By Max Gurvits
Last week we sat together with our outgoing EIR in Macedonia, Rebecca Rachmany, as we wrapped up her stay in Skopje, and talked a bit about her experience mentoring local entrepreneurs.
Rebecca, you have now spent almost one month as our first Entrepreneur-in-residence in Macedonia. What are your impressions and takeaways?
Macedonia is an absolutely fabulous place, and I had the pleasure of working alongside many wonderful entrepreneurs here. One of the things that struck me is how much people love their country and are willing to stay here and make things work. That’s impressive.
Another thing I noticed is that the concept of (scalable) entrepreneurship as a whole is a very new thing here in Macedonia, and probably in the rest of the Balkans too. There are very few local sources of skills for building globally relevant products. These are mainly soft skills, related to communication, strategy, etc., and it’s very hard for local entrepreneurs to obtain these skills on the ground here.
How is the Macedonian startup ecosystem in your opinion?
It’s formidable how much stuff is going on here! During my four weeks in Skopje, I spent time at two incubators, one co-working space, one venture fund, and a lot of time with several successful local startups that have created an informal growth network. It’s all very new, and it’s exciting to see how people are organizing themselves into organizational structures. One thing that is still very new to this community is long-term strategy. Probably due to historical and cultural reasons, most activists in the local startup scene still think one shot-term goal or problem at a time. I hope that I was able to help with that, but it’s a deeply rooted local attitude that these organizations need to help go away.
What should the local players focus on to improve this?
I guess it’s part learning new skills, and part attitude. I have the feeling that some of the local and regional investors look too much at blueprints from Western counterparts when assessing local opportunities. One of the local companies I worked with has managed to build very impressive traction with their product, with very little means, but I heard their investor is pushing them for more. As a business development professional, I know that any more growth would require a substantial investment in marketing/sales skills that the team doesn’t currently have, so I spent part of my time here to help them design that strategy.
You also mentioned attitude. What do you mean?
One of the things I keep hearing in Macedonia is “but the problem is….”. One time the problem is that there aren’t enough investors, very often the problem is also something related to the government. I’m trying to help people here understand that government, although it sure can be helpful, isn’t the place startups should be looking to for help. And again, this is obviously a mindset issue, used to as people are here to see problems first and solutions second. It’s been a wonderful journey helping Macedonian entrepreneurs on the way to change that realization, and I hope I have been helpful with that.
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