Interview with Mostar’s Leading Coworking Startup Accelerator
While traveling through the Balkans this autumn, I found myself in the charming town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a couple of weeks. A town filled with rich history, spectacular hiking, and even better food, I was thrilled to discover there was a small, but mighty coworking culture.
After discovering SPARK, a self-proclaimed “business park,” online, I showed up and was instantly welcomed by the team and found myself enjoying a cappuccino at their onsite café within ten minutes. Discussing our backgrounds and passions for solopreneurship, the connections made were authentic and enriching. I felt at home.
While at SPARK, I had the chance to pick apart SPARK’s Startup Manager & Business Developer’s brain a bit on the coworking scene not only in Mostar, but greater BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina). See my conversation with Marko Zeljko below.
If you plan on visiting Mostar for a weekend holiday, or if you want to plant some temporary roots there for a month or two, I highly recommend you plan on working from SPARK (bookable through the Cowork7/24 app). You’ll find yourself with a seatmate checking in to see how your day is going, an invitation to a pop-up office birthday celebration with local Bosnian treats, and a crazy fast wifi connection.
How would you describe Mostar’s coworking and startup community?
Marko: Even though Mostar is still not sufficiently developed as a coworking and startup community, it’s definitely on the brink of innovative information technology development – not only in Mostar, but greater Bosnia and Herzegovina.
People in BiH are beginning to develop their own one-of-a-kind ideas in information technology, global connectivity, and it’s placing them in a competitive role within the larger global market. The SPARK team decided to take part in this process, always focusing our startups’ commitment to product and service development that have the potential to rock the global market.
Coworking is a practice that has spread very quickly among American freelancers, but in the past few years, it’s permeated throughout Europe, too. Bosnia and Herzegovina is no exception.
SPARK has offered coworking desks/meeting rooms from the start, and in partnership with betahaus (a chain of coworking spaces across Europe), our SPARK coworkers can also work from their spaces in Berlin, Hamburg, Barcelona, and Sofia. We offer coworkers/startup partners five complimentary days a month.
What are the challenges of introducing coworking culture to a community that doesn’t know much about it? Also, how has SPARK grown in the past two years and where do you see it headed?
Marko: A couple of years ago, when we just started, our initial goal was to educate not only our community about the startup world, but ourselves. The startup scene was incoherent and there was no real information about the number of startups, the current stage of their development, the realized investments, etc. within BiH. SPARK was founded in April 2015 and back then we were only focused on our school and startup programs.
Today, SPARK is an advanced digital technology acceleration platform dedicated to regional startups and projects commissioned by leading European companies.
We have several onsite programs including: SPARK school, SPARK R&D, SPARK startup and SPARK business. Our target consumers include: individuals, teams, investors, companies, researchers, and sponsors.
Our main objective is to invest in customer-centric and commercially oriented startups through the startup acceleration program. Selected candidates receive startup acceleration services and investment. The SPARK team is passionate about investing in innovative startups by covering basic costs that startups incur in the initial phase of product development including covering services costs that will ensure an effective and timely market launch.
Do you have advice for other people looking to start their own coworking/accelerator community in a place that doesn’t know much about the industry?
Marko: Our advice is to have a lot of patience and definitely focus on educating the society first.
SPARK does this by organizing interesting events on topics from the startup world, by pointing out the advantages of coworking, such as the help and advice you can get from colleagues, connecting with other professionals, through lower office resource consumption to greater competitiveness in relation to working from home, and similar.
What’s coming up for SPARK in October/November that coworkers and startups should be aware of (events, workshops, etc.)?
Marko: There are many activities and events planned for the rest of the year, but here are a few coming up we’re excited about:
27 – 29 October 2017 – Innovation Hack
Innovation Hack is a 48-hour competition/hackathon with valuable cash prizes where competitors can show their IT skills in developing innovative solutions based on sports data. Around 40 participants divided into teams will work on the development of products and services (i.e. mobile, web or desktop app) for 48 hours, on one of these thematic areas: Sports Betting, Gamification of Sports Data, Future Sports Data and Sports Data Journalism.
11 November 2017 – Tech Meetups
Tech Meetups are held three times a year, with the aim of informal gatherings of developers and designers from Mostar and the surrounding area, so they can exchange experiences and knowledge, and perhaps agree on new co-operation. The topics covered are Big Data & Machine Learning, UX/UI Design, 3D Design, AngularJS Application, DDoS Attacks, Legacy Code, Domain Driven Design and Microservice Architecture.