ARISE Venture Programme to Support Innovations and Young Entrepreneurs in the Balkans

Written by Alenka Žumbar Klopčič

At the climax of the ARISE Venture Programme run by EIT Digital, which aims to support innovations and young entrepreneurs in the Balkans, ABC Accelerator in Ljubljana hosted seven of the most promising start-ups from the Western Balkans on Friday, 13 July. According to Thomas Kösters, who leads EIT Digital’s International Outreach programme, they see strong potential and talent in the region. Slovenia or regions such as the Balkans should invest in home-grown entrepreneurship. However, in order to promote young talent and attract interest from the outside, there should be better support and entrepreneurial knowledge, said Kösters.


Talent is there, but there should also be knowledge, support and a different mindset

“Talent is normally evenly spread in the world, so there should be some in the Balkans too. But we need to help service more young entrepreneurs and get the right talent, discover opportunities, start companies and try to bring their innovative ideas to the market,” stressed Thomas Kösters, the International Outreach Lead at EIT Digital, on Friday, when seven of the most promising start-ups from the second edition of the ARISE Venture Programme pitched their ideas at the ABC Accelerator in Ljubljana. Through the programme, EIT Digital is aiming at teams that are at a very early stage of development and helping them to get their ideas right, get them out to the market and start a company, said Kösters (on the photo right).

As EIT found out, there is a lot of support in the region for those companies that are at a more advanced stage, while there is a lack of ideas and personal understanding about what it means to be an entrepreneur and how to grow a company: “There are too few ideas coming out of universities and too few people that are technically or entrepreneurially-minded and want to start companies. There are too few of them that could reach a stage where they can grow,” said Kösters, suggesting that investments should be made in the education of entrepreneurs: “People need to understand what the opportunities are which are connected to entrepreneurship, and what it means to take this path, to take investments, give out equities and so on. It is about changing the mindset and about being growth-minded.”

According to Kösters, EIT Digital hopes to help companies to overcome this barrier and to accept this “active growth mindset”, which is something new for them. “If the region invests in home-grown entrepreneurs, there will also be interest from the outside and from the east to join ecosystems here, since cities such as Ljubljana could be an entry gate for the European Union. This is something that can be seen happening in other more mature ecosystems. Founders will only do this if an ecosystem is at a certain level of maturity,” added Kösters.



Photo by: Milan Lazarević, ABC Accelerator


A new programme to support catch up markets and start-ups

To date EIT Digital has shown its strong interest in the Balkans mainly through events and educational programmes, while its ARISE Venture Programme is a new innovation this year, which is aimed at supporting innovations and young entrepreneurs in smaller markets. It is a concept which EIT Digital is running Europe-wide, but it manifests in editions. The Western Balkans edition is now taking place, which covers Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Montenegro, and there was an Eastern Balkans edition in Athens, which covered Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, explained Kösters.

Over 100 start-ups have applied to the programme so far, and in the Western Balkans edition of the tough competition the jury selected seven of the most promising start-ups, who were each provided with a cash prize of EUR 5,000 and the opportunity to participate in the Acceleration Phase, executed by the ABC Accelerator: ABC helped the start-ups to develop and finish a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and to start their business during the incubation, which included a two-day intensive Boot Camp, virtual workshops, lectures and consultations, targeting the key areas every early-stage start-up needs to develop and grow.



Photo by: Milan Lazarević, ABC Accelerator


The seven most promising start-ups that presented their MVPs on Friday, were:

  1. Freeky (Slovenia) is a completely digital, easy to use, reliable and transparent insurance for freelancers all around the world. It offers financial security to freelancers and helps them overcome numerous challenges in terms of health insurance, equipment insurance, guaranteed payments, etc.
  2. Kiimo (Macedonia) is an inner city logistic marketplace utilising people’s mobility to deliver items within their daily walking route. The key competitive advantages of Kiimo are cost effectiveness, machine learning, a 50% shorter delivery time and last but not least, it is environmentally-friendly.
  3. Gradoid (Novi Sad) is a location-based social network for exploring the local community and businesses through questions and answers posed by other users in a specific area. The competitive advantage of the Gradoid mobile application is that it can be used for discovering events, places or people nearby, while offering personalisation and anonymity to its users.
  4. New Evangelization (Slovenia) enables online (re)connection between religious organisations and their followers to bring faith to their daily life. It’s a web-based platform which connects priests with believers and gives individual believers a choice to find a priest or message that is in line with his/her own beliefs.
  5. WB Digital (Montenegro) is a start-up based on artificial intelligence. It’s product is a vision-based intelligent surveillance system for the detection and prevention of falls that happen due to due to health issues: the primary aim of developing the so-called Fall Detector is to ensure the safety of the elderly.
  6. OrdeX (BiH) connects users and suppliers in the beverage and other FMCG delivery processes, making the order receiving and loading process more effective. It also offers customer or sales support service and analytics.
  7. Simple Luxuries (Slovenia) is a smart demand-side platform connecting tourists with locals for incredible and memorable unique local experiences. With their product tourists who, for example, visit Slovenia, can find the best experiences, local providers or places that the country offers.



Photo by: Milan Lazarević, ABC Accelerator


The future is bright but also challenging for those who dare

Although the Pitch Day was the climax of the ARISE Venture Programme, it was just the beginning for those who dare to take the challenge and continue their path to becoming a successful company: “We would like to see everyone getting the final prize, but we understand that they must make a decision and consider if they really want it and are they really capable of achieving it. We are not blindly enabling everyone to get to the second stage: if they meet all the criteria then they are in with a chance of winning the final prize of EUR 10,000, and in that case we, together with ABC, will continue to support them on their growth path,” said Kösters, adding that teams who want to get to the second stage and be in with a chance of winning the the final prize, will have to start a company by the beginning of September. Meanwhile, EIT Digital will continue to organise events: in September, for example, they are holding an annual conference in Brussels (, which is set to be an outstanding showcase of European tech innovation.