Amid the Covid-19 crisis, regions join forces to make the most of geographical vicinity. Making a more competitive Western Balkans is a must for all countries in the region.
But, what exactly should the region do to become more competitive globally?
In a nutshell, emulate top global players while leveraging on contextual advantages.
All successful companies, states and region have something in common: they all focus on smart processes based on innovative approaches to fill existing or emerging market niches. They see where the demand is coming – or will be coming – and offer competitive smart solutions.
Consider the top five countries that invest most in research and innovation and how their targeted approach pays off.
|Israel||Computer systems, AI, medicine and cybersecurity|
|South Korea||High-tech & spread of new scientific knowledge|
|Switzerland||High tech, medicine|
|Sweden||Green-tech & life science|
|Japan||High-tech (cameras, medical equipment, cars…)|
Apart from investing massively in research & development as opposed to the Western Balkans, all these countries have a clear idea where they are heading.
Is it that simple, though?
Long-term thinking for a more competitive Western Balkans
First of all, policy-makers and business need to start thinking long-term. On average, it takes 10 to 15 years to develop a company from scratch before it turns into a major success story. In rare cases, it can happen within five years.
The same goes with changing the dominant policy paradigms. To get things going, one has to start somewhere while keeping the focus constantly in sight.
So, the focus should be on developing a business ecosystem that encourages the creation of new enterprises and startups. New companies are more likely to experiment, rinse and repeat until they find the winning formula.
Most of them will fail, as is the case in other ecosystems. Some of them will make it through and inspire others.
Regional role models to look up to
Take for example some of the most successful stories from the region.
The most recent success story comes from our immediate neighbourhood. Infobip company became the first unicorn in Croatia in market valuation.
If we look eastwards we also see very inspirational examples of successful companies that made it globally. Frame company from the city of Nis in Serbia was sold to Nutanix for about 165 million dollars in 2018.
Another success story is 3lateral company from Serbia’s second-largest city Novi Sad. It was acquired by their previous partners, the US gaming industry giant Epic Games in 2019. Although the financial framework was not publicly disclosed, we can speculate it was a substantial sum of money.
What matters more is that both, Frame and 3lateral have become a part of larger global players while retaining a great deal of autonomy. The buyers have allowed their new ‘cakes’ to develop further their human capital while maintaining key operations in Serbia.
All these companies have come to realise that being a second-rate subcontractor won’t get them too far. They decided to walk extra miles (many miles actually) to make their own products and earn global visibility and credibility.
This, of course, is easier said than done. Which is where the state should step in by providing targeted types of support that cater to the specific needs of some industries.
Rebranding the region as a knowledge powerhouse
Another important ingredient towards a more competitive Western Balkans is rebranding. The entire region is perceived from outside as a low-skilled, low-paid labour force destination for outdated technologies.
It has to turn into a high-potential powerhouse for investments to take hold. Investors crave for new stars on the horizon and are willing to risk money in it if the potential is there.
Rebranding is a parallel process that goes hand in hand with life cycles of company development. It takes a decade to rebrand a country or a wider region into something fresh.
Some countries in the region are on track already.
In Serbia, Tesla Nation project was launched by SEE ICT / Startit with the aim of rebranding the country by 2030. The ultimate goal is to ensure that Serbia is recoginised as a hotspot for exceptional tech innovators and high-skilled professionals.
The Tesla Nation project connects tech professionals of Serbian heritage with partners around the globe. Such projects could be emulated by other countries in the region while ensuring the focus on competitive industries is always in sight.
Making a more competitive Western Balkasn is much easier said than done. The region is marred with legacies of the past that often come in the way to a more prosperous future.
However, some easy fixes are doable that cost little. The key is the role of the state that has to provide key enabling conditions and move to the side so startups and established companies can spread wings and flourish.