to meet first-hand most of the great people sweating hard for the development of our ecosystem.
And if you have any other questions or you need additional information about our ecosystem and influencers, don’t hesitate to drop me an e-mail.
Blaž Kos is currently the acting Director of Programs and Business Consultant at Technology Park Ljubljana, University Incubator Maribor and the Development Centre for Information and Communication Technologies. He is also director of the consulting firm VentureLab (his private consulting company), advisor at the Business Angels of Slovenia Club and professional web content author of the www.BlazKos.com blog.