During September thanks to Swisscontact EIR Network programe which supports local organizations promoting and developing tech entrepreneurship we had a pleasure to host our first Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) at ICT Hub.

Todd Lemley has been an entrepreneur since he was 10. He has been a member or led startup teams in the US, Europe and Asia that have went through an IPO, company sale, mergers – and failures. He’s been an educator, mentor, consultant and coach to companies across the globe and on occasion, is an angel investor. Since 1995 he’s participated in Denver, Colorado’s startup community in many community roles including  boards, public committees, and on task forces to allocate government funds for economic development, promoting public/private partnerships and many specific ecosystem efforts from accelerators (Innosphere,Techstars, Boomtown, Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, Blue Ocean, Startup Health) to the largest Startup Week and University Startup competitions. 

In the continuation, you can find out Todd’s impressions about his trip to Serbia and getting know our startup scene.

Your impressions of the Serbian startup ecosystem?

The Serbian startup ecosystem was more advanced than I’d expected. Of course, there was knowledge of the history of the country and some exposure through Serbian friends in the US, but I didn’t know much detail. The attitude to innovate and try something new is something to be built upon and promoted and many elements are already there, and you are working on building out the remaining pieces.

What makes the ecosystem unique?

Serbia has the basis of a large technically educated population and significant experience in the IT outsourcing world. This offers a leg up on many countries and provides a basis for faster growth through exposure to foreign markets and ways of doing business.  Your translation of that experience to the ecosystem can be faster because of that background.

What story will you remember from Serbia as an example that you might recount in some incoming sessions?

After the Discussion/Q&A at ICT Hub, two older gentlemen (around 65) waited to have a word after most everyone left. They wanted to discuss the many ‘between the lines’ messages in my speech and response (they were right) and hoped that most of the younger people understood what they were (me too). The observation was impressive, especially given that English is their second language and subtleties can be difficult to recognize.  Specifically, the one man said that the significant element in the talk was the spirit it embodied.

Of all the time spent there, that is probably the most insightful comment I received. Entrepreneurship is characterized by a spirit that isn’t necessarily evident as widely in other paths of work.  It’s different. The words are easy to say, but not everyone embraces or understands how that permeates a successful community. He ended by saying that he hopes younger Serbian people embody this spirit given some of the cultural challenges inherent in Serbia.  I was flattered at the reaction, but more importantly couldn’t agree more.

How to improve our startup community and how to achieve that the investment is no more such a strange topic, even within the community?

Investment, one of the pillars of a strong entrepreneurship ecosystem, continues to need attention. Fundraising is very rarely an easy thing to do, but the more ambassadors, from entrepreneurs, government officials and especially successful investors/business people, support and participate in the process, the far better chance of creating success.  This doesn’t mean just exits (although that is a great PR tool), but just any successful venture that’s been built.  Sharing this experience and motivating broader, continued involvement is key to long-term sustainability.

Remember, improvement is continuous. Everybody needs encouragement that treads down the entrepreneurial path, regardless of where they live or what they are trying to create. A positive ecosystem can do that by just being available.

Todd Lemley, our former EIR