Following Network 20/20’s research trip to Southeast Europe in May 2016 and the subsequent publication of our report in March 2017, and with the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Network 20/20 has been assembling a team of partners dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship and impact-driven growth in the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector in Southeast Europe.
With youth unemployment hovering around 50 percent and an increasing brain drain driven by lack of opportunity, the countries of Southeast Europe are at risk of instability. Between rising nationalism, a meddling Russia, and the threat of Islamic extremism, the region poses a real security threat to Europe and the world if it cannot overcome political differences, work towards creating a stable economy, improve bilateral regional relations, and ensure stability and security that will benefit all countries in the region. Yet, the current solution—using EU accession alone as a catalyst for internal reforms in these countries—is a risky proposition. The timeline is long and uncertain, the EU itself is under pressure, and when accession is achieved, as in Croatia, the reforms don’t always stick.
The connection between thriving economies and peace and stability is well-established. In addition to alleviating the destabilizing effects of poverty by providing employment, side benefits of technology transfer and sharing of best management practices have been known to strengthen economies and societies.
Network 20/20’s SEE Change Project will strengthen peace and stability by promoting a sustainable market economy, innovation, and entrepreneurship in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. Rather than focus on gestating innovation, “SEE Change” will focus on regional rapid job and business creation by connecting aspiring entrepreneurs from these countries with already-developed technologies from the United States and elsewhere that are commercially suitable for the region.
The competitive program will also provide business education, mentorship, and access to capital. Anticipated outcomes are the creation of 6-8 companies per year and a ripple effect that includes job creation, inspiration, and mentorship.
The project aims to:
Promote peace and stability by quickly creating jobs and businesses
Create an ecosystem of technical and moral support for risk-taking
Generate new avenues of leadership focused on progress and innovation
Address social challenges through the use of responsible technologies
Provide hope to the youth in the region and reverse a growing brain drain
Product and Entrepreneur Matchmaking
A U.S.-based team of advisors will recruit companies with commercial-ready technologies that have been brought to U.S. or Western European markets but that could be utilized in Southeast Europe. Individuals or teams of entrepreneurs will then apply to license and commercialize one of these technologies, allowing the entrepreneur to jump right to market, skipping the much longer process required to bring an idea to product stage and then commercialization. In all cases, preference will be given to technologies that have a positive social impact and likelihood of successful commercialization in the region, such as those in healthcare/HealthTech, AgTech, or FinTech.
Entrepreneurship and Business Education
Winning Fellows will participate in a U.S.-based 2-3-week training program where they will gain insight into best practices for commercializing licensed technology, and growing and running a start-up while forming connections with mentors as well as with other Fellows. Following the program, Network 20/20 will facilitate mentorship connections to ensure that Fellows have two years of active support and counsel. Previous classes of fellows will also mentor subsequent ones.
Entrepreneurs everywhere cite access to funding as a central issue. In Southeast Europe, this hurdle is compounded by high interest rates, banks averse to lending to unproven businesses, and lack of a venture capital/private equity ecosystem. To address those issues, Network 20/20 is proposing a nonprofit or hybrid funding platform for fellowship winners that would allow access to capital. Investors could include international financial institutions, foundations, and private donors/investors, including those from the region’s diaspora.
New York Leadership
The project will be run from Network 20/20’s New York office, which will be responsible for coordinating with the regional board, the Investment Advisors, applicants and fellows, alumni, and the regional operations manager.
To have the project be as responsive as possible to the needs of entrepreneurs in the region, a regional board will be selected for their understanding of the business and entrepreneurial landscape, their dedication to positive change in their country and region, and connections that will move the project forward. They will be responsible for commenting on the viability of commercialization in the local context for proposed technologies, working with the Investment Advisors to develop the application process, conducting outreach to their contacts and constituents to advertise the program, reviewing applications for the Fellowship program, and serving as points of contact for the Fellows/entrepreneurs in the project commercialization phase.
The investment advisors are responsible for selecting Fellows, helping to identify technologies for in-licensing from the sectors of focus, and allocating funding. Comprised of leading investors and entrepreneurs, this Council will oversee the work of the Regional Operations Manager and ensure the health of the portfolio.
Devil’s Advocates are leading global experts in entrepreneurship, finance, and academia. They will provide strategic and experienced guidance and critiques to all groups involved for the successful project development. Their extensive expertise and knowledge will act as a crucial resource to ensure an innovative and dynamic approach towards the project objectives.
Regional Operations Manager
This local operations manager will report to the Investment Advisors and is responsible for overseeing and ensuring the quality implementation of programs, reporting to and communicating with the Investment Advisors, connecting entrepreneurs with mentorship opportunities, and serve as the point of contact for all Fellows and Alumni. The regional Operations Manager will closely communicate with Network 20/20’s New York office.
Network 20/20’s partners are reliable and respected organizations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia who share our values of regional focus and entrepreneurship promotion and who can provide insight and expertise.