Podim 2024: Uniting Global Innovators and Investors

Day 22. May 2024

In May, Maribor wrapped up the 44th edition of Podim, one of the most influential startup and tech events in Central and Eastern Europe. This annual gathering attracted the crème de la crème of the European startup and tech world. From 13 to 15, more than 1,000 participants from around the globe came together in Maribor to network and connect. The three-day event hosted 204 startups from 24 countries, over 70 speakers from 17 countries, and more than 50 different venture capital funds and other private investors. These investors manage an estimated €3.3 billion in funds earmarked for startup investments.


The international scope and significance of Podim were evident from the diverse attendee list, which included participants from Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Poland, Serbia, the United Kingdom, the USA, and beyond. They gathered to expand their knowledge, stay updated on the latest tech innovations, engage with revolutionary ideas, and seek new networking and business opportunities. With a 40-year tradition, Podim plays a crucial role not only for the broader region but also for Slovenia, contributing to the development of the local startup ecosystem.

“To advance any startup ecosystem, it’s essential for all stakeholders – from startups to investors, support institutions, and public bodies – to be closely connected. PODIM serves as the glue that binds the Slovenian ecosystem together. It’s not just an opportunity to create and strengthen partnerships but also a significant platform for promoting Slovenian achievements in the startup world. At the Slovene Enterprise Fund, we recognize the importance of such events, which is why our new support program, RazvojniPlus, will continue to back the organization of startup conferences and similar events,” said Maja Tomanič Vidovič, Director of the Slovene Enterprise Fund.

Over 70 global speakers in a three-day program

This year’s organizers prepared an engaging and diverse three-day program featuring more than 70 speakers from 17 countries, including many globally renowned names. The main program, the startup expo at the Podim Marketplace, networking sessions, and the Podim party took place at Maribox. Meanwhile, meetings between startups, investors, and entrepreneurs were held in the Podim Deal Room at Narodni dom.


The content-rich program covered current topics in entrepreneurship and technology across 11 program blocks, including digitalization and digital transformation, tech transfer, the food industry revolution, artificial intelligence and disruptive technologies, business growth, fintech, company management, corporate innovation, getting funded, legal business frameworks, and building a winning startup ecosystem.

Participants had the opportunity to attend over 28 events – discussions, panels and workshops – gaining insights and experiences from established speakers and practicing entrepreneurs. These sessions often serve as a source of new ideas and initiatives for innovation within companies.

Boris Zorko from Zavarovalnica Sava shared his thoughts on innovation and inspiration at Podim: “For us, the PODIM conference is a source of inspiration for innovation, recognizing business opportunities, and meeting potential partners. Our insurance challenges are an ideal starting point for innovation – from small improvements to major breakthroughs. Collaborating with startups and external companies enriches us with new technologies and fresh perspectives, complementing our expertise and giving us a different view on insurance. We are thrilled to be part of the PODIM community, co-creating content, and supporting the local ecosystem. This time, we’ll be doing a lot of networking, letting the content inspire us, and who knows, maybe even forging some new collaborations.”


Tech Transfer Meetup

A special highlight of this year’s Podim was the Tech Transfer Meetup, supported by Slovenia Business. This session featured distinguished international experts from top tech hubs such as ETH Zurich, MIT, and UnternehmerTUM in Germany. These experts shared invaluable advice and experiences on technology transfer, while the meetup provided an excellent platform for exchanging ideas and exploring new ways to collaborate within the innovation ecosystem.


Igor Milek from Slovenia Business emphasized the importance of technology transfer: “At Slovenia Business, as the national contact point for the European Innovation Council (EIC) program, we see a significant untapped potential for establishing and growing deep-tech startups in Slovenia. Promising discoveries by Slovenian researchers and scientists often end up ‘shelved’ instead of being transformed into successful market products and companies through technology transfer. As an agency that promotes entrepreneurship, internationalization, and investment, we aim to change this situation. With the Tech Transfer Meetup, we sought to learn best practices in this field and discuss the topic with renowned international experts.”


€3.3 billion in venture capital at the event

This year’s conference once again attracted a significant number of investors and venture capital funds from the region, all eager to find investment opportunities in startup companies. Over 50 different venture capital funds and other types of private investors, collectively managing more than €3.3 billion in investment funds, attended the event. Throughout the conference, more than 140 investors were available for meetings and discussions, which many startups took full advantage of.

Tatjana Zabasu Mikuž, a partner at South Central Ventures, which primarily operates in the Balkans, shared her experience: “As always, this year’s Podim brought together many interesting guests. Among the startups, I met a few that were particularly intriguing and potentially viable investment opportunities for us, as well as others that, while interesting, were not suitable for our portfolio. Podim remains one of the largest tech events in the region. We are pleased to be here.”

Research reveals a dramatic drop in investment in 2023 for Slovenian startups

At the conference, Gregor Rebolj, a partner at the investment fund Silicon Gardens, presented the latest findings from their research, “The State of Adria Tech,” on investment trends in the tech sector in our region. The data revealed a staggering 90% drop in investments in tech companies in the Alpe Adria region in 2023, compared to a 55% decrease across Europe.


“In 2023, the amount of capital invested in companies founded by Slovenians fell to €81 million, a dramatic 91% decline from the record year of 2021. This amount is comparable to levels seen in 2014, a decade ago. Given the current economic situation, it is somewhat understandable that entrepreneurs prefer to grow more slowly using their own resources rather than seeking investments. However, at Silicon Gardens, we wish to see more ambitious ventures. Such ventures typically have no trouble securing investments and creating impactful stories,” Rebolj explained.


According to the collected data, 24 investments totaling €81 million were made in companies founded by Slovenians in 2023. For more detailed information on the research results, please contact Silicon Gardens.


Slovenia aims to become a top startup destination by 2030

At Podim, Matevž Frangež, State Secretary at the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology, presented the foundations of Slovenia’s Startup Strategy. This strategy was developed by the Ministry in collaboration with the Startup Slovenia initiative and active ecosystem stakeholders.


Slovenia currently lags behind the European average in key indicators measuring the friendliness of the startup environment, achieving only 23% of the European Startup Nations Alliance (ESNA) standards. To close this gap and reach its goals, Slovenia must significantly improve its business environment for innovative startups.


The strategy aims for Slovenia to secure a place among the most startup and talent-friendly countries by 2030. It seeks to create conditions for significantly faster economic growth by increasing the share of high-tech companies in the GDP. The strategy includes specific proposals in five areas:

  • A supportive environment for startup and scaleup companies,
    New legal organizational form for startups,
    Startup visa,
    Development of the venture capital market,
    Solutions for implementing stock options.


Over 200 ambitious startups at Podim 2024

Matej Rus, the head of Podim, highlighted the event’s success: “Both organizers and investors are pleased to see that the quality of startups at Podim improves every year. An increasing number of startups come from abroad, this year accounting for 76% of participants, demonstrating the growing significance of the event in the wider region. We are delighted that startups at the conference successfully connect with a global network of investors and established companies open to collaboration, resulting in numerous successful partnerships.”

Out of 204 participating startups from 24 countries, 24% were Slovenian. They were followed by startups from Croatia (14%), Serbia (9%), Italy (9%), Austria (8%), and North Macedonia (6%). The participating startups come from a wide range of industries, with the top five being: business operations, productivity, and IT; health and well-being; lifestyle, entertainment, and sports; agriculture; food & life science; mobility, transport & logistics.


Many established Slovenian and international companies open to collaborating with startups also participated in the conference, including the global company Infineon Technologies. Andreas Muehlberger from Infineon Technologies shared his insights: “At Podim, we learn a lot about the innovative ideas of startups and discover new areas where we could apply our products. We gain new ideas for our development, which is a win-win situation.”


137 startups from 23 countries competed for the coveted title of the Pitching Competition winner

A major highlight of Podim is undoubtedly the Podim Pitching Competition, where the region’s most ambitious startups showcase their innovative ideas. This year, 137 startups from 23 countries first presented their ideas during an online Demo Day on 7 May. From these, a rigorous investor panel selected the 10 most promising startups to advance to the competition’s semifinals, held on 13 May in Maribor at Podim. The final stage saw 5 finalists competing for the title on 14 May: Get Moments (Czech Republic), Novasign Suite (Austria), Kinderpedia (Romania), Hypefy (Croatia), and Readmio (Czech Republic).


In the finals, the experienced investor panel was most impressed by the Croatian startup Hypefy which developed a fully automated platform for running influencer marketing campaigns from start to finish.


The winner of the Podim Pitching Competition was announced by the Minister for Economic Development, Tourism, and Sport, Matjaž Han. The prize for the winning startup includes a place in The Fundraising Bootcamp, Europe’s top investor program led by angel investor and entrepreneur Francois Mazoudier. Additionally, as part of the PODIM London Springboard, the winner will also fly to London for a series of meetings to connect with key individuals crucial for the startup’s growth. 



Startup awarded €30,000 prize

In addition to the main winner, another startup received a prize at the Podim Pitching Competition final. Chosen by Podim partner Infobip, the Romanian startup Kinderpedia stood out among the finalists and was awarded Infobip services worth €30,000.


Over 1,300 meetings in 3 days

Podim consistently proves to be an excellent opportunity for those seeking new business opportunities, connections, and potential collaborations. This year, startups, investors, and company representatives had access to pre-scheduled 20-minute one-on-one meetings in the Podim Deal Room, held at Narodni dom. The organizers surpassed previous records, arranging over 1,300 meetings involving startups, investors, and business professionals from various corporations and small to medium-sized enterprises.



Podim Marketplace

The “Podim Marketplace” exhibition area offered a diverse array of innovations, with 85 startups showcasing their products and services to investors, businesspeople, and other attendees. Some established companies also presented their services; many products were also available for on-site testing.


The event was traditionally organized under the vigilant eye of Start:up Slovenia, co-organized by the Slovene Enterprise Fund and the Ministry of Economic Development, Tourism, and Sport, with support from numerous domestic and international partners.

Podim Podim 2024 Conference Startup Investor Program
Izvedba: Mojdenar IT d.o.o.