More than 200 entrepreneurs and investors from throughout Eastern Europe and the Balkans converged on Zagreb, Croatia on 20 and 21 May for CEED’s 7th Regional Conference. The theme was “Getting Over the Top—Raising Your Game for the Region and the World.”
The event was timed to take place just weeks before Croatia’s accession to the European Union. With new opportunities, come new challenges. Croatia will no longer be competing with other emerging markets, but will, instead, now be vying for investment dollars alongside the major OECD countries. Are entrepreneurs in Croatia ready to compete in the Premier League? And with so much attention now focused on the whole region, are entrepreneurs from throughout the Balkans positioned for success?
To offer insight and inspiration, CEED brought in two distinguished entrepreneurs to meet with the group.
Jim Connor has been involved in software applications addressing the capital markets for the past 20 years in multiple roles. He has been a CEO, CFO, Treasurer and angel investor. Jim serves as a Board Director and Treasurer of the Sand Hill Angels, is a Board Director of Liftopia, First Focus Learning Systems, Tabtor, Inc. and the Angel Capital Association (ACA). (@jconnor_sha)
Bob Rosenschein is an American internet entrepreneur living and working in Israel. He is the founder and was CEO and chairman of Answers.com, a top-20 U.S. website, until May 2011, when it was bought by Summit Partner’s AFCV Holdings
for $127 million. (@BobR) More recently, Bob launched Curiyo (www.curiyo.com) which he demonstrated to the audience in Zagreb.
These two seasoned entrepreneurs shared invaluable lessons gleaned from their personal experiences. “How to be taken seriously by angels – you need to be good at something and have a viable business model, preferably with customers and cash flow,” Jim advised. Bob counseled the conference participants to “lead with confidence, but be right-sized.”
Following their presentations, Jim and Bob joined Steve Eastham from USAID and Rich Sheridan, CEO of Small Enterprise Assistance Funds (SEAF) to serve on a mock investor panel. Turning Google’s motto of “Don’t Be Evil” on its head, CEED’s Jim Sosnicky requested of the four panelists, “Don’t be nice. You aren’t doing the entrepreneurs any favors by being easy on them.”
That advice turned out not to be necessary. Eight entrepreneurs rose to the occasion and delivered pitches and value propositions on par with any that one would hear in Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv.
- Damir Sabor, Photopay, Croatia. Photopay is the easiest way to pay bills with mobile phones.
- Katarina Čeh, Animacel, Slovenia. Animacel offers innovative treatment of dogs and horses with newly developed stem cell therapy.
- Ratko Mutavdzić, Remixer, Croatia. Remixer is developing a social discovery platform that will enable people to expand their current professional and private value networks.
- Branislave Bajlovski, Shopvoice, Slovenia. Shopvoice brings real-time communications and customer insight to e-commerce platforms and individual web stores.
- Marko Kovač, Salespod, Croatia. Salespod is a SaaS solution and sales enablement tool for outside sales reps and retail merchandisers.
- Matej Peršolja, Carlock, Slovenia. Carlock is an innovative anti-car theft solution.
- Damir Kervina, Naymit, Slovenia. Naymit is solving the problem of explaining where places are located.
The event concluded with a reception atop the Westin Hotel, overlooking the skyline of the Croatian capital. The CEED community gathered on those two days in May left with new insights, new friends, and a renewed energy, knowing they have what it takes to make the most of all of the opportunities the future in this dynamic region holds for them.