Financial Times: “Serbia offers investors more IT hubs than any other country”
Many tech entrepreneurs have chosen Serbia as the place where they will establish their companies, and some of the world’s technology giants are developing their products in Serbia, writes one of the most influential dailies in the world, the Financial Times.
Serbia is still in the early stages ”of establishing itself in the start-up world but growing fast”, says Zoja Kukic of Digital Serbia Initiative (DSI), a non-governmental organisation promoting the industry.
Serbia’s tech sector employs about 75,000 people, according to Eurostat. Kosta Andric is managing director of ICT Hub Venture in Belgrade, founded two years ago as the first private investment fund focused on early-stage start-ups in south-east Europe. It is presently funding 15 start-ups in not only gaming but fields as varied as human resources management and cyber security, the FT writes.
“Many tech entrepreneurs have set up companies in Serbia in the past decade. Belgrade’s start-up scene — and nightlife — are often compared with Berlin’s. “It has evolved a lot,” says Branko Milutinovic, CEO of the most successful Serbian gaming company, Nordeus.
Serbia is the place to be for IT companies
Microsoft opened a development centre in Serbia 15 years ago. Now it employs 300 people. In Belgrade, its developers built Azure, the cloud platform, as well as research and machine learning technologies. “It is starting to look like what we see in Seattle,” says Dragan Tomic, chief executive of Microsoft’s development centre in Belgrade. “It is not as big necessarily, but it is as well rounded.” One reason for that, he says, is Serbia’s decision to incorporate tech education into curricula from primary school and onwards. In 2017, coding became compulsory for all students from age 11, the Financial Times reports.
As well as having many so-called “repats” — those returning from overseas — Serbia’s tech workforce is one quarter “digital nomads” from abroad.
Most of the Serbian IT scene is made of re-pats
Many Serbs moved abroad in recent decades to make a living and there are hopes that a good number of the hundreds of thousands who returned home, as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in March, will remain. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic has appealed for them to do so.
Tech experts say Serbia offers employees and investors more stability than other technology centres. “Culturally, there is more hunger for success in this part of the world than in some others,” says Branko Milutinovic.
“This contributes to a high sense of belonging,” with employees staying in jobs longer compared with other start-up hubs. “Serbia is a good place for people and investors interested in a long-term perspective,” agrees Dragan Tomic.
The Financial Times goes on to write that Serbian law needs to catch up with the borderless world of tech entrepreneurship. Some regulations make it complicated for start-ups to operate as they do elsewhere.
However, some regulation has been easing. The Digital Serbia Initiative has successfully lobbied for curbs on start-ups giving employees stock options to be lifted. Dragan Tomic argues that the development of the tech scene in Serbia has led to an improved image for his country. In turn, that will benefit the industry itself. “The PR for Serbia in the past 30 years has been horrible,” he concedes. “But we are well on our way to rehabilitating our image. Once that happens we will make a great quantum leap in the tech sector.”