How Podim looked this year: The ABC team behind the scenes of the largest startup conference in our country

Last week, we were at Podim- the largest start-up conference in the CEE region, where innovative companies and capital meet. Over 170 startups participated in the conference, and had the opportunity to meet with almost 100 investors. Due to the circumstances, the conference was happening completely online for the first time. The organizers responded appropriately to the situation and took advantage of their creative streak and tried to bring the event as close as possible to the real live meeting. Registered people were able to schedule who they would like to meet via video call, a few days before the event. There were 20 minutes available for the mentioned meeting, where the startups tried to make the best impression on the investor. Preparation, including the obligatory check pg the microphone, speakers, camera and light in the room was very important. If the startup did not prepare in advance, the whole situation was uncomfortable. It was essential for the investor to decide whether he wanted to meet with this startup again.

Parallel to the meetings, the Founders Academy and a presentation / pitching took place on six different virtual stages on the first day. ABC Accelerator presented 13 startups on its virtual stage and sent the Chess Universe startup to the semifinals. 

On the second day, the participants at the round tables listened to how modern technologies are changing industries as we know them. At the same time they had the opportunity to see the semifinals of presentations / pitching startups. One of the members of the jury was also the director of ABC Accelerator, Grega Potokar.

On the last day of the conference, round tables and various workshops were held where startups could attend the Growth Academy in virtual classrooms and how to get an investment (Getting Funded). The last event of the whole conference was the finale of the presentation / pitching of startups. Among the finalists, the Croatian startup Farseer was the best, solving the problem for all companies that deal with a large number of numbers. Their application makes it easier to allocate funds and easily predict the future operations of the company.

The ABC Accelerator team held a total of over 150 meetings, where mostly everything went smoothly. We also spoke with startup Farseer, that won the Podim DX Pitching Competition. Both at the competition and at the meeting, they presented perfectly what they are doing and how they managed to reduce costs for their clients by up to 50% with the first 6 pilot projects, which proves that a virtual pitch or meeting is just a form, but it is the content that counts.

We have already agreed with some startups for another virtual meeting, where we will discuss the possibilities of cooperation in more detail. Despite the fact that participating in such an event was probably a challenge for both the organizers and the participants, it once again showed how important it is to be agile at the moment when it is needed.

Troia won the PowerUp energy startup competition in Slovenia

The purpose of the PowerUp initiative! is to find the most innovative startups, companies in the expansion phase and small and medium-sized enterprises from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). This year, 362 companies from 24 countries took part in the challenge. In Slovenia, three selected candidates, Troia, SmartLPG and Geteco, competed for the title of the best energy startup  in the country.

The winner – Troia – was chosen by a jury consisting of Next Move Energy director and carbon neutrality expert Nina Bračko Colja, IT expert and CEO of the Žejn Group and PartIT, Ernest Žejn, prof. dr. Matej Zajc from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana, and EIT InnoEnergy representative Szymon Kwiatkowski.

The winner of the Slovenian final of the InnoEnergy PowerUp challenge will also represent our country at the international grand final.

This year’s Slovenian competition took place online on Earth Day – Wednesday, April 22, 2020. “We decided whether to continue the program despite strict pan-European measures to contain the new coronavirus,” said Jakub Miler, Central Europe Director at InnoEnergy. “And that’s why we decided to continue – albeit with online implementation in a safe and responsible way. We want to continue to support innovative companies and thus help them survive, develop and operate successfully at a time when economic forecasts are rather pessimistic. Right now, when many of the channels and resources on the market may dry up for them, we will continue to support innovative entrepreneurs with financial resources, knowledge and valuable partnerships, with the help of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. “

Troia, the winner of the Slovenian PowerUp! Competition, is already successfully penetrating markets around the world with its advanced technological knowledge and innovative thinking. With the help of AR glasses, tablets or phones, the Troia AR platform displays computer-generated key data in real time, thus enabling outstanding improvements in terms of operational excellence and quality at work. It offers endless possibilities and business opportunities for all industries and organizations.

“We are extremely happy with the victory, as we competed against really innovative and good solutions. For us, it represents a confirmation of good and hard work, and above all a confirmation of the quality of our solution. The award will help to further develop our own solutions. We believe that the cooperation with EIT InnoEnergy will bring us additional new opportunities, new contacts and greater visibility, with the help of which we will be able to show our solutions to the wider world public, “said Primož Sevčnikar.

At the PowerUp! Slovenia startup SparkLPG presented itself, which is already launching its own product this autumn – LPG system for newer vehicles by injecting the liquid phase of LPG and achieving the highest engine efficiency, safety and savings. It is the result of long development and intellectual property, achieved by an international business team of Simon Štrancar, Thomas van Veen and Darko Obretan.

Among the three Slovenian startups in the PowerUp! There was also Geteco. The company solves the environmental problem of mixed waste plastics, which is not interesting for recycling for utility companies and concessionaires or processing into new innovative products

“We are pleased that the competition was carried out so successfully in such demanding conditions. We presented three startups with really interesting and ‘scalable’ solutions or products. The teams are realistic, with clear goals and, above all, a strong technological basis. Any of the startups can become a serious player in the international market. Slovenian knowledge and entrepreneurship with a partner such as Innoenergy, which brings a strong network of partners and customers, is the reason for our pride and joy that Slovenians will be global players. Globality may seem a bit more remote in these particular times, but we believe startups will be able to do that. As ABC Accelerator, we believe that the region is suitable for great companies and their growth, ” said Bernard Grum, InnoEnergy’s hub manager for Slovenia.

The winners of the national competitions will compete for the main prizes at the international grand final: cash prizes worth up to € 65,000, the CEE startup title of the year and rich incentives from leading partners such as Amazon Web Services, Revolut and SpeedUp Group. The initiative also offers a way to secure millions in investment and to integrate into EIT’s InnoEnergy network, which provides resources, expertise and a wide network of trusted partners that can help companies thrive and achieve global success. A decision on the exact date and venue of the international grand final will be made later and will depend on the easing of government regulations in the region.

Why do startups fail?

Prof. dr. dr. Mitja Ruzzier from the Faculty of Management in Koper, Jose Antonio Morales, entrepreneur and promoter of start-up companies, and Jakob Gajšek, director of the Ljubljana University Incubator and co-founder of ABC Accelerator, the crème de la crème of the Slovenian startup scene, discussed how and why start-ups fail in Slovenia.

As elsewhere in the world, start-ups fail in Slovenia. The question remains what happens after their failure. In Slovenia, neither the ministry nor the other stakeholders have the funds to deal with them,   and their failed hopes, ideas and invested funds.

Unfortunately, new entrepreneurs in Slovenia are no exception to the (un)willingness to learn from the experience of others. However, it is necessary to present a negative experience from time to time, as this may prevent another poorly executed business story.

When asked “Why do startups fail at us?” Mitja Ruzzier replies that it is mainly due to problems with the team that is designing and running the new company. This is followed by a vague understanding of customer needs and the problem that the product is supposed to be solving, wrong estimation of the market size (problem-solution and product-market-fit). Many startups do not take into account indirect competition that meets the same customer needs, and too often we come across nice-to-have solutions. Gajšek adds that most of them fail because they find that there is no market, sometimes they fight or give up because the work is difficult. In reality, they (at least those in the beginning) rarely run out of money but rather motivation, he adds.

From these answers it is clear that the reasons for the failures of Slovenian start-ups are similar, if not the same as in the rest of the world, where the most common reasons for the start-up companies fail are: no need in the market, lack of money, wrong team, problems with sales and the fact that they were overtaken by competition.

Both Ruzzier and Gajšek believe that the statistics of the failures of Slovenian start-ups are similar to those abroad, although they do not have actual data. Gajšek adds that most probably they do not survive the first year or a year and a half. The opposite is also true – surviving companies, in principle, start to cover costs within 3-5 years, which is comparable to the rest of the world.

When asked whether companies involved in accelerators are more successful, both Ruzzier and Gajšek unanimously respond positively, with Gajšek pointing out two key reasons: an accelerator is a great way to find further investment resources or to acquire business partners; It gives startups the connections, as well as credibility. It also helps that accelerators make the pre-selection of startups they accept, and those with little potential are rejected. Morales also agrees, saying that new businesses have two basic needs to be able to increase their chances of success: a successful support system, especially a community of like-minded entrepreneurs to whom they belong, expanding experience and sharing a similar destiny, training for mastering the basics of business and entrepreneurship, as well as understanding the purpose and social responsibility, personal growth, social impact, etc.

Both Ruzzier and Gajšek see the establishment of a d.o.o. as the most appropriate way to start the company, although it also has certain shortcomings related to the specifics of start-up entrepreneurship. Gajšek also thinks that a good solution is d.d., but it is too expensive.

Different funding sources certainly affect the performance of a startup business. However, Ruzzier points out that it is difficult to talk about rules because sources and forms of financing are very different from one another and are suitable for companies in different stages of development. So e.g. VCs usually bring other things, such as knowledge, connections. With banks (debt financing), no one interferes with management, and crowdfunding gives you the opportunity for early market validation. Every type has its  advantages and disadvantages. Gajšek agrees, saying that money influences success only in the sense that it extends the life of a startup and so that it can achieve something. More than money, other help from investors – i.e. connections, knowledge, credibility – are key to success. There is no huge difference between what a VC or an angel (or a group of them) adds, it depends mainly on that person’s connections. Therefore, crowdfunding can be (but not necessarily) a worse option because startups do not have someone to help, but a plethora of people they almost have no contact with.

Although digital solutions have been common lately, neither Gajšek nor Ruzzier think that the survival of the company is more likely if the business is based on an online solution. Ruzzier says that with web solutions, it is possible to iterate faster and move from idea to prototype and MVP, which is also reflected in the level of ideas presented and consequently failures.

All three are of the opinion that measures to promote the establishment and successful development of start-ups from the state and the EU are welcome, but they need to be checked to see if they are working and implemented consistently. In particular, Morales emphasizes the advantage of the free movement of things and people, which, in addition to competitive advantage, can also be a source of inspiration, enriching ideas and enhancing the importance of European citizenship.

You can read the full interview here: