Invited by Ilija Vuckov, president of Emkice and one of the founders of the COSSME Regional Network, I attended the second Business Innovation Forum 2015 in Skopje to make a keynote speech in my capacity of president of the TBAA (Business Angels Association of Turkey) and Ambassador of the World Entrepreneurship Forum to the Balkans. On the 2nd of January I was on the opening panel with the Deputy Prime Minister of Macedonia and later in the day I gave a speech at the South East European University entitled ‘How to make your first million’. I also attended the COSSME Network Board meeting and sat on a panel at the Women’s Entrepreneurship Forum.
On this trip I also tried to develop a co-investment structure for investing in Macedonian start-ups, because in May I will organise a TBAA investment delegation to Macedonia, where the Business Angels of Turkey will invest in start-ups and high-growths in that country. This cross-border investment will of course be organised in co-operation with local Macedonian angel investors in such a way that Macedonian angel investors will match the funds of the Turkish angels, and the Macedonian government will match the amount co-invested by the Turkish and Macedonian investors. It is very important to see local angel investors and governments believing in their own start-ups and entrepreneurs in a cross-border investment system. If we are able to achieve this, I am sure it will become a model for best practice in the global angel investment market, where a foreign angel investor, for example, puts up 100K and a local angel investor puts up 100k and the government matches this co-investment by putting 200k in start-ups and high-growths.
While at the forum, I was interviewed by National TV and several Macedonian newspapers, and I also met with a number of start-ups. But the most enjoyable part of this trip was meeting new people from Macedonia, the UK, Ireland and Spain. I also made an agreement for my best-selling book to be published in the Macedonian language, for the benefit of entrepreneurs and start-ups in this lovely country.
Ranked in 2009 by the World Bank as the fourth ‘best reformatory state’ of 178 countries, Macedonia has undergone considerable economic reform since its independence. The country has developed an open economy with trade, accounting for more than 90% of GDP in recent years. Since 1996 Macedonia has witnessed steady, though slow, economic growth with the GDP growing by 3.1% in 2005. This figure was projected to rise to an average of 5.2% in the 2006–2010 period. The government has been successful in its efforts to combat inflation, with an inflation rate of only 3% in 2006 and 2% in 2007, and has implemented policies focused on attracting foreign investment and promoting the development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The current government introduced a flat tax system with the intention of making the country more attractive to foreign investment. The 2007 12% flat tax rate was lowered to 10% in 2008.
Despite these reforms, Macedonia’s unemployment rate was 37.2% in 2005, and in 2006 the poverty rate was 22%. Macedonia’s has one of the highest percentages of citizens struggling financially, with 72% stating that they could manage on their household’s income only ‘with difficulty’ or ‘with great difficulty’, though Macedonia, along with Croatia, was the only country in the Western Balkans not to report an increase in this statistic. Corruption and a relatively ineffective legal system also act as significant restraints on successful economic development. Macedonia still has one of the lowest per capita GDPs in Europe. Furthermore, the country’s grey market is estimated at close to 20% of GDP.
To address economic challenges, the city relies on integration in preferred economic areas. It is focused on the clean-up of factories, education, the development of tourism programs, and the use of tax-free economic zones such as Bunardzik just outside Skopje. In addition to services, Skopje has many factories. The most important industrial activities are metal processing, chemicals, textiles, and printing. Notable companies based in Skopje include Arcelor Mittal Skopje, an oil refinery, Alkaloid, Titan cement plant, and the Skovin Winery, among others.
The Macedonian Stock Exchange, the principal stock exchange in the Republic of Macedonia, is located in Skopje. It was established in 1995.
Tetovo is a city in the north-western part of Macedonia, built on the foothills of Šar Mountain and divided by the Pena River. The municipality of Tetovo covers an area of 1,080 sq. km. (417 sq. mi.) at 468 meters (1,535 ft.) above sea level, with a population of 52,915. The city of Tetovo is the seat of the Tetovo municipality.
The home of multiple ethnic Albanian political parties and a population where Albanians form a relative majority, Tetovo has become the unofficial capital and centre of a predominantly Albanian region which extends in an arc from Tetovo to Struga. The city also has a multi-ethnic background consisting of Albanian, Macedonian
and Turkish elements.
Just outside of Tetovo is South East European University, Macedonia’s third largest university after Skopje University and Bitola University. Tetovo is also home to the State University of Tetovo.
During the Ottoman period, the town was known as Kalkandelen, which means Shield Penetrator, in honor of the local weapon-smiths. Their superior craftsmanship extended to the advent of small firearms and cannons, which were traded all across the Balkans.
In economic terms Tetovo is one of the most rapidly-developing cities in Macedonia, with several multinational companies (for example, Ecolog International, Renova, and Zikoprom). Despite the interest of private companies in Tetovo, the city is neglected by the government. Tetovo suffers from urban sprawl. Due to the lack of government regulations and no system for building permits, many houses and buildings have been built in unsafe ways and are built in random parts of the city, i.e. on the footpaths, roads and parks.
Tetovo is one of the educational centres in Macedonia, hosting two universities: South East European University (a public/private non-profit institution) and the State University of Tetovo (a public university). The former has educational leadership in the region, and the Bologna Process has been applied since its establishment. It has the best campus in the region of South East Europe. More than 20,000 students pursue higher education in this town.
Gazi Baba is one of the ten municipalities that make up the city of Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia. The name of the municipality comes from the nickname of the Ottoman poet Aṣik Celebi. In Turkish, Gazi means ‘war veteran’ and baba means ‘father’.
South East European University (SEEU)
South East European University (SEEU) is located in Tetovo, with a branch campus in Skopje. It is the first private/public not-for-profit university in Macedonia, founded in October 2001 and is a member of the Balkan Universities Network and an associate member of the European University Association. SEEU is a recognized and accredited autonomous higher education institution which was established by an agreement between international donors, the government of the Republic of Macedonia and the local academic community. Its principal aim was to offer for the first time in Macedonia the opportunity for speakers of the Albanian language to participate in accredited higher education in their own language, while being open to all. The president of the Republic of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, awarded ‘The Order of Merit for Macedonia’ to South East European University on Friday, 18 November 2011 in a solemn ceremony.
On this occasion President Ivanov said that SEEU had become a strong promoter of tolerance, respect for multilingual and cultural diversity in teaching and research, developing curricula with an international perspective, and that it contributes significantly to the progress of scientific thought and inter-ethnic understanding. SEEU today concentrates on offering high quality higher education and research opportunities in three languages (Albanian, Macedonian and English), with increasing concentration on subjects taught in English at both the first (BA/BSc) and second (MA/MSc/LLM) cycles.
Moreover, in the first national ranking of universities in the Republic of Macedonia in February 2012, SEEU was ranked second out of nineteen higher education institutions, according to a ranking system conducted by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University in collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Education and Science. This ranking supports SEEU’s objective of pursuing excellence and equality in higher education.
SEEU is the largest private/public not-for-profit university, with the highest student population in Macedonia. It has established links with many universities in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.
EMKICE – The Euro Macedonian Knowledge Innovation Center
The Euro Macedonian Knowledge Innovation Center (EMKICE) is a non-profit organization with the goal of supporting and accelerating the process where industry engages in economic development and innovation, using best practice, knowledge sharing and education for the (re)placement of new products and services on the EU market.
EMKICE has three main objectives:
- To encourage and support innovation and commercialization of innovations (inventions) as well as the development of new products and services through an entrepreneurial approach and innovative technology
- To support access to finance for innovation, applied research, technology development (I + R + T + D) from available EU funds and business angelinvestors;
- To support national, regional and transnational cooperation and knowledge sharing and learning of new skills for creative entrepreneurship, leading innovation and change, especially among youth.
COSSME Regional Network (COSSME = Cooperation for Support of SMEs)
The stakeholders are:
- Municipality of Gazi Baba
- Municipality of Tetovo
- APRZ – State Agency for Support of Agriculture
- CRM – Central Register of Macedonia
- South East European University – Tetovo
- SEEU Technology Park – Tetovo
- EIH – Institute for Environment and Health
- EMKICE – Center for EU Funding and Innovations
- Ilumine – Center for ICT Development in Education
- OFF Macedonia – Open Fun Football Schools Macedonia
Invest Macedonia is the government institution in charge of attracting new foreign investments to the country and supporting the expansion of foreign companies with already-established operations. In addition to the investment function, Invest Macedonia is also engaged in promoting Macedonian companies in foreign markets and supporting them in increasing exports.
They help both foreign and Macedonian companies by creating and adding value for them by virtue of their broad knowledge and experience of the business environment. In addition, they identify opportunities in Macedonia and foster close collaboration with various partner institutions and organizations.
Invest Macedonia aims to be recognized by companies and all other partners not only as a government institution but also as a professional and proactive service organization oriented towards addressing the needs of the business community.
As soon as it was established in 2012 , the board of directors started working on programme structure and rulebooks. It had difficulties in the beginning, with no experts in the area and a low quality programme copied partially from the Serbian InnoFund and partly informed by the experience of neighboring countries. These borrowed innovation funds were not particularly successful.
Intervention by experts brought improvements to the programme, including operating regulations. An international committee of experts was selected, and the internal structure of the innovation fund was defined. The government with the loan from WB is aiming to create success stories in the economy and real opportunities for entrepreneurs and companies.
There are several calls predicted in the programme, grants for start-ups, grants for technology transfer and accelerators.
Day 1: 21st of January, Wednesday
Landing in Istanbul after a long flight from Bahrain, I continued my journey to Skopje the same day. After a short flight of 90 minutes from Istanbul, I was in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia — one of the nicest cities in South East Europe.
Ilıiya Vuckov, president of EMIKE, and Sasho Trajkov, Head of Sector for Economic Development, Information and Communication Development of the Gazi Baba Municipality, were waiting for me at the airport. After a short wait at the passport section, I was in the car with Ilija and Sasho on our way to the Bushi Resort Hotel. Juan Manuel Revuelta Prez, Director General of Finnovaregio, was on the same flight as me. He too was one of the keynote speakers of the Business Innovation Forum and had flown to Skopje from Brussels via Istanbul.
Prof Perez is also a professor of entrepreneurship at Spain’s IESE, one of Europe’s leading universities in innovation. Prof Prez’s Finnovaregio and EBAN are located in the same building in Brussels, so when you visit Finnovaregio, you can also visit EBAN in the same building.
Around 8pm we were at five-star Bushi Resort Hotel in the Skopje city center, just at the entrance of the Old Bazaar (Ottoman Bazaar). I enjoyed the hotel restaurant’s view over the city. The menu is not particularly authentic, however. On the other hand, the swimming pool and the Turkish hamam of the hotel are marvellous. I highly recommend this hotel for an enjoyable stay in Skopje.
After leaving our bags in our rooms, four of us made our way to a nice restaurant in the city center.
Trend Lounge Bar
On our way, we saw the independence square of Macedonia with a replica of Paris Square.
I posted this photo on my Facebook page and challenged my friends to guess where I was. Some of them, not surprisingly, answered ‘Paris’. J
After a nice chat, we walked back to the hotel through the beautiful streets of Skopje.
Day 2: 22nd of January, Thursday
Ilija and Sasho collected us from the hotel around 10am to go to South East European University’s Skopje campus. As I mentioned before, SEEU’s main campus is in Tetova.
Prof Prez gave his speech in the main auditorium of the university. It was titled ‘How to Write Good Projects for Horizon 2020’.
After his speech, I gave a very short talk (a chat, not actually a speech) on the differences between invention and innovation.
After my talk, Klaudija Lutovska from Bitova made a presentation on a social responsibility project. Bitola is known as Ataturk’s city because Ataturk, the Founder of the Republic of Turkey, had studied at the military school in Bitolo. Ms Lutovska had prepared an Ataturk project, which she has sent me by email.
Later, the four of us went to the Extension Agency of Macedonia. You may know this agency from the commercials of Invest Macedonia campaigns on CNN International. Invest Macedonia is an Agency for Foreign Investments and Export Promotion of the Republic of Macedonia. We held a fruitful meeting with Clement Sekerovski, the Deputy CEO of the agency. My proposal to hold an Invest in Macedonia Event at the Istanbul Stock Exchange to attract the Turkish investors for Macedonia was well received by Mr Sekerovski. I also informed him about the TBAA delegation’s May visit to Macedonia to invest in start-ups in co-operation with local Macedonian business angels.
By the time this meeting finished around 5pm, we were a bit hungry since we hadn’t had time for lunch, so now was the time to go to a nice Turkish restaurant in the Old Bazaar to have our köftes – authentic Turkish meatballs.
Destan Barbecue Restaurant
We then returned to the hotel. I was really tired after the long Bahrain-Istanbul-Skopje flights and a long day full of speeches. I couldn’t join the group that evening because of extreme fatigue.
I was enjoying the swimming pool of the hotel, where I met with a TV producer from Kosovo who was there for the Business Innovation Forum. After spending a few hours in the sauna (a Turkish hamam) and having a massage, I was in bed by 10pm.
Day 3: 23rd of January, Friday
Ilija took us from the hotel around 9am and 10 minutes later we were at the Skopje Fair’s Conference Room for the opening ceremony of the Business Innovation Forum 2015.
I was able to chat with some of the participants until 10am, and I met with Joe Greaney, emeritus president of EBN – European Business Innovation Network and Director of WestBIC of Ireland, and David Tee, the Head of Membership Services of EBN of Belgium.
EBN is the European Innovation Network supporting the global innovation ecosystems with the standards, certifications and trainings. I encourage you to visit the website of EBN to learn more about this important institution in Brussels.
While chatting with Joe and David, Mr Toni Trajkovski, the mayor of the Gazi Baba unicipality, joined us. A few minutes later, Mr Vladimir Pesevski, Vice Prime Minister of Macedonia, arrived and we all welcomed him.
Then we were invited to give our messages to the media one by one, starting from the Vice Prime Minister, the mayor, and so on. After the press meeting, we went to the conference room and enjoyed the opening speeches of the Vice Prime Minister, the mayor, and Sasho Trajkov.
After the speeches, panel sessions started. I was on the panel on International Collaborations. Other speakers on my panel were:
- Mr Nikola Vetadzokoski, VITALIA
- Ms Marts Naumovska Grncarova, ZAVAR
- Mr Bogoslav Angeleski, ARILJE METAL
After the panel, a journalist interviewed me on the subject of innovation.
You can find my interview here:
There were many professors from technical departments of Macedonian universities on other panels. What was interesting for me was to hear the speeches of these professors on innovation. Having focused so much during the communist times on teaching the importance of ‘invention’, they are now they talking about the importance of ‘innovation’. Discussions about innovation have the following underlying concept: If you cannot sell your invention, then what you invented is not important. You have to find a marketer/entrepreneur to commercialize the invention. Otherwise, nobody will benefit from your invention. You will simply have showed that you are intelligent, nothing more. The government will not be able to collect tax from an invention if nobody buys it.
It was rewarding to see that there is a consensus on the importance of innovation in the academic arena of Macedonia.
Another interesting thing was the name of the Forum: Business Innovation Forum. I think it should become simply ‘Innovation Forum’, because if there is an innovation, business follows naturally. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be innovation — just invention. The ‘business’ word may not cover ‘innovation’ every time, but the ‘innovation’ word always includes the concept of ‘business’.
Around 2pm, I was taken to the hotel, where I had my lunch in the restaurant of the hotel. I had to be at the SEEU by 3.30pm to give my ‘How to make your first million’ speech for Macedonian entrepreneurs.
Having lost my way in the rain of Skopje, I arrived a bit late, so I wasn’t able to start my speech until 4pm. The whole auditorium was full. University students, academicians, government officials, entrepreneurs — everyone was there.
My session ended with a Q&A session at 6pm. After letting participants take photos with me, it was time to participate in the COSSME Board Meeting with the participation of the Tetovo mayor, the EBAN president, the SEEU president and other friends. The Board Meeting was moderated by Ilija Vuckov, the EMIKE president. We engaged in an excellent brainstorming session on how each member could contribute to the development of the Macedonian entrepreneurship ecosystem.
After the board meeting, we dined at an excellent restaurant in a Viking ship next to the river. It was a wonderful night, with the participation of representatives of chambers of commerce, the Tetovo mayor, the EBAN president, the EBN emeritus president, the EBN membership director and many other friends.
The most enjoyable part of the evening was the moment I was appointed by Candace Johnson, EBAN president, as the mentor of the first Women Angel Investors Network of Macedonia. After Ms Johnson’s excellent speech announcing the foundation of MWAIN, I committed to doing my best for women entrepreneurs and angel investors in Macedonia.
We enjoyed the meal and lots of Macedonian and Turkish songs that night. It was a truly unforgettable evening — even our Irish and British friends started singing in Macedonian and Turkish.
Rojal Macedonia, Ship in Vardar River
We left the restaurant about half past midnight and I was in bed around 1.30am. It was really a tiring day J. I felt that I really had done my best to foster the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Macedonia by speaking on the panel, giving a speech, and speaking at the board meeting — and singing in the restaurantJ.
Day 4: 24th of January, Saturday
We all met at the lobby, ready for our trip to Tetovo for the other panels of the Business Innovation Forum. It was a 32-minute drive in a shuttle bus with the same team of speakersJ. Those 32 minutes were valuable for me because Candace and I were able to hold a mini-board meeting of EBAN in this time period.
The panels were to be held on the main campus of SEEU, South East European University. The event started with an opening speech by Prof Teuta Arifi, mayor of Tetovo. Following her speech, we made statements to the media explaining what we were doing in Tetovo.
Tetovo is an interesting place. Starting from the mayor, everybody spoke perfect Turkish. I was really surprised by this when I was welcomed to the university in Turkish.
After addressing the media, the main panel started with the moderation of the mayor. My speech was on how to develop an entrepreneurship ecosystem in Macedonia.
I really enjoyed participating in the next panel, was on Women’s Entrepreneurship, where I was the only male speaker, alongside 7 women speakers.
The third panel was on the roles of the International Collaboration and the Business Innovation Center.
Following the third panel, we headed to our meeting with Mr Vladimir Pesevski, Vice Prime Minister, and his cabinet. After half an hour’s drive, we were in the meeting room of the minister at 3pm. The meeting lasted about 75 minutes. Because the minister was a former angel investor, it wasn’t difficult for us to discuss an angel investment model that would best suit the needs of the Macedonian economy.
Here is the official documents we were given at the end of this mmeting:
After the minister left the meeting at 4.15pm, we carried on with his cabinet, Ms Romela Popovic-Trajkova and Mr Martin Stosic.
It was around 5pm when we left the ministry. The mayor of Tetovo had invited us for dinner, so we went to the hotel first to for lunchJ at 5.30pm. Joe, Candace and I went directly to the restaurant and ordered a salad since we would be dining just a few hours later. Half an hour later Joe left for his room, and Candace and I chatted until 7pm.
Ilija collected us from the hotel around 7.30pm and we were at the restaurant, at a place between Skopje and Tetovo, a few minutes later. The mayor arrived at the dinner with her team.
t was a lovely night with an excellent menu of fish and meat. At the end of the evening, the mayor presented each guest with beautiful hand-made butterflies of different colours. Each had the main colour of the flag of the guest’s home country. Mine was red, for example.
Restoran Balkanika Rustikana, newly opened
The mayor also invited me to Tetovo for a book signing day at the municipality for the Albanian version of my best-selling book in that country. Because there are so many Albanians living in Tetovo, organising this kind of event in Tetovo was a good idea.
We left about 10pm and went directly to the hotel because everybody was so tired. Candace, Juan and Joe were going to leave early the next morning, so everybody wanted to get to sleep early.
Day 5: 25th of January, Sunday
Around 10am, Ilija and Prof Boris collected David Tee and me from the hotel for the B2B meetings at South East European
University. B2B meetings were well organised, so David and I were able to listen to entrepreneurs and investors directly and one-on-one.
After the B2B meetings, National TV of Macedonia interviewed us about angel investment and innovation.
Here you can enjoy the interview, also posted on the webpage of the channel.
After the B2B meetings ended Ilija, Prof Boris and Saşa took David and me to a nice restaurant for a farewell lunch. After a few hours in the restaurant, Sasho drove David to the airport and Prof Boris took me back to the hotel.
After a few hours’ rest, Ilija and his team came for coffee at 6.30pm and after half an hour we went to the Skopje airport for my return flight to Istanbul at 9.15pm. We had a nice chat on the way to the airport, covering all aspects of the trip.
But the most important agreement was dropped into my lap in the car. Ilija had prepared the agreement for a translation of my book into the Macedonian language, to be published in May, so I am looking forward to signing my book for Macedonian entrepreneurs at the Skopje Book Expo to be held 3-11 May. Thanks to Ilija, I will be able to share my know-how and advice with Macedonian start-ups in their own language.
On this trip, I was very happy to have made many new friends from all over the world. Ilija has a very positive personality, and he chooses positive people as friends. Juan from Spain, David from the UK, Joe from Ireland (our new EBAN member) were really pleasant people to be with. Prof Arifi and her lovely team from the Tetovo Municipality are extremely hospitable people. Sasho and Boris are truly nice friends. Ceno Aleksadrovski has dedicated himself to teaching football to children and is a lovely person who you have to meet when you are in Skopje.
Dear Ilija, thank you very much for inviting me to Macedonia, for introducing me to these lovely people, and for publishing my book for Macedonian entrepreneurs. And I want to congratulate you and Boris and Sasho for this wonderful and professional organisation.
On my return to Istanbul, I received an email from CEED Macedonia proposing an interview online. It was a pleasure for me to answer their questions, and you can find the interview here: