Belgrade Venture Forum 2016 Opening Remarks

Minister Brnabić, Mr. Čadež, Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests, I am pleased to join you at the 2016 Belgrade Venture Forum, an event focused on the essence of what makes a dynamic private sector—young people with new ideas and the drive to turn their concepts into reality.  Entrepreneurs are special people.  They need the courage to take risks, faith in themselves, and trust in their dreams.  So I congratulate all of you for coming today and pursuing your dreams.

It has never been easier to turn an idea into reality.  A good idea and a strong internet connection is all it takes to bring your proposal to potential investors, to market your product to a wider audience both in Serbia and abroad.  But the challenge, now as it was a century ago, is for any entrepreneur is to take an idea and turn it into a reality.  One of our greatest inventors, Thomas Edison, once said that genius is one percent inspiration, and 99 percent perspiration.  So the task before all of you is how to turn your ideas into reality.  Today’s gathering offers a chance to hone the skills that can help you do that.  Developing a business plan, or learning how to make a two-minute pitch that will make your idea stand out and attract the interest of investors – these are skills just as necessary for the successful entrepreneur as the idea itself.

Since 2001, the United States government through USAID has invested more than $350 million to support Serbia’s economic development. One of USAID’s most successful entrepreneur projects – the ICT Hub — provides support and state-of-the-art working conditions for individuals who are ready to develop and launch their own IT business, by adopting successful principles from the “Start-up Hub” of Silicon Valley.

Since its launch in 2014 and with USAID’s initial support, several of the products developed by young Serbians in the ICT Hub have been quite successful.  For example, there is ICT Hub participant Vuk Nikolić’s TruckTrack, a management software for the trucking industry.  Vuk was connected to U.S. venture capital seed fund 500 Startups, which invested money and expertise in Nikolić’s software and team.   And now, TruckTrack’s team has expanded, and the platform has over 2,000 companies registered. Other projects developed by the ICT Hub’s talented and innovative entrepreneurs range from gaming, extreme sports, to global mapping.

Today, two of our current partners, Impact Hub Belgrade and the Serbian Venture Network, are partnering to organize a number of panels and events at this year’s Forum.  They will provide training, mentorship opportunities and resources to start ups and early stage enterprises so that they have the skills, resources and contacts to grow and succeed. Businesses that will help reduce unemployment and contribute to Serbia’s future economic prosperity.

Just a few weeks ago, we released USAID’s 2016 Annual Business Survey.  It identified availability of credit for businesses as an issue of particular concern. In fact, the findings show a staggering 68 percent of businesses surveyed do not use any form of external finance, and only one percent of businesses report receiving funding from institutions other than from banks.  This is a major barrier to Serbia’s economic growth, and it is a particularly challenging issue for startups, who often are in need of an initial infusion of resources to turn their concepts into reality.  Banks usually are now ready to take that risk.  So I’m thrilled to see that new forms of financing for Serbia geared toward start-ups are being discussed here at the Forum.  We encourage our partners in the Government to keep start-ups in focus and continue supporting and improving the environment and financing of entrepreneurs and start-ups.

I’m sure that today’s Forum will provide the 35 gathered prospective entrepreneurs with some of the relationships and the resources they need to continue on their path.  My message to you is that being an entrepreneur is not easy. There will be many challenges on your journey. Many ideas fail before one succeeds at the end. Fear of failure stops many from becoming entrepreneurs.  But bold entrepreneurs know that every mistake is a learning opportunity. Real entrepreneurs believe that they will make it – maybe not immediately but ultimately. The most important ingredient for success is perhaps your own drive to realize your dreams.

I am convinced that Serbian entrepreneurs have the talent, ideas and the energy to compete, not only locally but also regionally and internationally. That is why the United States government continues to support initiatives of this sort. Good luck with your pitches, and have a great Forum.

Thank you.