Aware that successful business results arise from networking and continuous learning, we organized our first study visit to the region – Serbia, from September 12th to 16th. In addition to representatives from the cluster’s executive office, our delegation consisted of member companies: Alicorn, Amplitudo, Bild Studio, AI Solution, Codeus, Oykos Development Hub, Čikom, and Simes Engineering.

Study visits provide an excellent opportunity for knowledge and experience exchange, and the highly intensive agenda included visits to numerous IT companies, innovative organizations, and businesses in Belgrade and Novi Sad, such as BioSense Institute, Vega IT, Zesium, Inkubator, Nordeus, Levi9, Schneider Electric, Fond za inovacionu djelatnost Beograd, Nova Iskra, Naučno-tehnološki parkovi Novi Sad i Beograd, and Savez igara Srbije.

Our hosts, to whom we owe special gratitude and without whom this study visit would not have been so successful, were Nebojša Bjelotomić from “Digitalna Srbija” and Milan Šolaja from “Vojvođanski klaster”.

In the following paragraphs, read the main conclusions drawn from this study visit, ranging from the impact of professors in the IT industry to various methods used for employee stimulation and the importance of synergy between the economy and science.

  1. Professors as Mentors and Educators for young talent

Throughout the study visit, we observed the significance and contribution of university professors to the development of the ICT scene in Serbia.

The “Digitalna Srbija” initiative carries out projects with a focus on hybrid work models and close collaboration between the academic sector and the industry to prevent the loss of teaching assistants who can become professors. This need arose due to low salaries in universities, leading companies to enable professors to work part-time in the industry, gaining experience and securing a decent income.

In the Business Incubator Novi Sad, they emphasized the importance of teaching with many associations and concrete examples from life. Most of their mentors are professors who strive to ignite interest and impart knowledge to the younger generations. Interestingly, the initiators of this institution were three professors.

Considering that we live in the era of the “internet generation,” it is essential to work with professors who can effectively transfer knowledge in an engaging and captivating manner to the new generations.

Schneider Electric recognized the need to invest in the education of young people. They understood that people are crucial for their development, leading them to create a foundation to finance the education of young talents. After introducing an online teaching module, they experienced a significant increase in talent applications. Interestingly, the scholarship does not bind students to work for Schneider Electric; it provides unconditional support and freedom of choice.

Another interesting fact is found in HTEC Group, where the oldest engineers are not billable but instead serve as mentors to others. Positions include TEO, PIO, PMO…

Youth is an incredible resource, and the IT sector offers high salaries, making professors as mentors a perfect match.

2. Companies’ Care for Employees

Employee satisfaction is crucial for retaining them in a company, but it is not solely measured by salary increases. There are many other factors that contribute to it.

For example, the company “Levi 9” pays special attention to various employee activities through sports and social events, while at Schneider Electric, employee benefits include:

Enhancing work-life balance, transparency, excellent benefits, and expressing gratitude more often help boost employee morale.

When asked how they retain people, Vega IT responded with:

In the well-known gaming company Nordeus, employee care is demonstrated through numerous facilities that employees can use to relax when taking breaks from work. They have recreational rooms, gaming consoles, table tennis, foosball, and even an arcade machine on their premises. They also have a restaurant, cafeterias, a children’s club, and many other amenities for employees.

The conclusion is that investing in the development and motivation of employees comes at a cost but yields results.

3. Support for the Startup Community 

…especially those focused on IT innovations.

Collaborating with the startup community enables companies to stay updated with trends and be in constant touch with new ideas, mindsets, and approaches. This subsequently allows companies to better utilize their own resources and technology.

In the Business Incubator in Novi Sad, we received confirmation of the necessity to connect the academic and business communities to scale up as many ideas as possible and prepare them for the market.

Besides offering favorable conditions for office spaces, the Business Incubator provides mentoring support, monthly consultations, and meetings. A common mistake is to have a startup team solely consisting of members from the same field, resulting in situations where they possess technological knowledge but lack business expertise.

A favorable aspect is that the Innovation Fund recognized the importance of this topic and has programs to encourage innovation and provide financial support to innovative startups.

Not all support needs to be financial or mentoring. “Nova Iskra” provides an open space where digital nomads and startup enthusiasts gather, work, and exchange experiences and ideas. They believe that space without a community is useless, and the strength of the community is the key benefit here.

ICT HUB also provides a space and community where startup enthusiasts and digital nomads gather, connect, and receive consultations, education, and support.

Key takeaway: Supporting the startup ecosystem encourages job creation, talent development, and overall, by promoting entrepreneurial efforts, it stimulates growth in the IT sector’s economy and the overall economy.

Bonus key takeaway: We noticed that Montenegro lacks a map of freelancers.

4. Technology in Action 

Here we return to the primary function of technology: improving the quality of people’s lives.

The BioSense Institute is working on enhancing agriculture and the environment through innovative technical solutions.

They develop software tools that make predictions, preserve biodiversity, optimize yields, and streamline business processes in agriculture. A few years ago, based on input data in the United States, they developed software that efficiently distributes seeds by detecting which seed variety thrives best on each micro-location. They also developed software that detects, based on stem details, whether a tomato will spoil in the next 5 days, which can lead to faster spoilage of other tomatoes and benefit the food industry. They have also conducted analytics on the correlation between people’s movements and land use based on mobile phone location data.

Another example of technology in action is found in the company HTEC GROUP.

A globally renowned shipping company used to operate with notebooks and mobile phones, which was challenging, inefficient, and prone to errors. To address these issues, HTEC GROUP developed a software platform for them, optimized routes, provided real-time information about the locations of competing ships, and determined the optimal price to offer in order to secure business with maximum profit.

Additionally, they developed a mobile EKG device called ‘Humids.’ It functions by placing a mobile phone instead of an EKG device, and based on parameters, it provides predictions of when it is necessary to visit a doctor.

Key takeaway: Software solutions that address specific problems will always be essential for humanity.

5. Is your company too big? Create a spin-off. Is your user network small? Offer a free service

Those who have worked in an IT company are surely familiar with the neglect of the creative industry in IT development.

However, without creativity, there is no content, not even in the IT world. In recent years, the need for change in communication between engineers and creatives has become increasingly apparent.

Digital Serbia and Nova Iskra specifically emphasized the importance of creatives and other professionals in the development of the IT industry. Engineers are there to improve the efficiency of a service or product, but those who best understand the users are of a completely different educational and professional background.

One of the best examples of a successful combination of creativity can be seen in the gaming industry, as we experienced during our visit to the Magic DoJo gaming studio.

Recognizing the significance of creativity, Vega IT, a company that has grown significantly, created its own spin-off design firm.

Bonus takeaway: What was also interesting about this company is that the director of Vega IT doesn’t have a dedicated office; instead, he changes offices every other week. This way, he spends time with his employees, observes small details, and develops relationships with people.

They adopted this concept from the Dutch and incorporated it into their system.

When it comes to expanding the user network, Tenderly company knows the best approach. Initially, their idea started as a startup. However, after many discussions with investors who recognized the quality of the idea but were not ready to invest, the team decided to develop the product independently.

Tenderly chose to provide a free service, significantly increasing their user network. After this, the situation completely turned around. Within a year, with a product that had a user base, investors were now trying to establish partnerships with Tenderly. They received €60 million in investments within a year. While they had larger monetary offers, they chose the investor with whom they believed the company would develop best.

Tenderly is also one of the initiators of the “Garage” initiative, a forum for directors of IT companies in Serbia to exchange knowledge and experiences.

6. Strong Link between Science and Economy 

Serbia is a good example of the strong link between science and the economy that yields results. The Prime Minister of Serbia formed her A-team from individuals in the ICT HUB, another organization we visited on this occasion. After the A-team listened to ICT entrepreneurs and made changes at the state level, the recorded revenue from ICT in Serbia increased more than tenfold.

According to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, the country had a software export value of €2 billion this year, and they are working on an action plan for the development of artificial intelligence.

The Business Incubator Novi Sad also emphasized the need for a strong connection between the economy and science, stating that the lack of competent personnel ready to adapt to changes can sometimes hinder progress.

Interestingly, they consider competitions as a good indicator of competence and use them to identify talent.

Additionally, in Serbia, there is a good legal instrument that allows for a stake in a company to be given if a contractually defined condition is met.

Although this is currently not possible in Montenegro, it does not mean it won’t be in the near future.

7. Support for the Local Community – Socially Responsible Projects 

The positive impact of a company on society as a whole is more important than ever. There is a noticeable trend of adopting social responsibility and committing companies to support the community.

Socially responsible projects are often based on humanitarian actions, environmental initiatives, support for educational programs, or initiatives that assist employees in various ways.

During our visit to Vega IT, we observed their strong role in supporting the local community. It was particularly satisfying to hear praises and affirmation of their company’s actions from their employees.

As the most renowned company in Novi Sad, experiencing the largest growth in the last 10 years, they feel a responsibility to contribute to the world they live in.

We can conclude that there is much to learn from our neighbors in Serbia, and we have a lot of work ahead of us in integrating the IT sector with the academic community, public administration, and the economy. Only by collaborating can we harness the sector’s potential and overcome the challenges that lie ahead. However, we must also highlight the great potential found in our members who are on a very promising path to make the IT sector in Montenegro one of the strongest in the economy.