Croatia’s Foreign Entrepreneurs: Michael Freer, Social Enterprise Guru

By 8 February 2018

February 8th 2018, continuing our look at Croatia’s foreign entrepreneurs, this week we introduce you to Michael Freer, a man bringing new ideas and a fresh perspective to local businesses and communities.

I am still loving this series, every time I hear people speak negatively about the state of affairs in Croatia (or even the world at large), I instead set my focus on the locals and foreigners who are doing the hard work, making an impact and creating the lifestyle they dream.

This week I am happy to shine the spotlight on Michael Freer, a man I am happy to have connected with in Split. I first met Michael on Valentine’s day, when a group of expats and locals got together to cook for the homeless of Split, then he was one of the driving forces in finding out what is happening with recycling in Split and I have even stumbled (or not stumbled) upon his impact in the community from participating in Klub Mladih''s Split 3 clean-up, to literally fixing the sidewalk. His work, workshops and positive impact on the environment and community around him continually inspire; how someone can have so much heart for an adopted country is pretty damn impressive. So, here we go…

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Fixing the sidewalk

Intro your business, what is it you do?

I run ensoco, a Croatian registered social enterprise and corporate social responsibility consultancy business. I offer mentoring or consultancy services to individuals and NGOs to develop their social business idea and make it a reality. I also work with for-profits in creating and improving their social or environmental responsibility through strategy, policy and practise.

Not many people know what social entrepreneurship is and therefore I run workshops and lectures on different themes for a local NGO – CEDRA Split. I also manage their social enterprise coworking space – Amosfera Coworking. Finally, I teach and tutor English to all ages.

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A community clean-up

First and foremost, why Croatia?

I was heading back to Europe after a stint in Cambodia and wanted somewhere closer to the UK but with a better climate, the sea, sun and an outdoors lifestyle. After eliminating some places, I was left with Portugal and Croatia. So, then I thought about the language and the opportunity in my line of work here, and decided Croatia would tick more boxes – and so far it is doing that!


Team meeting as part of the Društveno-poduzetnički mozaik project

What are some of the differences in expectations vs the reality of running a business in Croatia?

Everyone told me it was impossible to start a business here, this ranged from 18-year-old students to 70-year-old baba, and thankfully for me, it really wasn’t. I was lucky to have a Croatian or two to assist me in some departments, but with a smile and some perseverance, everything was fairly smooth.

What (if any) bureaucratical issues have you encountered and how did you overcome them?

Registering the company name took the longest and was the main issue, I went straight to the court to do this and the workers behind the counter told me if they thought names would pass or not. My advice is to see what names already exist and use similar structures – I just stuck with Savjetovanje Freer instead of trying to register ‘ensoco’ as I knew this would be near impossible.

How is your business perceived in the Croatian Market?

Social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility are in their infancy here, and therefore there’s normally a lot of explanation to be done first and a lot of promotion is needed. This said, they are both welcomed topics and pique people’s interest.


Leading a brainstorming session with social entrepreneurs.

What were the opinions of your friends and community, were they supportive of your idea, or…?

As always there were some nay-sayers and some who fully supported the idea, and over time here I have focused on building a co-operative and supportive network. Now I’m happy to say that the majority of the people I hang out with here are of a similar mindset which means I can move forward and try new things in a positive manner.


Painting over graffiti in Split 3 with Klub Mladih

What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced in business in Croatia?

The worst thing is trying to keep on top of all the requirements and up to date with any changes be it tax or rules of running a business. I think this is for a combination of reasons, one is my low level of Croatian and the frustration when I try to read this kind of stuff, and the other is lack of information online. It’s only thanks to my network I’m able to keep on top of things as much as humanly possible.

If you knew then, what you know now, would you have come?

Definitely. Life is for stretching and challenging yourself. I’ve had my ups and downs here for sure, but who is to say I wouldn’t have had those anywhere else.

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Volunteering at "a di si ti?" to raise money for the homeless and at risk of homelessness in Split

What are 3 things you love about Croatia?

How easy it is to chill out after a day’s work

Commute times (15 minutes walk maximum)

Proximity to nature

What are 3 things you would like to see improved in the business climate in Croatia?

Clearer information online

Less suspicion

Commitment to growth

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Zagreb Crowdfunding Convention 2017

How is it working Croatians in terms of business mentality?

Again, it’s all down to who you hang out with. At first, I was facing this constant negative “ne može” mentality on a daily basis, but now I have chosen my friends and the people I work with so it’s about supporting each other, trying new things, and picking ourselves up and going again if things don’t go as planned.

Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?

Be prepared for cultural and linguistic barriers, but remember there’s a support network here to make these bumps a bit smoother. If you’ve got an idea that you think will work, come and try it out, because chances are most people are too risk averse to.

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Friends in Split, Croatia

If the idea of social enterprise and corporate social responsibility has piqued your interest, you can see more from Michael and ensoco here


All photos provided by Michael Freer