Global Entrepreneurship Week In Action
Joan Gillman of the Office of Corporate Relations and Wisconsin School of Business is on the road to Macedonia as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week. Read her updates from the European University of Skopje, and their Youth Entrepreneurial Services business incubator.
Dispatches from Macedonia
By Joan Gillman
Saturday, November 21
A piece of artwork produced by one of the businesses in the incubator.
Yesterday was a busy day. It was the second day of the two-day conference, and I spoke at 11. The talks were about incubators and by the resident “eggs” (companies in the incubators.)
One young man, 22, was particularly interesting. He started his business while enrolled at the university, and has won many awards. He’d just had come back from an all-expense-paid trip to Brazil for an innovation conference. His business model involves mobile phone advertising to subscribers, and he currently has a 10,000–person customer base. When I asked how his business was doing, he said he'd hired a director to run the company but was now working for a Dutch company for a salary he couldn't afford to turn down.
I’ve included a few pictures of some of the artwork produced by one of the businesses in the incubator here. It’s equivalent to Wisconsinmade.com, and aimed at the Macedonian expatriate community. As a ‘thank you’ for my contribution, the company presented me with one of their beautiful bracelets.
Today started early, with a 3:15 a.m. wake-up call, cab at 4 a.m. and a 5:20 a.m. flight. I’m currently on a layover in the Zurich airport, so I thought I’d provide some concluding thoughts. I
If Macedonia is going to successfully compete in the global marketplace, they need to change their attitude. Over and over again I heard, “But we can't!" or "Macedonians are always at least thirty minutes late." There is a huge need for project management skills within organizations of all sizes. But most importantly, they must stop waiting for the government to save them. Large European companies are coming in at an amazing rate and if they don't balance it out with home-grown businesses they may be in trouble.
It will be interesting to watch them in their moving into the European Union. Once they are part of the EU everything changes and prices go way up. I just walked around the Zurich airport and I can't believe how expensive everything is. A small espresso converts to $7.50. Given the prices and the exchange rate, I’m not shopping. . .though I did see a great purse for 3,000 euro, or about $4,500(!)
It’s been a great experience - thanks for coming along.
Friday November 20
I can't believe how the week has flown. Today is my last day in Macedonia. I’ll be travelling almost the entire day on Saturday, so I'll write a final entry to summarize my week, but it will be on Sunday from the US.
Yesterday was GREAT!! I walked over to the conference center, where the day’s program focused on investment readiness. The speakers were excellent, including the head of a USAID project, several ICT speakers and a terrific young entrepreneur. Othere speakers came from Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia and of course Macedonia. I talked for a while with the VP of marketing for SEAVUS, the largest IT company in Macedonia, about putting together a much-needed sales training program for the country. I have his card and will write when I get back to follow up.
A networking lunch was at 2:45, and unfortunately I had to leave right after so I missed the Bulgarian Angel Network CEO, but I have his card and plan to connect him with the Wisconsin Angel Network. There were too many speakers and too little time but it was a terrific session.
After the lunch, I gave the networking talk at American University. I thought we'd have about twenty students, but there were one hundred that jammed into the room. I left with a brochure and was asked to apply to teach there. In their MBA program, classes are two weeks each. That could be fun!
My friend Zoran came to the end of the class to pick me up for dinner and we went to the only Japanese restaurant in Skopje. Milicia and Ljupco joined us and we talked and talked. I am hoping that they will both come to Madison this spring to see our incubators, and meet with the Wisconsin Angel Network and others. I have quite a list.
Today's conference session is entitled Do Incubators Work? Better get ready! The sun is shining, the weather mild and it looks like another beautiful day.
They took back the Alfa Romeo. Yes, you heard me right. As part of a fundraising effort for the conference, Ljupco got an Alpha Romeo and a BMW to park in front of the conference facility. The BMW has YES Incubator in large type across the car. I've been riding around in style, but the car dealer cut it short and we are down to the BMW. Despite Ljupco’s success in securing these sponsorships, fundraising is tough here, and it’s underdeveloped compared to the level we have in the US.
Yesterday was very busy. I spent a lot of time with Ljupco and the YES Incubator staff talking about strategy and the team needed to grow into a sustainable business. It's very tricky as this government has a strategy welcoming foreign companies but nothing that balances it with a “grow your own” model.
I spoke to the faculty of economics at the university here. Tonight I spoke at American University. The students were great and it was fun. But I was followed by a man talking about branding in Macedonian for 1.5 hours! I wish I could have taken out a book and read. But I spent the time trying to figure out a few words on his power point. It's been a long time since I was in a sorority and learned the Cyrillic alphabet.
After the talk we went to a competition where students from around the country presented innovations and designs, featuring everything from bath tubs to web sites to fashion. That was followed by a party at an Irish pub. I spent the evening with my friends and a couple who are here from England. The Cowdrys are from England, visiting Macedonia and living and working in Ankara, Turkey. They’re retired from running a business incubator in the UK.
After the party at the pub ended, I was in the parking lot and heard some men speaking English. I asked if they were here for GEW and one man said no, he was from Serbia and an auditor. I asked who was he auditing, and he said he was here for Johnson Control. I said, "They have offices in Wisconsin, where I’m from." and the other guy said, “I'm from Milwaukee!” It really is a small, flat world.
Wednesday, November 18
It really is amazing, being here. I've been many times before but each trip is special and a gift. I always think that this gift is my last, but I remain hopeful that I'll come again. What keeps me wanting to come back rather than explore new places? That's simple: the people, who have become my good friends.
Yesterday was a packed day. I started the day at what was billed as a “women's conference” but there were quite a few men there and lots of students. The conference began with eight of us giving a ten-minute motivational talk on how we got where we are. Giving eight women the microphone in a 1.5 hour conference was probably overscheduling! The talk went well and I did stay longer than scheduled to talk to the attendees, all recent grads, all without jobs, and all with degrees in finance, accounting and marketing. In Macedonia, talent tends to leave the country to find work, causing a real brain drain problem.
I went back to the incubator later that day. If you'd like to see more of the incubator, check out the web site. They got quite a bit of money to start it. Why are we sooo good at starting things and not helping with sustainability once the project is up and running? It's true all over the world. This incubator was funded by Sintef (a Norwegian NGO) and a small amount from Soros. Sintef is now pulling out. Our discussions tend to be about building a sustainable organization. Seems I have the same conversations everywhere.
I went to lunch with Fani and Lydia. Fani works for OSI (the Open Society Institute) and we first worked together doing a women's training in Ohrid, Macedonia. My translator there was Lydia. They have remained fast friends for the last nine years and I am Fani's childrens' honorary grandmother. I later worked with both of them doing the planning for the Macedonian Center for European Training (MCET) and then a strategic planning session with them a few years later. The mission was to help Macedonia ascend to the EU. And oh how far they've come.
It was a three-hour lunch as we talked politics, country problems and all that they are doing. They are bringing people to meet me over the next few days for business development discussions. With YES being one of only two incubators in Macedonia (and no business parks), this country has invested less in business development than most of the countries in the region. When they do ascend to the EU (probably 5 years from now) they will need a strong business infrastructure to survive. Already many countries are coming in and taking over the economy. They need to balance that out with businesses of their own. Obviously it was a very stimulating conversation, and I learned a great deal. I wish we (Americans) were as well-versed and well-read as my Macedonian colleagues.
Dinner was with two young women from the incubator, Ana and Elena. This is their first real job and it's interesting to see their concerns.
Today I am at the incubator. But more on today tomorrow, now it's time to get to work. It's another beautiful day in Macedonia.
PS As I walked to the incubator this AM I saw a building that reminded me of the “before”, and took a picture of today to show the “after.”
Tuesday, November 17
The headline reads Global Entrepreneurship 2009.
My camera is fixed so I can now download smaller pictures. Who was it that said a picture is worth a thousand words? Since I know you aren't interested in several thousand words, I'll do more pictures.
Yesterday was great!! I attended the morning opening session for Global Entrepreneurship Week. I spent quite a bit of time talking to the Ambassador from Norway and met the Ambassador of Austria, plus quite a few people from the Macedonian government, including the Deputy Prime Minister. It was quite a distinguished group. My friends Zoran and Milica were there so we caught up and I'll be seeing them throughout the week. They were my original contacts here.
After the opening session they have a coffee hour. Not like ours---more finger food, including bread with caviar, meatballs, and beautiful sweets, marzipan, and cakes. Then I was interviewed by Macedonian TV. I can't believe how many cameras were there, I counted eight from television media and I know the sessions are streamed on the Internet.
Around noon we went back to the incubator, where I met individually with four of the businesses, and provided consulting services. At 5:30, I gave a guest lecture in the Cisco class they offered. I've done it once before on Skype, but I really like it in person much better.
Dinner was at a fantastic restaurant in the old city bazaar. I know, too much about food, but it was all traditional dishes and our starter was a sampling of everything.
Ok, that's enough for now. The weather has been good, in the mid 50's and so far I haven't taken out my umbrella (now maybe I've jinxed it. We'll see.)
Sunday, November 15
It's been quite a while since I traveled over the pond, but Global Entrepreneurship Week was just too tempting to pass up, and when my colleague (Ljupco) in Skopje invited me to participate in their program, I jumped at the chance.
I have De-Lovely by Cole Porter on my computer so I am one happy but a bit tired traveler. It is 6 PM Macedonia time. I've been up for quite a while and at 7:30 they are picking me up for dinner, so I should be able to get this off before I leave.
It's hard to believe it's been two years since I've been here, and for those of you who haven't been with me for past visits, let me give you a little background. The Open Society Institute (the foundation of George Soros) added Macedonia to my portfolio in 2000. I started working with them in 1997 in Osijek, Croatia followed by Sliven, Bulgaria in 1998.
Macedonia is in the central Balkan peninsula in southeastern Europe. It is one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, from which it declared independence in 1991. It became a member of the United Nations in 1993, but as a result of a dispute with Greece over its name, it was admitted under the provisional reference of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, sometimes abbreviated as FYROM. At least, that's how it's referred to in the Olympics.
Macedonia is bordered by Kosovo to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Bulgaria to the east, Greece to the south and Albania to the west. The country's capital is Skopje, with 506,926 inhabitants according to a 2004 census. The country is about 2 million, so as you can see most live in Skopje.
Macedonia is beautiful, with more than 50 lakes, the most famous being Lake Ohrid, and many lovely mountain ranges. Since December 2005 it has also been a candidate for joining the European Union and has applied for NATO membership. Many of my friends here are working toward that end and I've been involved in some of the early strategic planning on how to ready people for the EU. But enough geography lesson!
Ljupco picked me up at the airport and we went to the Youth Entrepreneurial Service Incubator so I could meet the staff that was working Sunday to get ready for all the events of the week. They have me on quite a schedule, but I'll give that to you as we go.
The YES Incubator is located on the engineering campus of the European University of Skopje. There are 16 businesses working in the incubator and 6 more in the city that take advantage of incubator services. All but one of the residents (a faculty member) are under 30 and most in their early to mid 20's. I'm meeting with the residents tomorrow so I'll write more then.