Split as a startup ecosystem

What is a startup

By definition, a startup is a young company founded by one or more entrepreneurs to develop a unique product or service and bring it to the market. That’s theory. The reality is that a startup is an accumulation of ideas mixed with blood, sweat, tears, beer, pizza, and life lessons learned.

A successful startup is a wonder, when it bombs epically it’s a lesson for moving forward.

We see you freaking out already: “Did they just say “bombing epically” is a lesson and not utter failure?!” Yes, we did – we just tell it like it is!

Either way, it’s something different, something still out of the ordinary in our culture that mostly operates in a corporate, inside-the-box mindset set in its ways and scared of risks and changes.

Because of said culture, we’re still in the beginning stages of startup development compared to the rest of the world, but that is not to say there is no promise for a bright future here. Quite the contrary, we plan to take you on a journey of getting to know the startups in our local community, their success stories, and lessons learned. And by doing so, take a small step forward in changing the “old ways”.

What makes Split a good city for startups

We already talked about many of Split’s benefits while discussing digital nomads and international professionals living and working in Split, the needs of startups are slightly different. However, some of the common positive points of Split as a city remain: its location and weather, good connectivity, the size of the city, great work-life balance, etc.

Something important for any startup ecosystem is having a university in the area on which you can rely in terms of providing new talent through a fresh influx of graduates every year. Split has an advantage in that sense because it has a really good university that recognized the importance of innovation and has started to implement changes that aid the creation of a startup ecosystem in our city.

Faculty of Economics (EFST) has an entrepreneurial incubator (SPI) whose goal is to promote young entrepreneurial endeavors and is open to all proactive students of Split’s university interested in entrepreneurship. They are also organizers of many events like “Get in the Ring” and “STup!” – international student startup competition.
Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Naval Architecture (FESB) is the home of PICS@FESB, a pre-incubator and co-working space for students.

When it comes to government support, the regional government has recognized the importance of the growth of the local tech community and has taken steps to bolster its development through a project called ICT Županija. Recently they have opened the SPINIT startup incubator and are working towards opening a regional IT center.

Overall, the key competitive advantage of the budding Croatian startup ecosystem is the availability of good and affordable engineering talent, so in this regard, Split is no different. Therefore, it’s good to see that both the members of the University of Split and the local government have taken notice.

Regarding the existing startups, it is very interesting that, while tourism represents a big part of the overall Croatian and especially regional economy, only a small number of local startups are focused on tourism. Which further proves the importance of startups in Croatia and how they can not only aid but also diversify the local economy.

Our local startups

Despite the small size of the ecosystem, and difficulties in finding financial support, the Croatian startup ecosystem managed to generate a few success stories. Companies like Infobip and Rimac Automobili, which have already outgrown the label of a startup, have been founded rather early in the development of the ecosystem, and have managed to become industry-defining players.

In terms of Split as a local startup ecosystem that is a part of the Croatian whole, there are also several successes: GetByBus, Parklio, Include, dobartek.hr, Shard Labs, MushroomCups, etc.

You will get to know all of them better in the series on local startups we’re preparing, as each of these startups deserves to be presented in more detail. Their stories of success can inspire you and the struggles they’ve faced can for certain provide a learning experience.

Bumps in the startup road

Considering that Croatia as a whole is a startup ecosystem that’s still in its infancy, there are struggles that need to be overcome. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so neither can a startup ecosystem, on a national or local scale. However, the only way to change for the better is to recognize and address issues that need to be worked on and resolved.

In the case of Croatia, and subsequently Split, there are two major points to work on when it comes to startups: unfriendly bureaucracy and access to support and funding. These two issues cause a third one: brain-drain. Resolve the two, and the third one disappears on its own.

The bureaucracy can be dealt with only by the government, which needs to learn to truly accept the advice offered by advisors who are actually in the startup business and actively work towards adapting the laws and regulations that will benefit the growth of our startup ecosystem.
When it comes to access to support and funding, while still extremely challenging, one bright light emerged way back in 2008 – CRANE, the Croatian business angels network.

However, despite good intentions, regulatory challenges continue and lack of risk capital is still the most important obstacle in creating a more vibrant startup ecosystem. So these are the issues we need to focus on the most. But we have to keep in mind that there is no quick, one-size-fits-all solution. Most importantly, resolving these issues will take time and a cultural shift in terms of changing our mindset as a society. All those positive steps that have already been made, while relatively small in the grand scheme of things, are what we should focus on and whose examples we should follow.

As an association that focuses on the local tech community in Split, we can only focus on what we can change.

In this case, it means developing a more dynamic way of thinking that is flexible and agile; accept failure as something normal we learn from, not as something to be feared, ashamed of, and considered the end of the world; be open to new ideas and different ways of thinking; allow ideas to flow freely from universities and R&D centers to companies, and in between companies themselves.

It seems like a complex and daunting task, doesn’t it? But, if you’re committed to it, it really isn’t.

Future of startups in Split

Daunting or not, no one said any change has to be a giant leap forward. Baby steps are more than fine as they also make a difference. Climbing a mountain starts with the first step, takes time and no one flies you to the top, but those struggles are what makes the view up there so rewarding. Building a startup ecosystem is the same.

Locally we have already begun moving forward and changing the way of thinking through different events organized by Split Tech City. Our Motivational Conference was one of those events. The goal of the conference was to show young people bright examples of local technological entrepreneurship so that they can understand that even in Split, contrary to the popular belief of many who don’t see possibilities outside of our capital and abroad, one can succeed.

FuckUpNight is another event whose idea is to change the mindset we’re used to. Focused on telling stories of failures from which lessons were learned and greater things were born, the event is supposed to inspire and not demoralize. The panelists tell their stories of how they failed, what they’ve learned, and how they moved forward. To make something “normal” and accepted in society as a whole, we need to talk about it openly and that is exactly what FuckUpNight is all about when it comes to failures.

Gathering the local community together is another one of those steps forward in terms of providing a space where ideas flow easily, people meet and discuss things of mutual interest, and there is a culture of openness and acceptance. That is what Split Tech City is all about – for startups, as well as other members of the local tech community.

And following the “slowly moving forward is still moving forward” motto, even if we manage to only slightly increase the visibility of our startup ecosystem worldwide, we have already done something.

Increasing visibility might aid in finding support and funding for local startups. Finding support and funding makes it easier for startups to succeed which makes them noticeable to the government due to economic benefits.

The government might then react and untangle some of the proverbial bureaucratic knots. As we can see – in an ecosystem no one can operate alone and without influencing another. Our small step forward today might mean a giant leap for the whole community tomorrow. You never know!

That’s why Split Tech City is here today, but we will also be here five, ten, or however many years down the line. What we want to see is that today’s startups outgrow the startup stage and even more new startups pop up. And we’ll be here with you toasting to the failures and lessons learned from them, and celebrating victories and successes!

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About author

Nikolina Kukoč

Researching is woven into my DNA, but I'm a musician at heart. Interested in too many things and always curious. Forever in love with Split and enchanted by people who teach me new things. When I'm not writing about Split's tech community, you will find me somewhere in nature, in the theatre, or with my head stuck in a book. I do my best to live by the verse "Love forbids you not to love." from the opera "Fedora" by Umberto Giordano.