Friday, 22 January 2021

From Price to Status: How Much do Croats Value Good Croatian Wine?

January the 21st, 2021 - Croats might well be famous lovers of a good drop of wine, but just how much are they willing to spend on a good Croatian wine? A study reveals all.

As Novac/Jozo Vrdoljak writes, women prefer red wines, sparkling wines and rosé wines significantly more than men. This was shown by a study of sociodemographic and individual characteristics of Croatian wine producers and consumers, first conducted in Croatia. The research was conducted by doctors of science, economist Djuro Horvat, psychologist Katarina Sokic and agronomist Robert Brkic.

Although a total of more than half of Croatia's consumers prefer white wines, a third opt for red, while rosé and sparkling wines are preferred by two to five percent of consumers, it is different for women: it is interesting that 67 percent of men and 40 percent of women prefer white, and 42 percent of women and 26 percent of men red wines. Women are more frequent consumers of rosé and sparkling wines, while an equal number choose predicate wines - 3.5 percent of men and 3.6 percent of women.

"It's likely that women have a different choice because of the fuller, stronger and sweeter, often fruity taste that these wines have. White wines are perceived as sour and harsher, which, of course, often doesn't correspond to the truth, but such a perception is common," explains Katarina Sokic.

More educated and wealthier consumers

Within the project entitled "The influence of motivation, preferences and emotions of producers on success in wine production, branding and marketing", whose holder is the Effectus study of finance and law - University of Zagreb, a study of sociodemographic and individual-emotional and motivational characteristics of good Croatian wine producers and consumers was undertaken. The study of wine consumers included 570 participants: 318 men and 252 women.

The frequency of consumption shows that most participants consume wine several times a week, and a fifth of them doing so on a daily basis. In terms of frequency of consumption, there are significant gender differences among everyday consumers: 29 percent men and only eight percent women.

Sokic notes that in addition to the demographic, socioeconomic and psychological characteristics of wine consumers, it is very important to establish contextual factors of consumption, because in this way the offer can be adjusted to consumer needs, "especially because wine consumption is far more emotional than it is rational. According to our results, 62 percent of respondents cannot imagine festive moments without drinking wine. Almost as many think that wine improves mood and reduces tension. It is obvious that consumers associate wine with emotions, both positive and negative ones. For example, a third of them believe that in a state of sadness and disappointment it is best to drink a glass of wine. Finally, wine is sung about in many sad, love songs,'' points out Katarina Sokic.

The research showed that more than half of wine consumers are highly educated. Wine consumers, as many as 70 percent of them, mostly rate their financial situation as mediocre, and as many as 24 percent perceive it as being somewhere above average.

Consumers and their preferences

There is a significant positive association between belonging to a particular wine region by birth and preference for a particular wine region. Consumers, 33 percent of them, are most inclined to the good Croatian wines of Slavonia and the Croatian Danube region, while for 40 percent of the participants the geographical origin of the wine isn't important. The preference of Slavonian wines is also noticeable among those consumers who belong to other wine regions by birth. It is interesting that only those consumers - 74 percent of them - who by birth belong to the region of Slavonia and the Danube region prefer good Croatian wines from this region, while the percentage of consumers who prefer wines from other Croatian wine regions to which they belong by birth is much lower.

"The price is extremely important for making business decisions of strategic and tactical importance for good Croatian wine producers. Having a balanced price-quality ratio is a key factor in choosing wine for 34 percent of respondents, so we can conclude that price is very important in today's market economy and for consumers. Significantly, 60 percent of the respondents don't regret spending money on good Croatian wine, which means that the price of wine must be consistent with its basic features and characteristics, strongly correspond to its quality, design, packaging and faithfully reflect the productivity of wine producers through the cost, and the end result is consumer satisfaction,'' Horvat points out.

Socio-demographic factors explain the importance of the percentage of variance in the emotional experience of drinking wine and attitudes towards good Croatian wine, namely 13 percent relates to experiences and 17 percent relates to attitudes.

General sociodemographic factors such as age and gender are significant predictors of the emotional wine drinking experience that links wine consumption to comfort and relaxation. Age, place of birth, status in terms of assets and preferences towards certain wine regions are also significant predictors of attitudes towards good Croatian wine.

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Thursday, 21 January 2021

Croatian Platform Einstructions Excels in Home Schooling Field

January the 21st, 2021 - The Croatian platform Einstructions has gone from strength to strength as a result of the home schooling and distance learning choice for children during the pandemic.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Lucija Spiljak writes, on Monday this week, the second semester started online for most of Croatia's students, which is a short-term solution for now until the epidemiological picture improves.

While classes were held online last year, another market was evolving - online instructions. Last November, the first Croatian platform for online instruction - ematematika.hr, was presented, the founder of which is Robert Pavlik, a mechanical engineer who recently offered packages for students for both preparation for graduation.

This type of instruction is currently the most practical and safest solution, he claims, and elementary school friends Roman Krvavica and Robert Ljubanovic agree with him, and they recently presented a new platform and virtual classroom - the Croatian platform Einstrukcije.com - where parents and primary and secondary school students can arrange a term of instructions for mastering all of their school material online.

Robert is in charge of communication and selection of instructors in the team, and Roman is in charge of the technical side of the Croatian platform Einstructions, as well as the user experience.

Linking supply and demand

“The idea emerged back in the spring of 2020 after the situation with the pandemic arose and the lockdown followed. After analysing the market, we realised that such a project is necessary in Croatia because we can connect both supply and demand, and set up as a platform for giving instructions with proven instructors.

Giving instructions has always been a segment in the grey or black zone that hasn't received much attention and yet is very necessary. The first version of the Croatian platform Einstructions came to life back in December 2020, and with additional functional adjustments from the beginning of January 2021, it's now in full swing,'' say the founders.

So far, they have fourteen instructors, mostly graduates with many years of experience who have passed a detailed test. In addition to the entire material, they also offer graduation instructions.

"Nine more instructors are coming. We're working on expansion so that we can offer all other subjects for high schools, and we're open to all students and professors who want to give instructions,'' they say.

Instructors inform the child's parent about the progress of each online meeting held with the student. The price of instructions per school hour (45 minutes) stands at a reasonable 75 kuna, and as all platform instructors are connected to the app for making appointments through which synchronisation is done in real time, it is possible to book an appointment in a few simple steps without prior agreement with the instructor.

Such educational platforms, also available on mobile devices, are gaining momentum according to the website of Trading Platforms, one of the leading educational online platforms. Its experts predict that time spent on educational apps in the next four years will record an annual growth rate of 62 percent, followed by business apps with 57 percent, which means that platforms such as eMatematika.hr and the Croatian platform Einstructions have yet to experience their ''boom''.

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Saturday, 16 January 2021

Neostar Platform: 35 Million Kuna Put into Croatian Startup's Idea

January the 16th, 2021 - There is a lot to be said for the innovative Croatian startups which have popped up over recent years, with many gaining global respect and recognition among the biggest players. The Croatian Neostar platform is another story of innovation from Croatia.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the Croatian Neostar platform is a new platform for selling, buying and maintaining vehicles. Namely, used vehicles can be advertised and sold free of charge for all legal and natural persons, and customers get a transparent insight into the condition of the vehicle, because the innovative Neostar platform inspects as many as sixty key points, and there is additional security when making a purchase because all of the listed vehicles have either factory or Neostar platform warranty.

Behind the domestic Neostar platform is the Croatian startup Neostar d.o.o., and more than 35 million kuna has been invested in its very development. The long-term goal of the Neostar platform is to attract new investors and investments in order to enable further development of the platform as well as make confident steps into other markets.

"The automotive industry as a whole, and thus the car trade globally, isn't among the leaders when it comes to digital transformation, but we can say that it's even actually lagging behind in this area.

According to previous experience with online sales of new and used vehicles, we've seen room for the consolidation and digitalisation of services not only locally but also globally. That is why we launched the startup Neostar which based in Croatia, but has global ambitions. We see the launch of the Neostar platform on the Croatian market as just the very first step. According to the innovation we're bringing to this market segment, we can say that we're a kind of AirBnb for used vehicles,'' said Dimitrije Trbovic, President of the Management Board of Neostar.

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Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Duh u Boci: Hrvoje Busic and Tomislav Anadolac Announce New Products

December the 30th, 2020 - When it comes to Croatian products, the range of alcoholic offers is vast. That doesn't mean however that there aren't those which don't stand out in the crowd. What the likes of Hrvoje Busic and Tomislav Anadolac do, for example, does precisely that.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marta Duic writes, Hrvoje Busic and Tomislav Anadolac, the duo behind Old Pilot’s gin and the company Duh u boci (Spirit in a bottle) launched Old Pilot’s Art Edition for the festive period, which was created in collaboration with Croatian artist Marina Mesar, better known as OKO.

Their first and most successful product, London Dry Gin, won the title of the best in the world at the IWSC world competition last year.

This entrepreneurial story began just three years ago when two longtime friends and fellow pilots in a small hi-tech distillery in Zagreb created the now world-famous brand of gin, which they produce exclusively from the highest quality Croatian ingredients, with a special focus placed on the production process.

The duo recently moved to a new distillery, with three times the production capacity, and designed and produced a new product - Old Pilot’s Gin - Barrel Aged Gin obtained by aging in oak barrels, and they're going to continue in that direction in the year ahead.

"We'll remember this year as the one in which we moved to a new, larger space, invested in new equipment and the long-awaited start of whiskey production. With this new space, we got the opportunity to expand production not only in terms of product volume but also the ability to create new products.

In the spring, during the lockdown, we upgraded our equipment and gained the possibility of producing pure ethyl alcohol needed for the production of disinfectants, and today, in the situation of closing the HoReCa channel, we compensate revenues in the retail channel, through web sales and exports,'' say Hrvoje Busic and Tomislav Anadolac.

Here in Croatia, their products are sold through distributors and can be found in all major cities. Most of the sales take place in Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Sibenik and Rijeka, and other places in Croatia are covered through online shopping. However, sales through the webshop achieve the lowest percentage in the total sales volume, more precisely slightly less than three percent of the total.

''The biggest sales at the level of the year took place in Zagreb, and during the summer season on the coast. We cooperate with hotel chains such as Valamar, Hilton Dubrovnik, the Dubrovnik Sun Gardens, Le Meridien Lav, the Pucic Palace, Park Rovinj and many others.

The largest volume of products was sold through the HoReCa channel, while a smaller part was sold through specialised stores such as Vrutka, and from October on, people were also able to find us in selected Spar Croatia stores.

Given the decline in sales in Croatia, as well as generally reduced consumption, exports are a significant source of income. During the three years of our company's existence, we've been exporting to the markets of Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Australia and Singapore, and we're actively working to enter the Canadian market,'' explained Hrvoje Busic and Tomislav Anadolac.

After investing in more space and new equipment, they started producing whiskey, which was their wish from the very beginning. It is a production that is much more demanding, and they are currently in the testing phase to achieve the desired results.

''Given the time of a minimum of three years required for the maturation of whiskey in wooden barrels, our plan is to schedule production throughout the year for gin and whiskey. It's exciting and dynamic in the distillery, just like it was on the very first day, and that makes us very happy and motivates us in our further work.

The bar has been raised high and we can’t wait to raise it even higher. We're proud of our status of pioneers and initiators of craft production in Croatia and although the competition is growing, a quality product always finds its way to the customer. There are a lot of new products out there now on the market, but a lot of them are disappearing from the market every day.

Returns on investment and production results are often not what people expect and survival on a demanding market is difficult. We have set high, world quality standards that aren't easy to achieve or monitor, and at the moment we're very calm and focused on developing new products and the growth of our distillery,'' concluded Tomislav Anadolac and Hrvoje Busic of Duh u boci.

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Monday, 28 December 2020

Varazdin County Company Awarded EU Cash for Plant Product Manufacturing

December the 28th, 2020 - One Varazdin County-based company boasts one of the youngest Croatian company directors, and has even managed to be awarded significant amounts of European Union (EU) cash for its production of popular plant products.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marija Crnjak writes, one of the youngest directors in Croatia, 28-year-old Marko Cerjan, the director of CER-CO from Biljevac in Varazdin County, which produces and processes industrial hemp, presented a project to expand business and build new plants this week, worth a total of 5.3 million kuna

The aforementioned is an EU project which involves the production and commercialisation of innovative products from this Varazdin County company, from CBD oils to cosmetics and various teas, with the introduction of new plant cultures within the range. The investment will increase the already significant export potential of this impressive company and enable new employment, as well as the strengthening of added value when it comes to doing business.

"With the realisation of the project that should be completed in the spring, we want to position ourselves as a white-label company that will provide services to other related companies," said Marko Cerjan, who received an EU funds based grant in the amount of almost two million kuna.

In order to obtain such a grant, this Varazdin County company needed to explain in great detail the benefits of investing in ones health and overall quality of life.

The general goal of the project was to enable investments in the implementation of new solutions, innovative products from SMEs in S3 areas through investments in process innovation and business organisation. The purpose and specific goal of the project was to support the investments of CER-CO in the production and commercialisation of innovative products which are new to the market and will be able to be applied and classified in the S3 thematic priority area called "Health and quality of life".

Currently, this Varazdin County company processes only seeds, stems and flowers, while the implementation of the previously mentioned EU project will see it carry out an additional production process that includes the phase of oil pressing, the production of protein, industrial hemp flour, CBD oil and even cosmetics.

The implementation of the CER-CO project will increase the level of technological readiness and productivity by investing in increasing production capacity in order to effectively meet the needs of existing and potential customers.

As part of that investment, the plan is to purchase equipment for drying raw materials, harvested industrial hemp, separation lines with display, separation and calibration lines, equipment for the automatic filling of bottles, labels, forklifts, packaging machines, and industrial vacuum cleaners.

In addition, a system of Good Agricultural and Collecting Practice (GACP) will be established, and the project envisages the opening of three new work positions. The plan is also to educate the company's employees to work with new equipment as well as an innovative production process.

"In the new 560 square metre building, there will be a production facility of 250 metres square which will house machines for processing medicinal herbs and oil pressing, and the remaining area will include office space with a conference hall, an inhouse laboratory and a sales area with a range of cosmetics other hemp products available.

Next year, the plan is to invest in both plants and machines for the drying of medicinal plants, with specially regulated temperature and microclimatic conditions, as this is very important in drying plants like hemp as it maintains medicinal properties which include cannabinoids and terpenoids.

CER-CO will be the first entity in all of Varazdin County to provide the otherwise extremely demanding service of drying out medicinal plants, as Marko Cerjan explained, whose company generates as much as 90 percent of its revenues from exports.

The products are exported to a number of EU countries, Poland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, the Netherlands and other countries, and with this investment they hope for even stronger placement on various foreign markets. Additional employment is also planned, as they hope the pandemic will soon subside with the introduction of the vaccine, so that they can continue production, which has failed this year due to poor market conditions.

They cooperate with numerous subcontractors, in Varazdin County alone they grow 30 hectares of industrial hemp, there's also a little in Zadar County, and most of their production takes place in Slavonia, where there are larger areas in which to do it, which makes overall production simpler.

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Sunday, 27 December 2020

Ekipa: Mario Likar Returns from Australia, Starts Kombucha Business

December the 27th, 2020 - All too often we listen to stories of Croats leaving the country in search of greener grass, with some returning having realised that grass is more or less the same colour all over the world and is the healthiest where you water it. It's no lie that Croatia has some tremendous economic and political issues that it must at some point learn to face, but in many ways, life here is good. Mario Likar is just one person who returned from the other side of the world to here in Zagreb to start a business.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Ivan Tominac writes, travelling around the world, seeing it in reality and then returning to Croatia is no longer that much of a new or surprising story. The grass isn't always greener elsewhere, it's just a matter of how you maintain your lawn. They say that behind every good job done there is a good team, and that is exactly what the story with Ekipa (Team) is like. Ekipa, beginning with a capital letter, is the name of a Croatian company that revives old habits, but in a different, more modern way.

The team from Poljicka 6 here in Zagreb is engaged in the production of no less than kombucha. Kombucha has long since been known in this region as mushroom tea, and Mario Likar came up with this idea upon his return from Australia.

The realisation that the first association is a mushroom isn't surprising because kombucha is otherwise a mushroom native to Asia. It is used to make the fermented drink of the same name from green and black tea, active and good bacteria, fungi and sugar.

"It wasn't clear to us what they were talking about. It turns out that kombucha has been widespread in this area as early as the time of our great-grandmothers under the name ''mushroom tea'', and it was used as a folk remedy to help deal with problems like indigestion. It has been domesticated since the 19th century, and it almost completely disappeared from use during World War II due to the lack of basic raw materials - tea and sugar,'' said Ekipa's co-founder and marketing expert, Mario Likar.

Their mission, as they say from Ekipa, is to bring this drink closer to the wider population and give it a modern twist that would bring into the current age and as such, closer to current consumer habits. Kombucha is, in short, a refreshing fermented tea, and as you can guess, the process of making this non-alcoholic drink begins with simply making tea.

''Black tea, green tea, or a mixture can be used. Sugar is then added to the tea to serve as food for the kombucha culture, which is made up of a colony of “good” bacteria and yeast. When the culture is added, a fermentation process begins that lasts from five to seven days, depending on the flavour nuance you want to achieve. The longer the fermentation lasts, the more acidic the kombucha becomes,'' Mario Likar explained.

Consumers in distant Australia love kombucha. There, it is used as a popular alternative to sweetened soft drinks and is often consumed in the same casual way drinks such as lemonade might be.

Likar thought about reviving kombucha here on the Croatian market for a long time, and the moment his friends came to Australia and were delighted with the drink, the desire to return to Croatia only grew. Today, they make up Ekipa's team members.

"We've determined that there is a gap in the market of soft drinks with low sugar produced here in Croatia. In our country, kombucha is still drunk only by people who make it in their own kitchens, and our wish is that, as is the case in the rest of the western and eastern world, it becomes available to everyone who wants to drink something healthy and tasty while hanging out with friends, walking around the city, after working out, or with a meal,'' added Likar.

Although they're currently in a state of market uncertainty caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Ekipa isn't just wasting time twiddling their thumbs. Instead, they are using these moments to perfect techniques that can increase the efficiency of kombucha production itself. At the same time, they managed to move to real, commercial production.

''The second lockdown prevented us from introducing our products to cafes and restaurants. Fortunately, we were able to connect with other activities in the service sector, which are already familiar with kombucha and are ready to include it in their offer. We're especially glad that our value has been recognised by health food stores, which have become our main allies and advocates,'' said Likar.

At the moment, due to this highly specific and unprecedented situation, Ekipa are focused on retail, but they already know what their plans are when this situation begins to calm down. Their goal is to develop HoReCa channels when the situation normalises, and they also believe they'll manage to achieve sales growth and an increase in production capacity.

"We believe in our product, so we see this crisis as an opportunity, especially because people have become more willing to do more for their health. When things return to normal, hopefully soon, we're optimistic that things will get better. As newcomers to the world of entrepreneurship, who launched an unknown product during a global pandemic, that would bring us the greatest satisfaction and happiness,'' concluded Ekipa's Mario Likar.

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Friday, 18 December 2020

Croatian Bio-Mi Only Company in Southeast Europe Making This Product

December the 18th, 2020 - the Croatian Bio-Mi company has succeeded in standing out among the rest owing to the fact that it is among only a few in Europe, and is the only one in this part of Europe to produce one material.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Darko Bicak writes, the Croatian Bio-Mi is the only company here in Southeast Europe, and one of only a few in Europe at all, which produces biodegradable and compostable thermoplastic raw materials that are used for further processing into finished products.

As Filip Miketa, co-owner and director of the Croatian Bio-Mi explained, after four years of hard work in terms of research, which is supported by 2.75 million euros from eight and soon nine EU projects, the company is now positioning itself out on the market.

Although the Croatian Bio-Mi is a relatively new company, having only been around for three years and enjoying modest revenue of around 2.5 million kuna last year with nine employees, it's dealing with a much larger and longer project. Namely, Filip Miketa worked for years within his family company Mi-Plast, which has existed for about 40 years and which deals with the recycling and processing of various plastics.

Miketa was also in charge of research and development at Mi-Plast, and in the previous period he withdrew significant EU funds, around 2.5 million euros, for various Mi-Plast projects. “In the last six months, we've invested in higher production capacities and raising production and productivity of both obtained and produced formulations, which is a very expensive process.

It should be mentioned that bio-polymers themselves are non-processable, but that's why we and companies like us mix and assemble them into functional items and process raw materials consisting of several components. At the moment, we have a couple of competitors in Europe, and these are more or less large and serious companies because in this segment, smaller companies like us are a rarity,'' pointed out Miketa.

He added that, in addition to materials, the Croatian Bio-Mi has invested and still plans to further invest in processing these materials into final products such as food packaging, bags for the separate collection of biodegradable waste, mulch foil for agriculture that decomposes on the ground for which there is no need for collection and disposal, etc.

"Basically, these are products that make sense and that the European Commission counts on in all of its plans and strategies because they're raw materials and products that are bio-based and are designed to help society with the disposal of organic waste by encouraging the circular bioeconomy.

These materials and products, in addition to composting and/or biodegradation under different conditions, can also be mechanically recycled, just like traditional plastics such as PE, PP and PET. Therefore, each of these materials and products boast several possibilities for an efficient and sustainable end of life, but of course, composting with other degradable waste is preferred,'' explained Miketa, adding that, for example, bags for the separate collection of organic waste are composted together with waste, and EU countries have increased their share of organic waste recovery.

Thus, he says, northern Italy has reached a recovery of as much as 80 percent where compostable plastics have played a key role. He is aware that this is not the case here in Croatia for now, but he is convinced that, due to EU regulations and the general overall development of public awareness, recovered organic waste will represent about 40 percent of waste accumulated here in Croatia.

Therefore, he pointed out, biocomposite materials and such products should be viewed from that angle because they're there to help where conventional plastics has failed, but the most important thing is to check the characteristics on the product.

''Namely, in the last few years, we've witnessed false propaganda and only two certification companies in the EU are responsible for issuing certificates through authorised certification laboratories. Basically, the Croatian Bio-Mi got its first TUV certifications according to EN13432 that our materials and products are compostable, which in the case of material certification, is a pretty big deal,'' he explained.

In addition to the certification of the first formulation of MI3 blend, this innovative company is preparing for certification of other blends that are not only compostable in industrial and domestic compost, but are degradable on soil and in seawater.

It isn't only important whether the product decomposes or composts, it's important what is left there after the fact, so it's best to see the results of product analysis "from cradle to grave" where bioplastics and compostable plastics have an advantage over fossil traditional plastics or the far worse oxodegradable plastics.

The Croatian Bio-Mi director believes that compostable and biodegradable plastics can offer better and more sustainable solutions here in Croatia, and many EU countries are switching or have switched over to this type of material and products based on many years of work, research and development, but also owing to scientific facts and analyses.

EU regulations are becoming stricter towards the use of classic plastic, and a new proposal for the Croatian Waste Management Act, for which the public debate has now ended, is on the same track. However, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce warns that its implementation in this form would lead to problems for about 30 small and medium-sized companies with about 800 employees engaged in the production of disposable plastic products, mainly PVC bags.

The Croatian Chamber of Commerce proposes that the law introduce an intermediate model for disposable plastics that contains recyclables and that would be allowed as such. The Croatian Chamber of Commerce is also aware that there is no technology that would determine whether there is recycled plastic in a particular plastic and in what percentage, so they'd solve this problem with chamber certificates that would "guarantee the principle of material traceability".

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Saturday, 12 December 2020

25 Things Which Made Croatia Shine in the Pandemic Year of 2020

December 12, 2020 - This is the year to forget for all of us. Or is it? Look on the bright side - 25 things which made Croatia shine in the pandemic year of 2020.

There are only 20 days to go until the (hopefully) brighter lights of 2021. I am sure that many of you, like me, have lived about ten lifetimes this year, the most chaotic, stressful, unpredictable and scary perhaps ever. But we are still here, hanging on, and hoping for better things. 

But 2020 was not such a disaster for everyone. In fact, if you take a step back from all the doom and gloom and try and look on the brighter side of life, there is an awful lot of positivity to celebrate, especially if you are Croatian. In an effort to balance the understandable depressive posts on the web, here is an ode of recognition to 25 things which made Croatia shine in the pandemic year of 2020. 

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1. Croatia gets its first unicorn - bravo Infobip

Croatia may not be home to the headquarters of the major tech companies, but it does have a thriving IT startup scene, with an increasing number of IT companies excelling on the world stage. Top of the list is Infobip, and 2020 was a landmark year for both Infobip and the Croatian IT sector, as the Istrian company officially became Croatia's first unicorn. Read more in Infobip: Croatian Company Raises 200 Million US Dollars for Investment.  It was an extremely busy and successful year for the company, and you can follow its progress on TCN's dedicated Infobip section

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2. Nanobit sells for US$148 million

Not quite a unicorn, but equally impressive was the sale of Nanobit to Swedish company Stillfront for a cool US$148 million. What started out as a journey with a fitness app for founders Alan Sumina and Zoran Vucinic 12 years ago quickly took off after they saw and took advantage of an opportunity in the gaming industry.  Read more in Croatian Nanobit's Sale to Swedish Stillfront Will Continue Growth, and for more on the Nanobit success story, check out the TCN Nanobit section

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3. Andrej Djukic, a Rijeka genius producing quality prosthetics... for free

Not all Croatian tech successes are about the money, and Croatian innovation stretches across an array of sectors. A worthy inclusion in this list of Croatian 2020 success is Andrej Djukic. Born in Rijeka in 1991, Djukic won the Cybathlon world championship, an international sports competition for people with disabilities in which the most modern prosthetic equipment is used. With an open-source project available to everyone, Andrej wants to provide functional solutions without financial burden for prosthesis users and their families, as he believes access to medicine should be free. Read more in Andrej Djukic Wants Winning Prosthetic Hand Project to be Available to Everyone.

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4. Infinum and the Porsche connection

Rimac Automobili may be the most famous Croatian company attracting investment from the biggest names in the global auto industry, but it is not the only one. Infinum, a Croatian global player in the software design and development sector, announced a partnership in September with Porsche Digital, a subsiduary of German Porsche, that it was launching the Porsche Digital Croatia company in Croatia, for software design and development, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, which will see a 10 million euro investment. Read more in Infinum and Porsche Digital Invest 10 Million Euros in Joint Company in Croatia. More on the latest from Infinum here

5. Bugatti, a global brand with a Croatian address, and another amazing year at Rimac

Where to start with Mate Rimac and his Rimac Automobili company in Sveta Nedelja? Croatia's one-man car industry had already secured investment from both Porsche and Hyundai before the year started. What was in store for 2020? Despite the last-minute cancellation of the Geneva Motor Show in February, it was another exceptional year for Rimac, which TCN documented in 30 stories over the year.  The Rimac story of the year was undoubtedly Car Magazine: Rimac Automobili to Takeover Bugatti, but special mention should also be made of THAT video, above, Live and Work in Croatia, easily the best promotional video about Croatia in the last few years (at least in my humble opinion). 

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6. Croatia, leading the world in polar discovery cruiser construction

While Rimac might rule the world with the fastest hypercar, Croatian excellence was taking tourism discovery far beyond parts of the world which have roads. Last year saw the launch of Scenic Eclipse, a luxury polar discovery cruiser - a new type of cruise ship combining the cruise ship experience with the luxury super yacht. The last vessel to be produced in the Uljanik shipyard in Pula at a cost of 200 million euro, Scenic Eclipse won international awards within weeks for its quality, and so impressed with Croatian shipbuilding expertise were the Australian owners that they ordered 5 more to be built in Rijeka. You can follow this ongoing story of Croatian shipbuilding excellence here.  

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7. Rudjer Boskovic Institute builds 100% spy-free communications system

The boffins at the world-famous Rudjer Boskovic Institute also had plenty to smile about in 2020, not least for their most notable achievement of the year. In an era where secure communications are ever more important, the Rudjer Boskovic Institute built a 100% spy-free communications system. This was one of a number of notable achievements, more of which you can read in the dedicated TCN section.

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8. Human beats Google to win the Webby Oscars

You have to be pretty good to beat Google in any Internet award, but that is exactly what Zagreb company Human managed in May, as they beat the other four finalists - Google, Samsung, KLM and Khan Academy, to win the category of Best Website Practices at the 2020 Webby Awards, considered to be the web 'Oscars.' In all, there were over 13,000 entries from 70 countries. Read more in Croatian Agency 'Human' Beats Google in Webby’s Best Practices Category

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9. Croatian company Q among 20 best IT Companies in the world

There was more recognition for Croatia's IT industry in October, as Clutch, the world's leading research agency for ranking IT companies,  placed Croatian company Q as one of the 20 best global web development companies in the world, among the top ten in Europe, and the best B2B company in Croatia.

"We are proud that Clutch, as the world's best-known IT ranking platform, has recognized Q as one of the best agencies in Europe. As many as 9 of Q's 10 largest clients are the world's leading companies in their industries. This is a great confirmation to the whole team we are raising the projects we are working on to an even higher level,” stressed CEO Filip Ljubic. Croatian Company Q Among 20 Best IT Companies in World.

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10. MIRET develops stylish sneakers from 97% natural products

One of my favourite Croatian startup stories hit new heights of excellence in 2020. Having produced the world's first eco-sneaker back in 2016, from predominantly natural, biodegradable products, the Boljar brothers and their MIRET show brand went even better this year with the launch of their Forest Dark range, based on the colours of 5 of the world's endangered species to highlight their plight, and made from an impressive 97% natural products. In an industry that produces 20 BILLION shoes a year, all of which are thrown away, the time for change is now. Read more in With 20 BILLION New Shoes a Year, Meet MIRET's 97% Natural Eco Sneakers Collection

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11. Young Croats have the best digital skills In Europe

The future of Croatia is in the next generation, and equipping them with the necessary digital skills to compete in this fast-changing world is an important challenge. 

And it appears that things are on track. Figures released by the European Union/Eurostat show that young Croats have the best digital skills in Europe. 97% of 16 to 24-year-olds in Croatia have basic or above basic digital skills. Read more in Young Croats Have The Best Digital Skills In Europe.

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12. Dejan Nemcic is the best geography teacher in the world 

A key ingredient to a good education is access to the best teachers, and pupils at Ivo Andric Elementary School in Sopot, Zagreb have got exactly that, in the geography department at least. Teacher Dejan Nemcic received what will be the highest accolade of his career in October, as he was named the best geography teacher in the world at the annual Global Teacher Awards. Here is how he did it.

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(Dorijan Lendvaj Facebook)

13. Dorijan Lendvaj, a teenage robotics world champion

And sometimes in Croatia, perhaps some kids don't need much teaching at all. A young genius from Popovaca, Dorijan Lendvaj, first came to our attention back in 2016 as a 13-year-old. After six national titles, he became the world champion in robotics. And it seems that the teenage years have not slowed down his genius. Only this week, young Dorijan was back in the news, claiming top spot in the International Romanian Master of Informatics.

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14. Istrian olive oil named the best in the world - again!

Tourism and gourmet excellence are usually prevalent in the media when talking about Croatia, but with the pandemic dominating everything, tourism and gourmet stories were a little more muted than in more normal years. But you can't keep a very good story quiet, pandemic or no pandemic. For the SIXTH year in a row, the experts at Flos Olei came to the same conclusion as everyone in Istria - Istria is the very best olive oil region in the world.  

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15. Where does the best beer in Europe come from - Croatia of course

Croatia has never really been known as a country with excellent beer, but is that changing? After more than 400,000 ratings and votes from over 50,000 beer fans Zagreb-based The Garden Brewery was voted the best brewery in the EU by Beer52 in their first ever awards. Beer 52 was founded in 2013 and is the world’s most popular beer club with over 50,000 UK people subscribing to get a box of craft beers delivered to their door every month. The Garden Brewery beat off competition from some 9,500 breweries to win top spot. 

The craft beer scene has exploded in recent years, with some really innovative new beers. While we are on my favourite subject, it is worthwhile mentioning a new product just released called Chef's Beer, bringing together plenty of Croatian gourmet excellence - chef Mate Jankovic, Zmajska pivovara, Bibich Winery, Varionica, and Slovenian Barut brewing & blending.

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16. CROP Hrvatska - making Croatia grow again

Food and technology. A new initiative from Split-based Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong and Croatian PR guru Jerko Trogrlic to grow tomatoes in northern Croatia makes this list of excellence even though no tomatoes have actually been grown yet. De Jong is of the opinion that Croatia should return to the days when Slavonia fed not only Croatia, but also the region, and that Croatia should become a net exporter of food once more. Using his contacts back home with agricultural technology, as well as Trogrlic's know-how and contacts, the pair announced plans to grow tomatoes on a 5-hectare plot in an economically depressed part of northern Croatia, creating an initial 72 jobs. If successful, the project would be upscaled considerably. Within 48 hours of announcing the project on LinkedIn, de Jong had received investment interest from all over the world totalling 5 million euro. One to watch in 2021, and you can learn more here.  

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17. The Zagreb Earthquake volunteer response

While the rest of the world will remember 2020 for COVID-19, residents of Zagreb and surrounding area will have additional horror stories following the devastating earthquakes of March 22. The first quake hit at 06:24 in the morning, and TCN was the first to publish the breaking story in English at 06:39It was the first of more than 60 articles TCN wrote about the earthquake. One thing became immediately clear, and something that we have known from previous crises - the generosity and resilience of the Croatian people in adversity is one of their most enduring and endearing qualities. And the combined devastation of the pandemic and the earthquake brought out the best in people. Perhaps symbolically, nowhere was this better emphasised than with the efforts of the Bad Boys Blue brigade from Dinamo Zagreb and their noble assistance moving newborn babies from Dubrava hospital after it had been damaged

It was a terrible time in Croatia, but the resilience of the people gave a lot of strength. 

18. Zagreb hospital wins medical Oscar for care of premature babies during the Zagreb earthquake

Earthquakes are not perhaps the place one would expect to win an Oscar, but that is exactly what happened this week, as KBC Zagreb won the medical equivalent of an Oscar at the annual International Medis Awards. This Oscar of Medicine was awarded for the outstanding achievement in medicine and outstanding efforts by medical staff at the Women's Hospital in taking care of patients, particularly premature babies during the earthquake. Read more in Zagreb Hospital Wins Medical Oscar for Care of Premature Babies During Earthquake

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19. Igor Rudan, Ivan Djikic and Ivica Letunic among the top 0.1% most cited scientists in the world

Understanding the true threat of COVID-19 has been one of the challenges of 2020. With so many keyboard warrior experts, conspiracy theorists and fake news specialists, trying to get a true picture of the real issues has been a constant battle. One early beacon of calm during the crisis was Professor Igor Rudan of Edinburgh University. HIs authoritative texts in the first half of the year became essential reading. When I reached out to Igor to publish some of them on TCN, and he readily agreed, before then agreeing a translation partnership for his books with TCN editor Lauren Simmonds. You can see Igor's TCN articles here.  

Demand for Igor's insights and expertise ran far beyond this small portal, and in November, it emerged that he was in the top 0.1% of cited scientists globally.

(Article edit: Thanks to reader Karlo for pointing out that Igor Rudan was actually one of three Croatian scientists in the top 0.1% more cited. Here are links to the citation info for Igor Rudan, Ivan Djikic and Ivica Letunic.)

20. Croatia filming locations are best again as Succession bags 7 Emmys

With messages of Stay Home, Travel Later, 2020 was never going to be the best year for tourism excellence. But that did not mean that promotion could not continue. Following the global exposure of Kings Landing and the numerous Game of Thrones filming locations, Croatia's attractiveness as a filming location was once more in the spotlight. This attractiveness was reinforced as HBO's 'Succession' bagged 7 Emmy Awards

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Photo HRS

21. Croatia's men take handball silver at the 2020 Euros

2020 was supposed to be a year of Croatian sporting glory. Would the Vatreni go one better than in Moscow 2018 and win Euro 2020? How many golds would Croatian athletes bring home from Tokyo? Alas, there was nothing to report, as corona saw to it that neither of these major events took place. But that does not mean that Croatia ended the year with no sporting success to report. Back in January, before the first case of the virus was recorded in Croatia, the Croatian men's handball team were conducting heroics in Stockholm at the European Championship, coming home with a very creditable silver after losing 22-20 in the final with Spain.

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22. Stipe Miocic becomes best heavyweight MMA fighter of all time

But no year is complete without a true Croatian champion, and in the absence of the Olympics and Euro 2020, it was left to heavyweight MMA fighter Stipe Miocic to step up. And step up he did, becoming the best MMA heavyweight fighter of all time in August, after beating American legend Daniel Cormier.  

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23. EnterCroatia form - COVID-19 bureaucracy the envy of Europe

Three more items to make it to our list of 25 things which made Croatia shine in this craziest of crazy years, and people will perhaps be surprised that they are filled with a topic for which Croatia is not known for its excellence - bureaucracy. 

The pandemic brought so many problems and new situations, as well as the need for fast reactions and innovative solutions. One of the great unsung heroes of 2020 are the Croatian border police. Not only did they assume the jobs of the ministry of tourism and national tourist board in handling the bulk (and it WAS bulk) of the enquiries from tourists desperate for travel information, but they also implemented a border control system in just 8 days which was not only ahead of its time, but also the envy of Europe.   

If you entered Croatia after May, you will have come across the amazing Enter Croatia border form, which slashed waiting times at borders.  It was so effective that we calculated it saved some 21.7 YEARS of waiting in the first three months of operation. It was the first - and the fastest - such border control system in the EU this year. An outstanding effort. 

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24. Croatian bureaucracy 2.0 - the arrival of the digital nomad visa 

If the Croatian police could come up with such an effective system in 8 days, then what else could be achieved in this land noted for its horrendous bureaucracy? That Dutchman Jan de Jong managed to get an encouraging answer to that question. Just 44 days after writing an open letter on LinkedIn to Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, de Jong found himself in a meeting with the Croatian PM, after which Plenkovic tweeted that his government would be pushing for the introduction of a Croatian digital nomad visa. 

Progress - by Croatian standards - has been quick, with some of the legislation already ratified. The visa will be available I would estimate in the first quarter of 2021 (technically from January 1, but I would think early March more likely). My guess is that there will be the following requirements - proof of health insurance, no criminal record, a visa fee of less than 100 euro, and a proven income of between 1,500 - 2,500 euro a month. I don't expect nomads to have to pay tax in Croatia, but they will also not be allowed to do business with Croatian companies with the visa. These issues will become much clearer in the next two weeks, starting with a tax announcement next week. To follow the latest, follow the dedicated TCN digital nomad section.  

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25. Sveta Nedelja, a blueprint for entrepreneurial and bureaucratic excellence and change for Croatia

And finally... 

I wanted to save for last what has been one of the great discoveries of 2020 for me personally - the amazing story of entrepreneurial and administrative success in the town of Sveta Nedelja, just outside Zagreb. Perhaps best known as the home of Rimac Automobili, my first visit to Croatia's youngest town in September revealed a MUCH bigger story that the world's fastest electric car maker. And there are surely lessons to be learned here for other towns and cities in Croatia, so that their citizens and businesses can enjoy similar benefits. 

In an age of mass emigration, rising unemployment and cuts in public spending, Sveta Nedelja is showing that there is another way. Its population has grown 10% since the 2011 census, jobs have increased 20% since 2017 alone, unemployment is an enviable 3.9%. And far from cutting public services, the town introduced free buses for all earlier this month. In addition to this, it is the most transparent local administration in the country, and it was recently named the best medium-sized town in Croatia for the economy for the third year in a row, as well as in the top 5 places in the country for quality of life

From small acorns, mighty oaks grow. Croatia needs more acorns like Sveta Nedelja. You can read more about my findings in Sveta Nedelja here.

2020 has been a horrendous year, and it is easy to be depressed. But if you surround yourself with positive people and stories, you will find that your own outlook is a lot more positive. I often say that there is a default negative mindset in Croatia, but there really doesn't need to be. For there really is excellence and opportunity everywhere - we just need to change the mindset. Something I discussed at the recent LEAP Summit in Zagreb. with my presentation Injecting Positivity into the Default Negative Croatian Mindset, which you can watch below. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Meet Megi - Croatian Mindsmiths' Virtual Healthcare Assistant

December the 9th, 2020 - With the coronavirus pandemic posing a constant threat to the normal functioning of the enfeebled Croatian healthcare system, the likes of Andrija and now Megi have been a blessing. Artificial intelligence is certainly the way to go in many a sector, and the the pandemic continuing to reign strong, the help of the Croatian Mindsmiths' creation, Megi, is proving invaluable.

As Lucija Spiljak/Poslovni Dnevnik writes, Croatian Mindsmiths developed Megi the virtual healthcare assistant in collaboration with the Magdalena Clinic using AI, and they presented it at an online conference on Tuesday. Her digital brain was modelled on the knowledge of experts, primarily cardiologists, as well as cardiology nurses.

Last Sunday, blood pressure was measured five times a day three hours apart to get a detailed picture of the condition monitored by Megi, a virtual healthcare assistant from the Croatian Mindsmiths, an Al startup, who helps people with hypertension, a chronic disease which causes high blood pressure.

As many as 40 percent of people over the age of 25 suffer from hypertension, of which they're unaware, it affects 31 percent of the adult population, but only 1 in 25 people actually has the disease under control. Long-term exposure to high blood pressure can cause strokes and heart attacks, kidney and heart failure, not to mention severe chronic disease.

During the testing process, the Croatian Mindsmiths' innovative creation stated the measurement and explained everything in detail, step by step, and those undergoing Megi's tests almost forgot that she isn't actually a real person but a product of artificial intelligence (AI).

She also checked family histories with other necessary risk factors for high blood pressure, and after collecting all of the data, she made an assessment of the situation with Dr. Aleksandar Trbovic, a cardiologist and head of the Magdalena Polyclinic in Zagreb, with whom she scheduled a meeting for the second day to see if there was any cause for concern.

''Megi helps us doctors to precisely dose therapies, speeds up processes, and the added value for our community is that it reduces the costs of treating hypertension and its possible complications," explained Dr. Trbovic.

Megi's initial development took six months before direct contact with patients and physicians could begin, and since then, she has been integrated into the actual hospital system and has been caring for more than 80 hypertensive patients for twelve months.

''With Megi, the time to gather information is shortened from fifteen minutes down to a mere four, while the time of therapy can be shortened from six months to three weeks. The digital assistant has a plan for you, monitors and reminds you to measure your blood pressure, calms you down and encourages you when you're worried.

If Megi notices that things aren't going well, she will alert and call a doctor. We have set a goal - if we can use AI to copy the brain of one expert and help one person, then we can help millions of others. In reality, people wait in hospitals for months to get a diagnosis, and Megi can relieve almost 80 percent of such check-ups,'' said Mislav Malenica, the director and founder of the Croatian Mindsmiths, who recognised healthcare as the first sector in which AI should be applied.

The director of digital health at the Magdalena Clinic, Nina Sesto, warned of predictions that by 2050, 40 percent of people in Europe will be over the age of sixty, which means they will more than likely have one or more chronic diseases to cope with.

“Artificial intelligence is the key to healthcare scalability. At the same time, it can take care of thousands of patients,'' pointed out Sesto.

Mirjana Lackovic suffers from hypertension and has been using Megi's help for twelve months now. "If my blood pressure doesn't adjust, I contact Megi until the condition normalises. If it's bad for a couple of days, she contacts the doctors,'' said Lackovic, while Stipe Knezovic points out that Megi is kind, acts in a calming manner just like a real nurse, and the feeling, he says, is just like having a pleasant conversation with a real person.

Megi has recently become part of the process of treating patients with hypertension at the Health Centre in Zagreb, in eight chronic patients cared for by Dr. Renata Romic, who especially praises the positive psychological effect in moments when blood pressure starts to jump up, because through conversation, the Croatian Mindsmiths' incredible creation suppresses additional stress and further blood pressure issues.

Clinical testing of the Megi prototype has shown huge potential for the application of AI in the healthcare sector and a drastic increase in efficiency in the treatment of chronic patients, so they expect, as was concluded Jan Stedul from the Croatian Mindsmiths, that Megi will gradually spread to all healthcare institutions.

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Sunday, 11 October 2020

New Award for Lino Lada Ice Cream from Podravka and Ledo

As Novac writes on the 10th of October, 2020 - Lino Lada ice cream, created in collaboration with Podravka and Ledo, won the Golden Basket (Zlatna Kosarica) for the best product in the year 2019, a prestigious annual award given by the magazine I TRGOVAC.

In the category in which there are traditionally the largest number of applicants and strong competition of top Croatian products, Lino Lada ice cream won the expert jury over with its unique taste and innovation. The Golden Basket is a new big recognition for Lino Lada ice cream, which was declared the best in the world at the International Ice Cream Consortium in Sweden last year.

''The Golden Basket for Product of the Year confirmed that, together with our partner Ledo, we've recognised the potential of expanding the range of Lino Lada cream spreads into new innovative categories such as impulse ice creams. In the past period, Lino Lada ice cream has achieved exceptional results and delighted consumers on both the domestic and global markets. The Lino Lada brand is once again proving to be a favourite cream spread, and winning the Golden Basket for the product of the year for the second year in a row is an additional confirmation of the quality and innovation of Podravka's products,'' said Vesna Visnic, Podravka's Director of Kids' Food, Sweets and Snacks.

''We're extremely honoured to have received this award as another proof of the quality of what we do, for Lino Lada ice cream, which we made in collaboration with Podravka, which is truly the perfect partner for such an attractive and innovative product. In addition, it is a confirmation dedicated to the hard work of our employees, and especially the development team that successfully turns their creative ideas into the finest ice creams and frozen products. So, congratulations to them too! Every year we try to develop some new flavours and combinations and take a step further in the desire to innovate and enhance our creativity to meet the most diverse requirements of our customers and consumers, because they're our number one priority. This shows that we're succeeding in that,'' said Stela Ilijas, Assistant Director of Marketing and Development.

Lino Lada ice cream was first launched on the market in April 2019. In just a few days since the launch, the first stocks were sold out, making it the most sought-after dessert in all of the Republic of Croatia, and a total of 2.8 million pieces of Lino Lada ice cream were sold on the Croatian and foreign markets last year.

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