The Municipality of Maribor is one of the key supporters of the PODIM Conference for the second year in a row. We talked to the mayor, Dr Andrej Fištravec, about the activities and results that are helping establish Maribor as a recognizable point on the global map of the world. Looking for fresh private capital, actively attracting and supporting new investments, and implementing programmes, such as Start:up Maribor, have given the first notable results after three years of hard work. The mayor is happy that the local startup community placed successfully into global currents and is overflowing from vitality and social and cultural confidence. At the same time, he is very proud of all new generations of entrepreneurs who are co-creating the economic development of the city, country, and region.
For the second year in a row, the Municipality of Maribor is one of the key supporters of the PODIM Conference. What do you think is the importance of this event, which takes place in Maribor and ensures a resounding meeting of the entire startup ecosystem of Slovenia and the Alps-Adriatic region, and enables the collaboration and networking between key stakeholders (startups, investors, representatives of corporations and support organizations)?
It is crucial for the future of Maribor that it becomes a recognizable point on the global map of the world. It is definitely getting there with the PODIM Conference, because as the biggest and most influential startup conference in the Alps-Adriatic region, it attracted around 800 participants, including more than 50 investors from the whole world, more than 100 corporate representatives, including 6 strong Slovenian corporations that are this year’s PODIM Challenge blue-chip partners (Kolektor, Iskratel, Pošta Slovenije, Zavarovalnica Triglav, Telekom Slovenije, and Nova KBM), and more than 250 startuppers from 20 countries. The PODIM Startup catalogue includes 135 chosen, most promising startup companies of this year’s PODIM, for which the conference organizers will organize around 200 one-on-one meetings with interested investors, corporate representatives, and other potential business partners, taking place during both days of the conference.
The municipality of Maribor is enabling free PODIM Conference attendance to Maribor startup companies this year, but we are also especially happy that more than 25 young Slovenians living in Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary will travel to Maribor with the purpose of strengthening the collaboration between the Slovenians working and living abroad, and entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurship community in their home country.
For the past two years, you have also been systematically supporting the Start:up Maribor programme. Which are the key reasons and results that you stepped into this programme as a partner, and what are your plans for directly encouraging startup entrepreneurship in the following periods?
Organizers of the Start:up Maribor programme have informed us that startup companies included in the supported programmes in 2015 and 2016 have created more than 70 new jobs in the city of Maribor. During this period, more than 20 new startups with headquarters in Maribor have been created and supported. As far as the number of employing new co-workers in the city of Maribor is concerned, some companies stand out, such as company Reveel Technologies, which also received a 2-million dollar venture capital investment in the US, company Drugi vid, also a two-time winner of the prestigious competition TechCrunch Disrupt in London, company AdoraMED, which is the recipient of a venture capital investment in the amount of 300,000 EUR from the US and Bulgaria as well as took second place in the esteemed competition Zimmer Biomet Connected Health Innovation Award in Switzerland in 2016, and company Simarine, which is paving its way to prestigious suppliers of nautical equipment. In the years 2015 and 2016, only the highlighted four companies contributed to the creation of more than 40 new jobs in the city of Maribor.
In 2016, the Start:up Maribor programme carried out 7 entrepreneurship events, namely three meetings of the startup community, three specialist business workshops, and a large three-day startup weekend where 26 teams developed their business projects in collaboration with more than 20 mentors (altogether more than 80 event participants).
What have been the results of the Invest programme in Maribor in the past year and what do you think is the key importance of the new investments that you succeeded in attracting to Maribor – new development centre of the Comtrade group, opening of a new branch of the successful German company Aspiria GmbH, opening of a new printing production hall of Florjančič Tisk, and of course the opening of the varnishing plant of the Canadian company Magna International in Hoče, beside the Maribor airport, which recently obtained a new strategic owner.
The most visible result are new jobs, which are being created within various business initiatives (Comtrade, Aspiria, Florjančič tisk, Brobo Europe, arrival of Magna, Palfinger, purchase of the Maribor airport and many more small investments). The other important aspect is that Maribor became the most recognizable urban centre of Slovenia, which is known for being an investor-friendly environment where different municipal departments will do everything to find a common language with individual business initiatives that think Maribor is a suitable business environment. During this time, Maribor has also become a big city by connecting with the large Chinese market, more exactly different regions and cities. Just recently, the city council of the Municipality of Maribor made the decision that Maribor will twin with two big Chinese cities (Hangzhou and Chongqing), which will definitely open new business paths to the Asian markets. After all, work with Chinese partners also brought a big investment into the Maribor airport to Maribor (approximately 300 million EUR in the first stage).
How would you comment this lively atmosphere in Maribor (new investments, Start:up Maribor programme, biggest meeting of the startup ecosystem at PODIM …) in the light of a quality transformation of the economy in Maribor and the region, which won’t only provide new jobs but also open opportunities for breakthrough innovation and development, where startup companies are of course also important?
It’s interesting that throughout history, Maribor had the largest ascent in the economic, social and cultural sense during the times of the global economic crisis at the end of the 1920s. Something similar is happening now. The city had unjustifiably been paying a huge price of the so-called democratic transformation, so it is also not realistic to expect that the new rise of the city will be possible with help of the government. That’s why looking for fresh private capital and ideas is the only possibility. After three years of hard work, the first results are visible.
The local community isn’t a local community anymore. I am happy that it placed into global streams and is bursting with vitality and social and cultural confidence. I wish that most companies that are offered support through programmes such as Start:up Maribor will keep their parent companies in Maribor or offer jobs to local inhabitants. We are trying to keep the initiatives of the municipality interesting, but I am already proud of all new generations of entrepreneurs who are co-creating the economic development of the region.