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Student Business Incubator: supporting and developing Split’s startup ecosystem

Nikolina Kukoč

Nikolina Kukoč

16.02.2022.

When Split Tech City was covering the 2021 finals of the Get in the Ring competition, they told us: “Don’t put so much emphasis on us and our work in the article.” Well, this time they will just have to deal with being the stars of the show that they are! We would like you to get to know the Student Business Incubator and the important work they do for our startup ecosystem.

To do so, we caught up with Lana Ugrčić, the Head of Student Business Incubator. We managed to ask her all the questions we wanted, even though she and the rest of the SPI team are busy with all the work they set out to do this year to launch our budding startup ecosystem even further into the stars. So, without further ado, sit back, and let us steer this rocket through behind-the-scenes of the Student Business Incubator.

How it all began and what is SPI all about

Can you take us through the initial story of the Student Business Incubator?

“The Student Business Incubator (SPI) has been operating at the Faculty of Economics of the University of Split since 2016. So far, six generations of student startups and entrepreneurial projects have gone through our program. The incubator developed as a natural extension of the existing activities at the Faculty of Economics.

In addition to entrepreneurship courses and specializations within its formal education – the undergraduate studies in Business Economics, professional studies in Small Business Management, entrepreneurship courses within the Business Economics study program, etc. – the Faculty also conducted informal programs such as the Entrepreneurship Academy from which SPI then developed.

In its essence, SPI provides support in the development of entrepreneurial projects of students and young graduates.

The basic SPI program lasts 6 months, and every year the program itself is upgraded, improved, and adjusted to the market trends. The Student Business Incubator is a place for all enterprising and proactive students at the University of Split.

From the beginning, our main goal was to provide young people with a place where they can develop their ideas and projects, discover their affinities, and acquire new skills and knowledge. We are creating an environment in which students can discover their unique strengths and take the business initiative while having our support. Through our programs, we also expose students to a wider network they can join for insight and support.”

Talking about goals, what are the most important objectives of SPI’s work?

“SPI primarily provides support to student startups from the idea phase to the project implementation phase.
Therefore, the most important goals are to promote youth entrepreneurship, increase the success of young entrepreneurs, and strengthen the entrepreneurial conditions and infrastructure at the University of Split.

In the Student Business Incubator the students:

  • go through our Student Business Academy program where they develop their business models, learn about marketing, finance, legal aspects of business, develop presentation skills, as well as other important business skills and knowledge
  • have mentoring support in the development of their entrepreneurial ideas and projects by being mentored by faculty professors and industry mentors
  • can use our coworking space available to all SPI members
  • have access to various networking events, specialized workshops, and training that we organize
  • receive support and preparation for national and international startup competitions
  • receive support in preparing for various tenders and incentives they are applying for”
SPI at the moment: current participants and projects

How many active members of SPI are there at the moment?

“In this academic year, we have 42 participants of our Student Business Academy program who are gathered around 9 entrepreneurial projects that they are developing through the incubator. The implementation of the SPI program involves 6 permanent lecturers and 10 mentors from the industry who change annually depending on the type of projects that are part of the incubator.

There is also a network of alumni who have gone through the program in the previous six generations, as well as other professionals who are in some way connected to us and we often include them in our activities.

So far, through these six generations, over 150 participants have successfully completed the program, a total of 23 legal entities have been opened and our startups have withdrawn over 1.5 million HRK for the development of their innovations. Every year we accept a maximum of 8-10 projects in the incubator that we work on in groups and individually throughout the year.”

What are some current projects the Student Business Incubator is working on at the moment?

“We currently have two active projects – Hack4Split co-financed by the European Solidarity Corps and AktivniST co-financed by the Central State Office for Demography and Youth. In both projects, the “common denominator” is social entrepreneurship and creating solutions to local problems within the scope of UN Sustainable Development Goals, while in the AktivniST project we expanded our activities to include education for all 17 sustainable development goals.

Hack4Split is a social hackathon that we have been organizing for five years now, and through this project, we have added a kind of preparatory phase where we educate and inform young people about idea generation techniques and social entrepreneurship to encourage them to get involved in detecting and creating solutions for our local communities and through a hackathon to create a prototype/demo of a specific solution that we could try to implement in our local community.

In addition, we are preparing STup!2022 – an international university startup competition that will be held for the third time in June. Last year, 35 teams from 16 universities from 10 countries gathered in Split. These startups presented themselves in front of an expert jury composed of representatives of VCs and accelerators.”

Are there any other regularly implemented projects or events organized by SPI that you would like to mention?

“In addition to the program of our Entrepreneurship Academy, we organize several other activities and events, among which are:

The Student Business Incubator is part of the Global Entrepreneurship Network and accordingly, we organize Global Entrepreneurship Week at the local level every year during the 3rd week of November by organizing various training sessions, workshops, and panel discussions on the topic of entrepreneurship and the development of innovations and new technologies.

  • Smart City Challenge (hackathon in the field of smart technologies organized in cooperation with the City of Split)

The competition lasts for two days, and the participants work on solutions whose implementation aims to raise the quality of life in the city of Split. The specific objectives are the development of innovative solutions and concepts in the field of Smart City technologies, encouraging the commercialization of innovative technological solutions, and strengthening the capacity of young people in the development of innovation.

  • Get in the Ring (competition of the most innovative entrepreneurs with a prize fund of 350 thousand kunas and a trip to the world finals)

GITR competitions are held in more than 100 countries every year. We organize GITR Split in cooperation with the City of Split. The City is also rewarding the most innovative startups in Split. The format of the competition is very interesting, the best startups enter the finals in the boxing ring and fight one on one for the title of the best and the first prize of 120,000 HRK. The goal of this project is to strengthen our local entrepreneurial community and connect local companies with international investment and venture capital funds.

  • In cooperation with the Entrepreneurship Center Split, we are implementing the project “Student Digital HUB” to strengthen the personal and professional development and competitiveness of young people in the labor market through the implementation of a digital program of non-formal learning.
  • The Garage podcast where we interview startups and entrepreneurs

The podcast covers the start-up scene of young and enterprising people who turned their dreams into ideas and over time, with their work and effort, turned those ideas into finished products and services.

In addition to these activities, throughout the year we organize a series of open lectures by guest entrepreneurs and experts, which you can follow through our website and social networks.”

Any favorite projects?

“Our favorite project is STup! – the international university startup competition that we have held so far in 2019 and 2021, and we are preparing it this year, as well. Why is this project “the one” you may ask?

Because we believe that it has the potential to profile Split in the long run as a European university center of innovation.”

Obstacles, collaborations, and encouragement to keep going

Are there any obstacles you’ve encountered in SPI’s work?

“Definitely too much administration and bureaucratization of business processes when cooperating and entering into projects with public bodies/institutions. In addition, the sources of funding for activities are quite limited, so to overcome all these obstacles you need to be patient, persistent, and above all creative.

Another general obstacle is the mindset of our people, who often always resist something new and progressive, something that throws them out of their comfort zone. Because of that, we had to break through different walls several times during the implementation of projects, but that is why we now have a large number of projects and activities that we traditionally do, and we have significantly enriched our startup ecosystem.”

Who are the main collaborators of SPI?

“Student Business Incubator, as part of the Faculty of Economics, cooperates with many stakeholders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We cooperate with various other universities and their incubators, business support organizations, and various associations in this field. For example, we have signed an agreement on cooperation in the implementation of joint programs with Startup Campus, a network that implements accelerator programs in the UK, Germany, and Hungary.

We also organize competitions and hackathons in partnership with various stakeholders: Get in the Ring is implemented in partnership with the City of Split; STup! we organize in cooperation with the SEA-EU Alliance of the universities which our University is a part of, as well as with the support of many other partners; Hack4Split is implemented in cooperation with Ensoco, a consulting company for social entrepreneurship; the Smart City Challenge we organize in cooperation with the IT company Little Code and with the support of the City of Split.

And as a media partner, we are always accompanied by you at Split Tech City through our projects.”

What is the main encouragement that drives the SPI team forward?

“The desire to strengthen the community and build an entrepreneurial mindset and infrastructure that will enable our entire local community in Split to move in the direction of economic growth and development. We believe that investing in young people and their development is the best way to achieve the positive changes we want to see in our society.”

Unlimited possibilities, insight into Split as a startup city, and future plans

If SPI had magically unlimited possibilities, what would you do?

“If we had unlimited possibilities, we would make Split a startup center of the world!”

What does Split do well, and what do we need to improve?

“There is an increase in the City’s engagement and activities in encouraging entrepreneurship and startups in recent years. The reactivation of the Development Agency Split – RaST is also excellent considering the significant contribution of the agency to the promotion of entrepreneurship and plans with the entrepreneurial zone “Dračevac“.

As for things that could be improved, support for startups and entrepreneurs should be more systematic and intensive. Work should be done to establish a strong startup ecosystem that includes all stakeholders in the process, with the city and the university being collaborators and leaders.

Given that awareness of the importance of developing infrastructure that encourages youth entrepreneurship exists, we are optimistic and hope that cooperation and support will be even better in the future and consequently, the effect will be stimulating for what everyone aims for, namely faster development of youth entrepreneurship.”

Can you share with us SPI’s future plans?

“For the current academic year, we have plans to implement the “Student Business Academy“, which is underway with our 7th generation of members. Then there is the implementation of current projects that focus on promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals and encouraging the creation of solutions in the field of UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In the long run, the primary plan is to improve and expand our program for students and young people, further develop our partnership networks and cooperation with relevant organizations in the field of entrepreneurship and development, and continued internationalization of SPI through cooperation and projects with companies and institutions in other countries.”

We are thankful for this insight into SPI, all they do for Split’s startup ecosystem, as well as their vision of Split and the future of our city as a startup and tech hub. We wish the Student Business Incubator team lots of success with all their projects and will continue to follow and support their work!

Photos by: Student Business Incubator

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About author:

Nikolina Kukoč

Researching is woven into my DNA, but I am 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 am not creating content about Split's tech community, you will find me in singing rehearsals, somewhere in nature, in the theater, or with my head stuck in a book. I do my best to live by the verse from the opera "Fedora" by Umberto Giordano: "Love forbids you not to love."

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