Jasmina Popovska, Business Creation Manager at EIT Manufacturing and Technical Advisor at PrimePoint, Provides Insights into Access to Finance and the Regional Equity Market

ЗА МАКЕДОНСКИ ЈАЗИК КЛИКНЕТЕ ТУКА.
Jasmina, thank you so much for joining us, you have been a part of our various programs here at PrimePoint Partners, previously lecturing our start-ups and entrepreneurs at our first acceleration program on advanced and applied technologies. Can you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to work within the financial and innovative sectors?

It is always great to be part of the new initiatives led by PrimePoint Partners, especially the new start-up empowerment programs that have come to fruition in a short time. I have been working in the financial sector since 2006, however over the past 8 years I have focused on working as an enabler in the innovation ecosystem, and working directly with start-ups. It is a great satisfaction to work in an open innovative environment and be daily in contact with creative and talented people that try to resolve challenges with cool technologies. I enjoy what I do, and would say it is not a job, but a passion.

Some might think that the financial plan is perhaps the least enjoyable aspect to one’s business planning, however, it’s also considered as one of the most important. Why is this so, and how can a financial plan set one’s business up for success?

In the entrepreneurial journey, the financial aspects are inevitable, but I would say that the team’s dedication and drive are the most important part. So, even if a team lacks financial skills it is not something that cannot be overcome with guidance and support. The basic business and financial plan is the first step to understand all aspects of an idea or a new venture, and to prepare for its implementation. Without a financial plan one cannot know what the needed resources, growth strategy and goals are. By understanding well its financial needs, a team or a company is in a position to identify the right financial instruments for that purpose, and to convince the financiers.

Financial risk management is important for a company seeking to secure investments, what steps can they take to minimise risk and attract more investors?

As in the case of all risks in business, there should be awareness in the team that they exist, their likelihood to happen should be assessed and actions to mitigate them should be planned by focusing on the priorities. When it comes to financing an idea or a company the biggest risk is running out of cash, so it is very important that preparations start quite early. As fundraising takes time and financiers’ and investors’ decision may take a few months, the planning for the next round of funding should start before the need is there. Otherwise, start-ups that run out of cash may have serious consequences concerning its business growth. Investors prefer start-ups that know how to manage their finances, risks and cash flow, who are prepared and have certain minimum resilience, because that is an indication of an experienced team with clear goals and control.

What advice do you have for business owners and managers that are thinking about and preparing their company or start-up for equity investments?

Apart from the business and financial plan, it is always good to do research on the financiers and investors and approach only the ones that match the start-up needs, but also where the start-up fits within their investment strategy. Investors meet many start-ups daily, so chances should not be missed, especially considering that the first meeting is always crucial. Therefore, start-ups should not just be well prepared, but should also be honest and open to share information, to build trust, and to keep their reputation neat.

Do you see an increase in business potential and investment in Macedonian companies and start-ups, and the Balkan region more broadly, from investors outside of the region?

We see increasing numbers of high growth and innovative companies in the region, which are thriving on the European or global level, mainly with their own resources, which is encouraging. However, the equity market is not following these development trends and needs at the same pace, with the exception of Croatia and Bulgaria in the past few years. The Balkan region is quite fragmented for the moment and not that attractive for bigger European VCs; however, the initiatives led by the European Commission, the EIB, and EIF are positive for further connecting the local innovative ecosystems and stimulating equity investments. The Macedonian and regional innovation infrastructure needs further support from the public and private sector to create better conditions for start-ups, investors, and businesses in general. However, it is not just the investments, as the growth potential and the attractiveness of the start-ups is related to their internationalisation prospective and initial market size. So, there is a need for creating a larger initial market on the regional level for the early-stage start-ups with low entry barriers, and enabling infrastructure for their international expansion. Nonetheless, there remains a prevailing thinking and acting within national borders and focus on national public funding schemes that is a limiting factor, especially in the case of smaller ecosystems such as the Macedonia one. Public funding should be a tool for stimulating and engaging local and international private investors, not an instrument to replace them.

Jasmina, you work with EIT Manufacturing, which is located in Vienna; can you tell us about the company’s purpose and mission, and how entrepreneurs and businesses alike from Macedonia can get involved?

I am part of the knowledge and innovation community of European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) for almost four years. I started as a leader of all EIT Digital programs in CEE and moved to EIT Manufacturing in 2020. EIT Manufacturing is a pan-European network where the biggest industry players, top universities and RTOs in Europe are partnering in creating more resilient, sustainable, green and social impact manufacturing. We try to bring new innovations on the market within a year and grow start-ups in markets all across Europe. The Business Creation programs that we run are open to the Macedonian manufacturing start-ups and teams, usually through calls or regular scouting.

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