Startup life is tough. This small nation shows that anything is possible

Renowned for its picturesque beaches and dramatic landscapes, Croatia is also home to a booming tech scene.

Image: Infobip

Great ideas can emerge from the most unlikely places. With a population of just over 6,000, Vodnjan is a small town located in the picturesque seaside region of Istra, Croatia. With its winding cobbled streets and sun-drenched stone buildings, the unassuming town isn’t the first place you’d associate with fast-growing startups, but it’s the birthplace of Infobip, the first tech unicorn. from Croatia.

Founded in 2006, Infobip offers a variety of cloud communication services to telecommunications providers around the world. Led by co-founders Silvio Kutic, Roberto Kutic and Izabel Jelenic, the company has approximately 3,500 employees in over 70 offices worldwide.

Despite its impressive global reach, Infobip’s main offices remain in tiny Vodnjan, where Kutic’s family has lived for more than 500 years.

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The concept that led to Infobip emerged in 2001. The initial idea was to create something that would serve as a virtual community for Vodnjan residents and a platform for local authorities to communicate with citizens. “It was something like a CMS system, a virtual space that residents could subscribe to and get their information through the website, mail, SMS, etc.,” Kutic told ZDNet..

Five years later, Kutic pursued these initial ideas and founded Infobip with an initial investment of €25,000, which he borrowed from his parents. Today, Infobip is worth over a billion euros, specializing in customer engagement technologies and omnichannel communication. The company recently acquired global VoIP provider Peerless Network, underlining its international growth strategy and ambition to expand into the US market.

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Infobip co-founder, Silvio Kutic.

Image: Infobip

The rise of Infobip is a testament to how far Croatia’s IT industry has come over the years and helped put the small Balkan country – renowned for its sunny beaches, music festivals and starring role in the TV series HBO hit, Game of Thrones – on the global computer map.

Currently, a third of Infobip’s employees are based in Croatia. The company achieved “unicorn” status in 2020; now, Kutic says he looks forward to “an era of exponential growth” in the Balkans. “For people, it’s very important – to be part of this story, to know that they have created something successful,” he adds.

Although not usually associated with London, Berlin and other European tech hubs, Croatia is home to a large pool of IT talent that is just beginning to develop, especially in software engineering.

Software development company Infinium is considered another Croatian technology success story. The team of 350 developers and specialists serves globally recognized brands such as Samsung, Universal, Coca-Cola, Bayer & Bayer and T-Mobile. recently extended in neighboring Montenegro, where it plans to invest more than 3 million euros over the next two years.

If Infobip can be considered the first Croatian unicorn, it is not the only one. Take electric vehicle (EV) maker Rimac Automobili, which currently has around 1,000 employees. The company hopes to augment this number to 2,500 by 2023, while increasing investment in research and development.

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Infobip was created with an initial investment of €25,000. Today, the company is valued at more than one billion euros.

Image: Infobip

Such developments are a boon for tech professionals in Croatia. With companies like Infobip and Rimac Automobili creating new job opportunities for a booming tech industry, the country hopes to recoup the “brain drain” it has suffered over the years as skilled workers move to other western countries to find a job.

Vedran Kontosic has worked for eight years as a developer at Infobip’s headquarters in Vodjan. He says Croatia’s tech landscape is almost unrecognizable from what it was a few decades ago, when opportunities for anyone working in IT were scarce, computers were expensive and developers had to decipher manuals. of training written in unknown languages.

“When I started in the 90s, not everyone could afford a computer, the Internet, and we had to study from textbooks in other languages, like Italian for example. Now the conditions are much better for the younger generations,” Kontosic told ZDNet. .

Kontosic believes that the Croatian tech ecosystem is increasingly boosted by the growing interest in technology and IT among young Croatians, combined with tech companies boosting the economy by creating new skilled jobs for the local population. .

Infobip also invests in the Croatian startup ecosystem, especially in projects involving artificial intelligence, robotics and FinTech.

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STEMI, for example, is an educational robotics startup that aims to get kids interested in technology while teaching them basic engineering and programming skills. Kutic hopes such initiatives can bridge the gap between education and the skills needed for tomorrow’s workforce, allowing young Croatians to gain practical experience that can be applied in the real world. “They engage in projects and quickly learn, adapt and enter the global IT industry,” he says.

Infobip also wants to expand these educational efforts outside of Croatia.

In May 2021, the company launched its Startup Tribe program, which aims to accelerate the development of regional startups by providing them with office space, connections to venture capital firms and accelerators, and access to products and services. from Infobip.

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Ivan Burazin, CDXO at Infobip.

Image: Infobip

The program has already integrated more than 70 startups from nearly 40 countries, many of which come from Croatia and the Balkans. “We try to support startups globally, and as someone who has run his own startup, I know how difficult and daunting it can be,” says Ivan Burazin, director of experience in development of Infobip.

With this program, the company invests in new generations of startups that, ideally, will give back to the tech ecosystem once they reach maturity.

This approach involves playing for the long term, but for Kutic, investing in the developing tech ecosystem is crucial to helping Croatia – and the wider Balkan region – get the attention it needs to thrive further. .

“The rest, like investments, growth and venture capital funds, will surely arrive too,” he says.

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