Technology Park Ljubljana became a hotspot of early stage startup ideas before it was trendy. Since 1995, TP LJ has taken innovative business ideas under its wings, and has spread entrepreneurial thinking in Slovenia. Today, the giant business centre accommodates 281 companies including 94 incubated startups to whom they are providing business consultancy services free of charge while seeking for financial sources themselves. I asked Kristina Ober, Public Relations & Marketing responsible at TP LJ what model they set to promote entrepreneurial mindset, and how she sees their role in the Slovenian startup ecosystem.

Kristina Ober

Kristina Ober, Technology Park Ljubljana

What is your story? How come you became a pioneer in advocating entrepreneurship as early as in mid 90’s?

The idea to set up a technology park came from Institute Jozef Stefan (IJS), a national research institute for natural science and technology as well as one of our founder organizations. They had a growing number of innovative projects that they promoted for commercialization, therefore, assigned a department to develop their business strategy. As they were impressed by the results, the IJS  contemplated to dedicate physical infrastructure for innovative business projects. 7 organizations including 3 natural science research institutes shared this vision, thus coupled up to create Technology Park Ljubljana in 1995. We started to grow dynamically when received European Union structural fund in 2005, we were the first in Slovenia. Following this success, we started to grow physically. Since 2008, we are proud owner of 8 buildings with modern business infrastructure accommodating 281 companies on 36.000 m2, while still managing the old premises near IJS with 4.000 m2. Thus, TP LJ is managing and providing to knowledge based companies with 40.000 m2 modern infrastructure for business development.

As I understood the TP LJ was funded by public institutions, does that mean that it is also a state funded organization?

This is partly true. We are a public-private company, but unfortunately, we don’t receive direct state or regional support. That means, we have to find our ways to maintain our technology park and provide business support services. Our financial sources are our rental fees, national and EU funds when applicable and services we provide for our companies. I have to stress here, that we are non-profit by origin, therefore, if any surplus emerges by the end of the year we reinvest it in our programs and projects. Also, we provide startups in early stage phase consultancy services for free.

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What are these services you provide for startup companies?

We offer three programs for our clients tailored to the maturity level of their businesses. First, we have the Pre-incubation Programme aiming at nurturing the business culture and validating business ideas by identifying the business opportunity in promising ideas, reviewing the minimum viable product and developing the business strategy. The Incubation Programme is designed for startup entities,that hold potential to make an impact on international market, to develop their business ideas throughout a 10 module lean and agile methodology training. Our associate members, most of them alumni after 4 years of incubation program, undertake mentorship of the incubated projects on voluntary basis. We also provide incubated start-ups with desks, and infrastructure in our co-working spaces. Except for the rental fees, we provide all services for free. Besides the two early stage startup accelerators, Global Growth Programme offers consultancy services for mature companies that are driven to go global with their innovative idea. This program is the most complex by involving mentors from multinational corporate environment, and our international network of technology and science parks.

Which other incubators are you in connection with? International/Slovenian partners?

We have a joint initiative, Start:up Slovenia that goes back to 2011. Then, we united with 6 stakeholders of the startup ecosystem to shape a strong, converging environment for innovative entrepreneurship in Slovenia. Among our partners, we can enumerate the most prestigious startup schools, accelerators and venture capital funds of the region as Hekovnik, Microsoft Innovation Center, CEED Slovenia, Silicon Gardens, Eleven, and others. Under Start:up Slovenia, we launched recently two pilot projects in partnership with the Slovene Entrepreneurship Fund. Geek House business accelerator  provides 50.000 EUR of convertible loan for the selected – most promising start-up teams. Go:Global: Slovenia business accelerator provides comprises a management and an investor readiness program offering the possibility to reach a 200.000 EUR venture capital investment. We hope both of these pilot projects become permanent accelerator programs in the near future. As for startup competitions in Slovenia, we regularly promote our mentored projects to ITime, Imagine Cup and this year, we were glad that NervTeh, a Slovenian driving simulator startup gained the first place on PROFIS regional startup competition and investor forum through our mediation.

This is impressing. You also have an expertise in writing EU project proposals. What EU funds would you recommend for an incubator?

Sofar, we applied successfully or were involved as a partner in transnational projects cofounded by   Mediterrean Programme  South-East Europe Programme and Centra Europe programme as well as cross-border cooperation programmes Slovenia-Austria and Slovenia-Croatia, and additionally in centralized European programmes such as ERASMUS+, ERASMUS for young entrepreneurs etc.  I would recommend these to follow, and additionally, of course Horizon 2020 (SME Instruments) and Erasmus + have calls periodically on developing capacities in innovative sectors.

Thank you for the hints. What about the future plans?

As I mentioned, we want Geek House and Go Global:Slovenia to be well-known, advanced accelerator program. Currently, we see there is a lack of entering points for early stage startups to the world of investors and entrepreneurial world. We want to fill this gap by opening more to universities and spread the word on their opportunities. Furthermore, we are also focusing our efforts on regional level with development of Start:up Ljubljana project. The aim of the project is to create the common portal as an access point for startup teams and to connect the business development programmes on the regional level. In the long run, we also want to reach our goal: to be the landing point in the region sending startups to the international market and grow the numbers of our success stories.

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