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Our First Experience with the Slovenian Startup Ecosystem (2015)

#Blog & News#Europe#Ecosystem#Slovenia

In 2015 we had the unique chance to visit Slovenia (for the first time), despite being a border country to both Austria and Italy, in which startups’ scenes we have been pretty active.
We were invited by ABC Accelerator in Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia with roughly 300K inhabitants), which was running its second accelerator batch with around 10 startups on topics of Smart Cities & Health, to provide some insights on startup growth focusing on the setup of a multichannel growth engine. I love this topic and it had us head-down a couple of times with some of our startup clients and tenants.

New country, new startup ecosystem

When I visit a new startup ecosystem for the first time, I try to get a basic understanding about it, by identifying the programs being deployed, the number and quality of the stakeholders and the success stories so far. Sometimes it happens that I add some sort of subjective projection based on my past experience with certain, sometimes similar, ecosystems. I was thinking that Slovenia, having roughly 2 million inhabitants and being surrounded by more developed ecosystems, like the ones that I know in Northern Italy and Austria, would be averagely developed. I was wrong.
Slovenia (based on stats from counts 400 startup members, 350 startup events organized, 10+ incubators and accelerators, plenty of science/tech parks and much more. Plenty of activities are being put into enabling Slovenian startups to get a first MVP/prototype/product done, test it on the local/balkan markets, raise a local pre-seed / seed round and then try to grow, in order to be attractive for bigger ecosystems (in both Europe or the US). During my research I’ve run into a couple of interesting service providers, co-working spaces and accelerators (explore them here), which are attracting not only Slovenian talents and startups, but also from the surrounding areas (Serbia, Croatia, Albania, Austria, Hungary, etc.). This might be due to the fact that Slovenian cost of living is lower than the one of the surrounding (more developed) countries, despite having a pretty good support infrastructure.
The only point that might be missing in Slovenia is access to venture funding. I think the problem is common with many other European countries or areas, in which there is a lack of entrepreneurial (tech) success stories and therefore the lack of so called “super angels” (successful entrepreneurs turned private investors and advisors). Also stated in the 2014 CEE Venture Capital Report.
ABC Accelerator – one window into the Slovenian system

Me and the startups from the 2nd batch @ ABC Accelerator

We’ve met the head of strategic partnerships at ABC Accelerator during Pioneers Festival in Vienna in 2015. There was an immediate fit between the needs in their mentorship-driven accelerator program and our advisory / educational / mentoring services. After a couple of back and forth Emails we agreed to talk about company growth.
During my day at ABC Accelerator I had the chance to show some theories and examples on one of my favourite topics: startup growth. I tried to use examples from our work and the class was pretty filled with interesting CEOs, marketers and techies of the different startup tenants. This topic is super important for all startups, especially in very early stages of their lives, because product-market fitting and finding key metrics, which to measure growth and early successes, are for sure one of the most important things that startups have to get a grasp on.
I only had the chance to quickly fly through the slides I’ve prepared, because the startups have been interested in asking questions, bringing up ideas and thoughts regarding their case studies, showing great interest in the topics and in our experience. Some of the recurring questions were:

  1. When’s the right time to scale? When do we know, when product-market fit is reached?
  2. How to find hacks for SaaS B2B sales / marketing, when the customer LTV is not big (typical case of Enterprise vs. Soft-B2B and of B2B vs. B2C approaches in SaaS)
  3. How to use B2C approaches and retarget for B2B?
  4. When is the time to try new sales, marketing and/or distribution channels and how much should we invest?

In the afternoon I had the chance to hear the startup pitches and provide some feedback (trying to focus my attention on how the startups were putting attention on their growth strategy and engine, rather than the other aspects of their businesses). I must say that the startups were pretty well prepared, nice, interesting, easy to follow pitches, with quite some good “painkiller”-concepts. I must admit that the level of pitches was above average from what I have seen in Europe in the last couple of years; so congrats to the ABC Accelerator team for the great prep work!
On 21st of January 2016 they had their demo day, here you can read more about it. Great speakers (notable mention for Jeff Burton, Co-Founder of EA) and great pitches! And this was the main stage, full house!

I believe my little contribution there helped them and I’m looking forward to working with Slovenia’s exciting growing ecosystem again in the future.
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