Grand Finale of PowerUP, the Western Balkan Entrepreneurial Excellence Award
The final event of the PowerUP programme which supports innovative SMEs and startup companies from the Western Balkans took place on 29 June 2021. Eleven finalist companies had the opportunity to pitch their businesses in the best light in front of eminent investors from the region. The project, launched by the World Bank in November 2020, and funded by the European Union under the Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility (WB EDIF), was implemented with the support of consulting company Deloitte.
Eleven finalist companies, along with over 200 other participating companies from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, were part of a months-long training programme in the previous period aimed at supporting companies in further growth and business development and aimed at increasing their ability to attract investment and crisis resilience due to COVID-19.
Investors who were also jury members at the final event include recognized regional Venture Capital companies such as J&T Ventures, Fil Rouge Capital, South Central Ventures, Meritus Investments Ltd, Prosperus Invest, Day One Capital, Gap Minder VC, Seedstart URU Capital, and others.
According to jury evaluation, the three most successful companies won the "Western Balkan Entrepreneurial Excellence Award", and tailored business advisory support from local and regional experts from the eminent professional services company Deloitte. In the first place was the company Dwelt from Bosnia and Herzegovina, an IT company and the only startup with its own technology product in the field of energy in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The second place in the competition was taken by NF Innova from Serbia, which focuses on digital banking and the provision of services to financial institutions. Third place was secured by the Serbian company Blinking with a focus and expertise in building and developing digital identity, identity verification, and user data protection.
Alessandra Viezzer, Deputy Head of Unit, DG NEAR - Western Balkans Regional Cooperation and Programmes from the European Commission highlighted the importance of the PowerUP Programme: "The programme gave power to many companies to grow, expand business, create jobs, innovate and contribute to the path of the region towards EU. The European Commission is applying a growth strategy for the Western Balkans which is similar to the one followed by the EU. The EU Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans is also taking into account the COVID-19 challenges. The Plan aims to bring €29 billion of investment in the areas of sustainable infrastructure, energy, green and digital transition, and business development to create sustainable growth."
Linda Van Gelder, World Bank’s Regional Director for Western Balkans, highlighted: "The chosen companies that have been participants in the programme include some of the startups and SMEs with the highest potential and degree of innovation in the Western Balkans. Our promise was to help them develop strategies to expand to new markets, adapt their business models to current and future crises, and attract investment."
Marija Dimitrijević, Sales and Marketing manager from the winning company Dwelt said: "The digitization of the energy sector has never been greater, nor has the focus on a customer who is no longer a passive member of the market because they have no insight into the availability of his own energy sources which provide the opportunity to become an active member of the ecosystem. To reflect this, our software platform that is there to enable it. This is a very significant recognition for us, as it comes from programmes organized by the European Union under WB EDIF, the World Bank and renowned consulting company such as Deloitte. We are very honored to have been part of the PowerUP programme, which has provided us with professional support in various spheres of business in the past months, as well as the possibility of presenting our unique solution to investors and representatives of corporations, as well as networking opportunities with other companies throughout the programme."
Stevica Kuharski, Principal of Fil Rouge Capital, a jury member indicated: "The PowerUP final event showed eleven teams in a different stage of development. Companies in a more mature phase were easier to present themselves because they represented the figures, everything they have done so far and thus gave weight to the projections they presented. The whole region, from Slovenia to Bulgaria, needs programmes such as PowerUP to show openness to ideas and opportunities ahead of startups. We are a proverbial closed region and do not open easily to others, especially when it comes to sharing an idea or business plan. That's why events like this matter."
Muhamed Semić, Head of the Consulting and Risk Advisory department in Deloitte Bosnia and Herzegovina and Elma Delalić, Senior Consultant in the same department shared their perspective on the importance of the programme: "It has been a great pleasure to work with such a large number of potent and innovative companies in the Western Balkans. We are proud that we are already getting many positive comments about the impact of the programme on the businesses of companies, and we hope that the knowledge, skills and contacts acquired through the programme will be useful to them in their further business steps. In addition, the programme has given us a unique opportunity to promote Western Balkan companies and connect them with a number of investors and business partners who will certainly be valuable contacts with companies for their future growth and progress."
Support to the private sector has been identified in the EU's Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans as one of the Flagships. The development of a robust, innovative and competitive private sector is essential for the socio economic development of the Western Balkans and its regional integration. This requires, in particular, increased investments in SMEs and their capacity to innovate, scale-up and grow.