Among the 100 best countries for startups, Serbia scores best in the Western Balkans at 53rd place, followed by North Macedonia at 58th. The most recent StartupBlink’s Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking report features five out of six Western Balkans economies.
StartupBlink is one of the most comprehensive startup ecosystem reports globally.
It ranks 1,000 cities and 100 countries worldwide, and gives a glimpse into the most dynamic innovation ecosystems, showing the key trends to follow in the coming years.
The Western Balkans’ Leaders
As previously said, the region’s innovation leader is Serbia at 53rd position globally, 11 positions below the last year’s ranking. Serbia also ranks number 14 for startups in Eastern Europe. Serbia’s capital Belgrade ranks 159 globally out of the top 1,000 startup cities, with Novi Sad lagging behind at 345th place.
The StartupBlink Map shows 78 startups in Marketing & Sales, Software, and Data and Health, out of 112 startups in total. Serbia also boasts 6 accelerators, 15 coworking spaces and 8 organizations dealing with startups. Unfortunately, there are no leaders in Serbia.
Serbia is closely followed by North Macedonia at 58th position, with 2 spots improvement since 2020 (16 for startups in Eastern Europe). Innovation and startup activities tend to be concentrated in the country’s capital Skopje that ranks 280 globally.
The most promising industries in North Macedonia seem to be Software and Data (14 startups), Social & Leisure and Education (4 and 2 startups respectively). North Macedonia’s innovation ecosystem is in its early stages with a total of 28 startups registered by the StartupBlink, 4 accelerators and 3 coworking spaces.
Laggards in the Western Balkans
Way behind is Albania at 78th, and Bosnia and Herzegovina ranking 85th. Both countries are modest innovators according to the European Innovation Scoreboard and are described as emerging innovation hubs.
Albania dropped -6 spots since 2020, with its capital city Tirana scoring 488 globally. Among the 10 registered startups in Albania, there are 3 Software and Data startups, 2 Ecommerce & Retail startups, and 2 Transportation startups. Albania’s innovation ecosystem must do major updates considering there is only a single accelerator and coworking space to support innovation activities.
Bosnia and Herzegovina dropped 12 positions since 2020 to 85th, ranking at number 22 for startups in Eastern Europe. The only city ranked in the top 1,000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina is Sarajevo at 633 globally. Similar to Albania, there is a sample of only 9 startups in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Three key industries are Software and Data, Education and Health. Only 7 coworking spaces and 1 organization exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with no accelerators and no leaders.
Overall, the region is way behind top innovation hubs globally, and regionally. The surrounding regional Leaders in innovation are Bulgaria ranked 35th (3 down), Croatia 37th (2 up) and Slovenia 46th (2 down) globally. The most promising industries startups focus on in the Western Balkans are mainly Software and Data, Education and Health. Some of these industries are also the focus of the most advanced startup ecosystems globally.
Best Countries for Startups Globally
The world’s best startup ecosystems have not changed much since previous years. The U.S. is the global leader, followed by the United Kingdom, Israel, Canada and Germany. The major changes are partly due to Sweden climbing from 10th position to the 6th, with China propelling itself from 14th to 7th position. With Singapore also rising to 10th position, Asia now owns one-fifth of the top ten startup ecosystems.
As an illustration, when comparing the Western Balkans innovation ecosystem, the U.S. has 29.163 startups, 147 accelerators, 291 coworking spaces, 320 organizations and 113 leaders. The top 10 startup ecosystems focus on Ecommerce & Retail, Education, Energy & Environment, Fintech, Foodtech, Health, Hardware & IoT, Transportation, Social & Leisure.
It’s unrealistic to expect that the Western Balkans’ economies will get close to the best countries for startups worldwide soon.
For a number of reasons, less advanced innovation ecosystems such as the Western Balkans can’t easily catch up with the global innovation leaders.
However, they can reposition their efforts towards more lucrative niches to complement global leaders’ efforts.