Croatia 2.0 Cloaked in Positivity at Entrepreneurial Mindset Conference in Zagreb

By 13 September 2019

Some of Croatia's most successful entrepreneurs gathered in Zagreb on September 12, 2019 for the first Entrepreneurial Mindset conference. It was quite a day. 

About 18 months ago, I met entrepreneur Nenad Bakic for a coffee in Varazdin. During the discussion, he told me that he had decided he wanted to show me something interesting, a different view of Croatia that would surprise and inspire me. 

And so it proved. A few days later, I found myself in a room with 300 people from the top of the emerging Croatian entrepreneurial class at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year dinner in Zagreb. It was probably the most positive atmosphere I have experienced during my time in Croatia, And there was only going to be one winner, man of the moment, Mate Rimac

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I started to look into this new breed of Croat - entrepreneurs setting up businesses in a society which was deeply embedded in the socialist mentality. And the more I looked, the more I realised that this was the most exciting story to be told in Croatia today, and not tourism. Outstanding individuals and proud Croats, forging their way onto global markets despite the overwhelming bureaucracy and negative perception of the entrepreneur in their home country. 

And the more I looked, the more I was astounded by the levels of Croatia excellence on the global stage. It was not just Rimac, but many IT companies and medical tourism clinics, for example. One of the driving forces for positive change and Croatia 2.0 is Ognjen Bagatin, CEO of the hugely successful Bagatin Clinic in Zagreb and Split, as well as the man spearheading Croatia's medical tourism expansion, and also strengthening business contacts between Croatian business and its diaspora. 

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It was no surprise to learn that he and his Casopis Poduzetnik magazine was being a new conference for Croatian business - the Entrepreneurial Mindset - in partnership with EY as an extension of their successful Entrepreneur of the Year evening in March. 

Both Bagatin and EY Managing Partner for Croatia, Berislav Horvat, welcomed participants to the one-day conference, which took place at the Zagreb Academy for Music. 

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Although there was a rich lineup of distinguished speakers, the front row was reserved for the entrepreneurs of the future, some of Croatia's brightest youth who had won entrepreneurial awards and the right to take their seats in the audience. A nice and inspiring touch. 


This focus on youth and the need to educate and encourage the next generation in entrepreneurial ways was a core them of the day. Speakers were encouraged to talk of their failures and explain that rather than being a disaster, failure is a necessary step on the road to success, assuming one learns from those failings. 

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Nenad Bakic laid out the scale of the problem in a few simple slides on perceptions of EU citizens. 

How important do you think having political connections is in getting ahead in life? Croatia tops the EU!

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How important is being lucky to getting ahead in life? Only Bulgaria feels the luck factor more. 

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But when it comes to the importance of working hard, Croatia is bottom of the league. 

By contrast, Luka Abrus from Five told the conference that 'I find that the harder I work, the luckier I get.'

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Along with working hard, the importance of education is not highly valued in Croatia, with only the French deeming it less important. 

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And when it comes to learning computer skills, Croatia is bottom again on the list of countries where kids in 4th grade use computers at least once a month. 

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Some of the key messages of yesterday's conference were the need to share success strories to help potential entrepreneurs see that there is another way, to share and celebrate failures as a necessary path on the road to success, and to focus on education, education, education. Nobody is doing more in that regard than Nenad and Rujana Bakic with their STEM Revolution and Robotics League, which is already reaching a majority of schools in Croatia. I have written about this before, so click here to learn more.  

The conference was a sell-out with a waiting list of over 200 people, and there was a great atmosphere as entrepreneur after entrepreneur took the stage to tell their stories and share their know-how. One of the most eagerly awaited presentations was from Mate Rimac, whose meteoric rise in just a few years has made him a global icon in the car industry. 

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It was only a few years ago that those passionate early pioneers at Rimac Automobili were sleeping on the floor...


From 2010 to 2019.

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 There were many highlights along the way, as well as THAT Richard Hammond crash, during which Rimac told the audience he aged 10 years. 

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But of the many positives, there can be few more important endorsements than this. 

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I have meet Rimac a few times, but this was the first time I had heard him speak about his business. What was impressive was his focus, and not on what he had achieved, but where he was going. A fabulous contribution to this most inspiring of days. I will do a feature later on his comparison of Craotia and Slovakia and the potential of a car industry - it was seriously interesting. 

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There were no prizes for guessing which speech caused the most waves. Atlantic Grupa CEO Emil Tedeschi was on the homepage of most Croatian news portals within hours of his speech after a typically forthright presentation. You can read more about the reaction here.

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The youngest entrepreneur on the stage, 24-year-old Ivan Mrvos from Solin, attracting the most audience participation, who gave a brilliant overview of Startup Mistakes 101. 

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Croatia's entrepreneurs have been strongly supported by US Ambassador Robert Kohorst in the past, and Kohorst was a keynote speaker taking about his own entrepreneurial journey before joining the diplomatic corps, including his biggest failure, a $4 million investment into an online vetinerary business. 

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Kohorst was not the only ambassador to address the audience. Israeli Ambassador Ilan Mor talked about the Israeli experience and how to create a startup nation. With less than friendly neighbours and a culture of self-reliance, necessity had become the Israeli mother of invention. 

The first Entrepreneurial Mindset conference was merely the start. In his closing remarks, Ognjen Bagatin announced that there would be four more conferences in the coming 12 months - in Osijek, Rijeka, Split and Zagreb - aimed specifically at encouraging entrepreneurial seeds in the next generation. 

Mate Rimac presentation in full:

Nenad Bakic presentation in full:

You can see more of the conference presentations here.

To learn more about entrepreneurial intiatives in Croatia, follow the Casopis Poduzetnik Facebook page

Meet some of the speakers at the conference in these TCN interviews over the past few days