Wednesday, 1 March 2023 - Innovative Digital E-Learning Platform Launched in Ogulin

March the 1st, 2023 - PetNula (, an innovative e-learning platform for the repeating of elementary school educational material, has been created and successfully launched in Ogulin.

As Lider writes, PetNula is the very first Croatian digital platform designed for the repeating of the material learning between the fifth to the eighth grade of primary school. It has been created from the desire to systematise the complete material of the upper grades of primary school in one place for children and enable them to test out their own skills and knowledge, and it has been available to users since back in mid-February.

With technology based on successful experiences from Poland, PetNula's methodology is fully adapted to the curriculum of the Croatian education system.

One of the initiators of the project, Natalia Zielinska, gathered a large number of teachers and educational experts together for the project, including the authors of textbooks, mentors at competitions, advisers and native speakers of foreign languages who developed the platform according to the structure and type of tasks from the NCVVO National Examination Guide.

''I've always been focused on education and the dissemination of knowledge, and these activities, due to or thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, began to flow into the digital world as well. I've been cooperating with the Polish e-Learning company GroMar for a long time now, and just as an example, GroMar created an official digital platform for the Polish education system from kindergarten to college, and as it has been operating in Croatia for three years, we recognised that there was space to offer users a new educational platform.

In Poland, there are already two such solutions; even high school students created one for their future colleagues, and such a process of practicing with mistakes and testing turned out to be a very effective way of learning, because learning is a process in itself that needs to be trained and improved,'' explained Zielinska.

GroMar is a Polish company for modern e-learning solutions that supports global companies such as PEPCO, DPD or SUZUKI in lifelong education and competence development, and their Croatian team initiated the development of an educational platform for primary school age.

''A large number of global studies show that children respond positively to e-learning platforms and learn more easily in such an environment, while exercises, quizzes and tests are among the formats recognised as the favourite options, which is why they've also been implemented into PetNula. The web application currently offers more than 1,400 tasks and materials for repetition in both Croatian and English languages, and enables users to efficiently systematise the learned content through infographics, tables for repetition and questions for self-assessment, providing them with feedback and the possibility to restart the tests,'' explained Rutva Primorac from GroMara.

You can learn more on the official PetNula website.

For more, check out our news section.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Foreigners Self-Isolating in Croatia: Do You Feel Safer? Natalia from Poland in Ogulin

April 12, 2020 - Do foreigners in Croatia feel more or less safe sitting out COVID-19 here than in their home country, and what are their experiences? A new series on Total Croatia News, with Natalia Zielinska from Poland in Ogulin as the 36th contributor.

Oxford University recently published some research on government responses to coronavirus which showed that Croatia currently has the strictest measures in the world. While inconvenient, this is a good thing in terms of reducing the spread of the virus, and I am certainly not alone in my admiration of the official Croatian handling of this crisis in recent weeks, both in terms of action and communication. 

But what do other expats here think? And how does it compare with the response in their home country? Would they rather sit this one out here or there? A new series on TCN, we will be featuring expats from all over the world to see what their views are on life in corona Croatia rather than back home. So far we have heard from expats in Croatia from Romania, USA, Ireland, UK, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Singapore, Holland, Canada, India, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Latvia, China, Honduras, Hungary, Moldova, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Germany. Next up, Natalia Zielinska from Poland in Ogullin.

If you would like to contribute to this series, full details are below this interview.

Hello, I’m Natalia. I have lived in Croatia permanently since 2013, I run a company here that deals with consulting, preparing and implementing EU projects. I run several projects aimed at developing entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial skills in Croatia. Unlike most people who are in this business, I chose Ogulin, a small mountainous town right between Zagreb and Rijeka, for my life destination. 

Firstly, how are you? Are you alone/with someone? Tell us a little about your situation and sanity levels.

I'm fine now. I'm not alone, we have a family and our little children here, so I definitely don't miss being around people. Quite the opposite. At the beginning, I was quite angry, disappointed because things got out of control, and I followed all the news in Poland and Croatia with tension. The worst thing was the ignorance, the virus started to spread, we didn't know if it was really a threat or some worse form of the common flu. I’ve already come to terms with the situation, but I’m still abnormally concerned about my family in Poland.


What struck me most was the closure of the borders, Poland was the first to introduce these measures.

Then I realised that if something bad happens to my mum who is alone, then realistically I can't even get to her, this feeling of powerlessness is terrible. But now that the situation is stabilising and we know, roughly, what’s going on around us.

So, in my private life, I’m now stable, I’m even enjoying this new rhythm where I’m constantly surrounded by children.

I went through the same stages in business - disappointment, anger and slowly getting used to the situation. Now, I’m continuing doing business peacefully, but I’m also increasingly trying to help and support other entrepreneurs who are in a bad situation.

In addition, I’m adapting to this new situation, developing an online business, focusing on our long-term partners, our clients. We’re building a relationship, we’re no longer interested in short-term earnings. Currently, we’re spending more time and resources on volunteer work, counselling and support than we are on commercial activities, which may not be good business sense, but these times have shown that we are dependent on each other.

What do you think about the economic measures the government is taking, are they helping your business?

The first measures were not sufficient, but all thanks to the Voice of the Entrepreneur (movement) and other branch organisations, things were organised in time to find better conditions.

For now, these existing measures are more than good, I personally just care about the background, that is, how the state will be able to finance these measures, because we’re aware of the inefficiency of the public sector.

Each day, we have 20-30 inquiries regarding government measures, grants and loans.

Each day we submit 10 applications for working capital loans.

I can say that the crisis that has emerged will further purify this sector, in the way that there are entrepreneurs who are struggling for their businesses and employees, and we have some who are immediately retiring to protect their interests. I think that in a few months, we will return to a full and healthy environment, a digitised public sector, hopefully deprived of parasites, but on top of that, better quality, more resourceful and loyal entrepreneurs will somehow be winners in the whole situation.

A decision has been made to limit public procurement, which is explicitly detrimental to the economy, but I hope this decision will not apply to EU projects, which are now the main wheel in re-starting the economy. 

When did you realise that corona was going to be a big issue?

When they closed the borders, when for the first time someone restricted me, a child of Solidarity, the EU and the free market, the elemental freedom of movement. It's kind of a slight shock to us, ‘almost’ millennials. 

natalia-zielinska (1).jpg

What is your impression of the way Croatia is dealing with the crisis? How safe do you feel?

The Croatian Government has put adequate measures in place in time. Communication is great, the organisation is too, the other day, the headquarters came to our apartment because we have Zagreb license plates [to check we were meant to be where we are]. Everyone really is doing their job. What concerns me are irresponsible citizens, on the one hand, they complain about the restriction of liberties, and on the other, they don’t know how to respect the elementary rules of conduct. That way, we keep going around in circles. 

Now compare that to your home country and how they are handling it. What is Croatia doing better/worse?

Croatia definitely has better measures for entrepreneurs, for example, while for example, the Poles have better measures for the cultural sector, those who are self-employed and micro-entrepreneurs.

The Poles also introduced measures to further accelerate the implementation of investments such as exemptions from public procurement obligations for certain funds. A page has been created with all the measures and direct links for application, in Croatia, we have some announcements and additions to them every day. There is no single channel of communication.

In Poland, unfortunately, the ruling forces forcing the presidential elections in May are trying to take advantage of the situation. In addition, a number of legal measures are introduced, using a situation when everyone's attention is focused on the fight against COVID-19.

In Croatia, politicians behave correctly, I didn’t see anyone trying to score political points at the expense of the situation, finally, experts and those in the know joined the debate and subsequently organised the private sector. 

In Poland, these initiatives are missing.

What's the one thing you wish you had taken with you into self-isolation?

My phone. To be able to hear from everyone and follow everything that happens.

What is one thing you have learned about yourself, and one thing you have learned about others during this crisis?

I’ve realised how much I’m missing out on the development of my children, since I’ve been working from home, watching them all the time, and only now am I understanding some of their behaviours, their rules. We have a much better relationship.

I always had it on my conscience that we had a bad business model because people, and their problems, were always my focus. Then many people assured me that the purpose of a business was to make a profit. When that profit disappears in one day, or one month, the people remain - business and life partners you can rely on. I think the crisis has convinced me only of the correctness of my views.

And secondly, I’ve not learned anything new, as there are always individuals who are struggling, they find solutions and they are great and inspirational people, and there is always a crowd that just criticises and senselessly discusses things.

These situations better highlight both categories of people, so it's a great opportunity to verify your friends and those on your list of business partners.


Thanks, Natalia. Stay safe and see you on the other side.  

TCN is starting a new feature series on foreign experiences of sitting out COVID-19 here in Croatia compared to their home country. If you would like to contribute, the questions are below. Please also include a para about yourself and where you are from, and a link to your website if you would like. Please also send 3-4 photos minimum to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Corona Foreigner

If you would be interested to record a video version for our partners please let us know in the email. Thanks and stay safe. 

Foreigners Self-Isolating in Croatia: Do You Feel Safer Than in Your Home Country?

Firstly, how are you? Are you alone/with someone? Tell us a little about your situation and sanity levels.

What do you think about the economic measures the government is taking, are they helping your business? (PLEASE IGNORE IF THIS DOES NOT AFFECT YOU)

When did you realise that corona was going to be a big issue? 

What is your impression of the way Croatia is dealing with the crisis? How safe do you feel?

Now compare that to your home country and how they are handling it. What is Croatia doing better/worse?

What about official communications from the authorities, compared to your home country?

What's the one thing you wish you had taken with you into self-isolation.

One thing you have learned about yourself, and one thing you have learned about others during this crisis. 

TCN has recently become a partner in Robert Tomic Zuber's new R+ video channel, initially telling stories about corona experiences. You can see the first TCN contribution from this morning, my video from Jelsa talking about the realities of running a news portal in the corona era below. If you would like to also submit a video interview, please find Robert's guidelines below 


The video footage should be recorded so that the cell phone is turned horizontally (landscape mode).

There are several rules for television and video news:- length is not a virtue- a picture speaks more than a thousand words

In short, this would mean that your story should not last more than 90 seconds and that everything you say in the report should be shown by video (for example, if you talk about empty streets, we should see those empty streets, etc.).

How to do it with your cell phone? First, use a selfie camera to record yourself telling your story for about a minute and a half. Ideally, it would be taken in the exterior, except in situations where you are reporting on things in the interior (quarantine, hospital, self-isolation, etc.). Also, when shooting, move freely, make sure everything is not static.

After you have recorded your report, you should capture footage that will tell your story with a picture, such as an earlier example with empty streets.

One of the basic rules of TV journalism is that the story is told in the same way as a journalist with his text. Therefore, we ask you for additional effort. Because we work in a very specific situation, sometimes you may not be able to capture footage for each sentence of the report. In this case, record the details on the streets: people walking, the main features of the city where you live, inscriptions on the windows related to the virus, etc.

The same rules apply if you are shooting a story from your apartment, self-isolation, quarantine. We also need you to capture footage that describes your story.

When shooting frames to cover your reports, it is important that you change the angle of the shot (in other words, shoot that empty street from several angles). Also, when shooting a detail, count at least five seconds before removing the camera to another detail.

The material should be about 5 minutes long (90 seconds of your report + frames to cover your story).

After recording everything, send us to Zagreb, preferably via WeTransfer to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Wash your hands.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Natalia Zielinska on Comparison of Polish and Croatian Economic Crisis Measures

As Poduzetnik writes on the 6th of April, 2020, in this text, a consultant and entrepreneur, otherwise a Polish woman living and working in Croatia, Natalia Zielinska, summarises the coronavirus crisis measures taken by the Polish Government to help the troubled Polish economy. As the situation with these figures is changing and updating very quickly, the situation on April the 4th, 2020 is discussed here.

Otherwise, at 16:00 today, Natalia Zielinska is organising a webinar where participants can get a lot of useful advice regarding assistance measures and Hamag-Bicro working capital loans.

The situation in Poland

In Poland, there are currently more than 3,300 infected people and 65 people have sadly died owing to the coronavirus pandemic. The highest number of infected people, more than 800, are located in Warsaw and the surrounding county.

In response to the global crisis, the Polish Government passed a series of laws called the "Anti-Crisis Shield", which entered into force on April the 1st, 2020. While the first package of coronavirus measures in Croatia focused mostly on medium and large enterprises, the Polish Government took the most care of micro-entrepreneurs and those who are self-employed, but it significantly neglected the needs of larger companies, causing various reactions.

Unlike in the Croatian case, the Poles have created a simple and transparent website with links provided to all of the measures, and a separate telephone information line has been opened for all questions and concerns from interested parties.

A summary of measures adopted in Poland

It must be noted that these measures vary considerably depending on the size of the company.

Taxes and contributions

A write-off of losses from last year. This measure is based on the experience of 2008/2009, when losses in annual self-employment reports increased by PLN 30 billion. In this way, a company currently suffering losses (with revenues 50 percent lower than in 2019) will be able to reduce the profit/income from independent business in 2019 by submitting an annex to their report for this year. However, the reduction may not exceed PLN 5 million.

Contribution write-offs

This measure applies exclusively to micro-enterprises which were established before the 1st of February 2020, and the Polish state has taken over the payment of contributions on their behalf for three months (March, April and May 2020).

This measure is approved without the need to demonstrate any sort of drop in company revenue, and the exemption applies to both business owners and employees. Self-employed persons with an income of up to PLN 15,681 (300 percent of the average salary) who pay contributions for themselves will also be entitled to write-offs. In addition, farmers will be entirely exempt. In Poland, farmers pay contributions under a special type of farmers' social insurance (the so-called KRUZ).

Job protection - a package of measures to co-finance wages and increase working time flexibility

This regards the co-financing of employee salaries in the amount of 50 percent, 70 percent or 90 percent of the minimum gross salary, depending on the decrease in income (by 30, 50 or 80 percent). This comes with obligations regarding keeping staff that fall on the employer.

Similar measures are offered to the self-employed, whose income has decreased owing to the coronavirus crisis. An entrepreneur can get from 4,599 PLN in 3 months, with 50 percent drop in turnover, and up to 8,279 PLN with a decrease of 80 percent.

For self-employed persons who earn an income through work contracts or copyright contracts through various agencies, 80 percent of the minimum wage was offered, but exclusively for entrepreneurs whose income did NOT exceed 300 percent in the previous month.

Employment Protection Fee 

The quarterly co-financing of salaries and social security contributions for employees, and for entrepreneurs who are experiencing economic downtime or are entering part-time work due to the outbreak. A business owner who has reduced his working hours due to a decrease in turnover may reduce his employee's working time by 20 percent, but not more than 0.5 full-time. 40 percent of the previous quarter's average salary can then be deducted.

Loans for micro-enterprises in the amount of PLN 5,000 (approx. 1200 euros)

Other important changes made by the Polish package of measures include the additional care allowance for children and the disabled and the elderly for a period of fourteen days.

Among the amendments adopted was a very important provision providing for an exemption from the Public Procurement Law for contracts awarded to regional development funds, as in the case of contracts awarded by the Polish Regional Development Fund.

The measure is diverse and depends mostly on the number of employees and the formal legal relationship between the employee and the employer. In order to facilitate communication, but also to provide better information, a separate website has been set up with subpages for all potential users: entrepreneurs, farmers, employees, as well as non-governmental or cultural organisations.

Due to the strong reaction and great dissatisfaction from business owners, mostly those with more than nine employees, a new assistance package is now under preparation.

Some of the main arguments of Polish employers are:

The need to introduce measures that must be made available immediately, based on the statement, and the need for them to be verified after the coronavirus epidemic has passed

The retroactive recognition of aid, at least as of March the 13th, when the introduction of a quarantine was announced due to the coronavirus epidemic, not from the date of entry into force of the Act.

The involvement of medium and large enterprises in these aid measures.

The providing of funds to entrepreneurs to cover costs and damages related to the fulfillment of obligations imposed by public authorities and headquarters in the fight against coronavirus (such as assistance to JLSs and healthcare institutions).

The need for government funding for sick leave (currently funded by employers for 33 days), especially in case of sick leave due to coronavirus or because of quarantine.

The need to shorten the VAT refund deadline as soon as possible.

The exemption from VAT. In Poland, VAT is paid into a separate account if it is being paid immediately.

The need for the suspension of current tax audits and the cancellation of new tax audits.

The removal of work restrictions on Sundays (for easier access to required products and also for difficult business-to-business situations).

The need to increase Poland's budget deficit.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Natalia Zielinska, a Polish EU Funds Specialist Doing Amazing Things in Ogulin

November 11, 2019 - There are bubbles of positivity all over Croatia and in the most unlikely of places. Bubbly bubbles, such as EU funds specialist Natalia Zielinksa in Ogulin, a long way from her native Poland. 

2019 so far has been the Year of the Positive Person. I have met SO many interesting and positive people all doing their amazing things that there really are not enough hours in the day to keep up with them all. Among them is one very cool Polish lady living in Ogulin, who I had never heard of until we both spoke at the first international edition of Business Cafe earlier this year

Since then, Natalia Zielinska has been seemingly everywhere. So much so in fact that I joked with her that she is the only blonde who appears more in the Croatian media these days than President Kolinda and Kristina Mandarina combined. 

Her enthusiastic and dynamic no-nonsense approach to EU funding opportunities has brought considerable success already, and Natalia is quickly developing a reputation as one of the top gurus for EU funding opportunities in Croatia. Coming from Poland, her perspective on the Croatian mindset and approach to business and entrepreneurship is different to my own, and of the many interviews she has given, none was better than one for Tportal a couple of weeks ago - which I have been meaning to do when time allowed, but which you can find below. 


With an eye on some TCN projects of our own, it was great to catch up with Natalia and talk possibilities on my way to the CIHT 2019 conference in Selce, Crikvenica last week. She found the time to explore some opportunities for funding while showing me the vibrant November Ogulin nightlife in her famous Hieronymous Bosch top. More on those plans in due course, but here is the very refreshing Tportal interview in full. It is a great read for those looking for inspiration on succeeding in Croatia, as well as those interested in EU funding. 


After talking to Natalia Zielinska, you get the strong desire to do just about anything. Work in a field, clean-up your house, or throw yourself into realizing the business idea you came up ages ago. The 31-year-old Polish woman from Ogulin talks about her work as an EU project consultant with contagious energy. She came to Croatia six years ago and almost from nothing has built up a respectable business. There doesn't seem to be a part of Croatia where she hasn't helped getting some European money. She explains in an interview with tportal what brought her to Croatia, why she enjoys life in Ogulin and what her most significant problems with Croatians are.

Zielinska moved to Ogulin six years ago, and she visited Croatia before that, through student exchanges. She even did an internship in our Ministry of Regional Development. 

She was born in the Polish town of Gniezno, and she studied Croatian language and European studies in Wroclaw. When she was a student, she worked on EU projects, and one of them took place in Ključ, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she met a student from Ogulin. They fell in love, so after getting married, she moved to the center of Croatia. 

Her business partners from Poland offered her the chance to start her own business here, because of her knowledge of EU funds and Croatian language fluency. She took the offer gladly. She started an obrt, and before you know it, she was teaching entrepreneurs and farmers in Ogulin and area what the European funds are. Then the town of Vrbovsko hired her, and she managed the EU funds for them for three years. After that, she went her separate way, and in the last year, she took a position as a director in the Euro Grant Konzalting company, which is also Polish-owned.

Zielinska and her team of two currently administer around 30 projects, with clients from all over Croatia, including towns, municipalities, family farms, as well as small and big companies. In addition to that, Zielinska runs her private projects, such as the Entrepreneurial Academy in Ogulin, as well as the "I Know and I Do" (Znam i poduzimam) project. It aims to teach the young, unemployed people the skills needed for digital entrepreneurship. 

How do you have time for all of that?

(laughter) On a regular day, when I don't have to go to Zagreb or Rijeka, there's time for everything. That's the thing about living in Ogulin - everything is very close! If I did the same job in Zagreb, I think I'd explode. I'd lose two or three hours in traffic each day. Here, I can spend that time with my children, and I have two girls, a two- and a five-year-old, or take a walk in the woods. Imagine how valuable that is! Time truly is money. Life is simple in Ogulin, and that allows me to dedicate myself to complex business tasks. 

Do you plan to stay in Ogulin once your kids have grown up? 

No. I think we'll move to Poland then. Ogulin offers us a quality of life now, which I couldn't have in Poland. But, the children will need more than peace and relaxing. They'll need an inspirational atmosphere. The surroundings of people who will make them become enterprising, ambitious, willing to learn, and move forward. I think that's something that's lacking in Croatia. 

<strong?Is there that much of a difference between the Croats and the Poles when it comes to entrepreneurial spirit and forcefulness?

Yes. Most people here are satisfied with bare survival and floating on the surface. You just go along, and if something bad happens, you withdraw. That's a big surprise for me. We Poles see people from the Balkans as fiery and enthusiastic. And then you come to Croatia, where the answer to any problem is "A JEBI GA" (laughter). There's no passion or grit. The truth is that it's difficult to work and for business here. Maybe even twice as hard as in Poland. You open a company there with a click; it's cheaper to run a company, you don't have to pay certain taxes until you're 30... But all of that should make entrepreneurs in Croatia more determined and energetic. The only place where the situation is different is in Zagreb because there's more competition there. 

What do you think, why are Croatian entrepreneurs like that?

I don't know. We both lived in communism. The Poles were always trying something to try to get out of that. The story of Polish tourists who used to sell anything from plush toys to car parts after coming back home from former Yugoslavia is quite famous. The problematic situation created an entrepreneurial spirit in the Polish people. They thought out of the box. People in Croatia are pacified. They keep waiting and believe that a big hand will come down to pat them on the head and solve all their problems. Nobody will solve any of your problems. That's been done with a long time ago. You gotta fight for yourself. The only obstacle for development is - you. 

Has anything else surprised you in our mentality?

You take injustice too easily. Croatia is a small country; everybody knows everybody. One would expect that in such a society, bad entrepreneurs and politicians will get discarded soon because it's impossible to hide anything. But no. People here accept getting cheated and taken advantage of. They'll spend time with that entrepreneur and politician, and pat them on their back. I find that unbelievable.

How are our entrepreneurs doing with the EU funds? Do they understand their logic?

A lot of people call me to tell me they need help from the EU funds. Those funds are not helping. The idea behind them is not to help you when your business is doing poorly. That's a critical misunderstanding. The EU funds are financial support for stable companies that have clear goals. They are a type of loan; it's just that you don't have to repay the principal and the interest, you pay back with concrete results, which need to be tangible and real. People also don't understand that private people can't use EU funds. Like, I have some apartments for rent, and I want to invest in them. That's great, but get a loan in a bank for that. When I tell them that, they get angry. If you want the EU funds, start a company, family farm, or "obrt" and go into business. The more prominent, more serious companies understand the logic behind the EU funds. But with them, the problem is that the programs are not adjusted to them. So people complain, and I ask them where they were in 2013 or 2014 when the programs were tailored, and decisions where to invest the money were made. Where were the chambers of commerce and other institutions by entrepreneurs? For instance, there are no EU funds for the tourist sector, which accounts for 20 percent of Croatian GDP.

The new European financing period is ahead, starting in 2021. Things can change.

Of course. But you need to work on that systematically, and you must lobby. Nobody is throwing a bag of money your way. Entrepreneurs need to put pressure on the state. Otherwise, the Croatian state is rigid. It doesn't allow consultants or entrepreneurs into the deliberative process so that they could manifest their interest. If it happens again that the state programs things, the same situation will happen again. The funds will not be fully used, as the programs will not be appropriate for the market. Also, there are significant problems with the implementation of programs, as in Croatia, the institutions pretend to be smarter and stricter than the European Commission. The rules applied in the entire Union are made even more stringent in Croatia. For instance, a large Polish company wanted to invest in Croatia. They tried to apply for the EU tender for the commercialization of innovations. I told them that the project wouldn't be successful, as in Croatia, that is not an innovation. It was a device through which they were offering a service. If you change some parameters, you can use the device differently. They got some money for that in Poland, and they hired people. In Croatia, that's not innovation. It's the change in the machine functionality. 

How big is the interest in the EU funds?

Big. Usually, the madness starts around 9 am. I get around 15 calls from all over Croatia each day. I managed to cut the number of meetings down. Before, everybody called me to get a coffee. That would annoy me to no end, as they'd tell me their plan, ask for my advice, and then get angry when I told them that it costs money to get my advice. Now I only agree to meet someone when I'm convinced there's some potential in their story. I deal with everything before that on the phone or through emails. 

What do you charge clients?

200 to 400 kunas an hour, depending on the type of consulting. The preparation of a project costs 5 to 50 thousand kunas, depending on how much work there is to be done. 

What is it that your company Euro Grant Konzalting is offering?

I call myself an expert in turning problems into opportunities. We make a business analysis, take a look at the balance sheet, and then try to find a solution through EU funds. Sometimes all it takes is to connect people or to find investors. We never go into a project which is not 99 percent certain. When we prepare and submit a project, then there's a break of around a year before the client gets the money. Then we administer the project, which is a critical part of our job. We do procurement, stick to the rules strictly, and prepare reports throughout the project, which is five years. 

What is it like working with towns and municipalities? Are the people working there capable?

It is complicated to have successful cooperation, mostly because of politics. It was challenging for me, a consultant and a Polish person from Ogulin, to find my position on the market. I needed to prove myself a lot. On several occasions, I gave solutions and offered solid projects to some municipalities or towns, only to find out six months later that they hired a politically convenient consultant. The towns I work with are at least somewhat independent and can hire a consultant with no political connections.

Do you even follow the politics in Croatia?

Yes, because I have to. Every change in ministries affects my job directly. 

What do you say about all those discussions of partisans and ustaše?

I find that ridiculous. The Second World War ended over 70 years ago. I regret that those keep getting forward, as there are so many other topics, fantastic and positive.

What is the situation in Poland? Do people there talk about the topics from WWII all the time?

For younger generations, born in the EU, the free market is quite usual. They don't appreciate that, so they turn to the right-wing parties. A 15-year-old kid takes a flag to the protests and yells 'kill a communist.' What does he even know about communism? For kids like that, it's better to take their computers and create a cool project. 

Let's leave the past and talk about the present. You started the Entrepreneurial Academy in Ogulin. What gave you that idea?

The project was envisioned and prepared in 2017. The idea came to me when I was talking to the local entrepreneurs who complained about the lack of information and education. For each piece of advice or information, they needed to travel to Zagreb or Rijeka. The project is based on the experience of our company-friend PL Europa, which has an entrepreneurial incubator in Poland. We were waiting for an appropriate call, and when it appeared, we got around 490 thousand kunas of funds from the European Regional Development Fund. The Academy started working in August of last year, and we've had over 70 participants. In addition to that, we were able to open a coworking space in Ogulin, together with Ogulin town, called "Ćošak" (corner in English). 

Recently you started your second big project financed by European funds - Znam i poduzimam (I Know and I Do). What's its goal?

Our goal is to train 60 young people in digital entrepreneurship. More specifically, we want to encourage them to self-employ by developing business ideas online. The lecturers are the well-known influencers, such as Ella Dvornik, the travel and lifestyle blogger, Matija Lazarević, the YouTuber known as LayZ, fashion designer Ivan Alduk, flight attendant and food blogger Maja Brekalo and fashion blogger and lawyer, Isabella Rakonić. We added a project manager and EU funds expert Roman Marinović to them. During the project, those 60 young people should learn about the law, the finances, using the EU funds as well as national funding, management, protection of the innovations. We got around 530 thousand kunas from the EU funds for this project. 

What's the quality of the EU funds consultants in Croatia? Is your competition strong? 

I am the vice-president of the Association of EU funds professionals with the Croatian Employers Association. Experts at the highest level surround me there. However, in the last years, a large number of businesses appear, I call them the wannabe consultants who work on projects without setting the price from the start. They work with companies that can't afford to pay for the preparation of the projects, but they do not care. They are paid a percentage of the funds as if they're unaware that a company that can't afford to pay the preparation of a project won't be able to finance the project itself. I think that's absurd, why waste time and resources on something you're not guaranteed will be able to be completed in the long term.

Natalia has previously been featured on TCN's Croatian Foreign Entrepreneur series. If you are a foreign entrepreneur trying to make it in The Beautiful Croatia and would like to be featured, please contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Entrepreneur. 

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Croatia's Foreign Entrepreneurs: Natalia from Poland, EU Funds for Ogulin

 April 14, 2019 - Continuing our look at the foreign entrepreneurs trying to succeed in Croatia as so many are emigrating, meet Natalia from Poland, an EU funds specialist making a difference in Ogulin.

The absolute best thing about living in Croatia and running TCN is the knowledge that every day is different, and one can never predict anything. 

There are so many interesting people here, from all over the world, and the more I travel around Croatia, the more amazing people I meet. 

Earlier this month, for example, I spoke at the first Business Club International in Zagreb, together with the star of the night, Natalia Zielinska, a Polish lady now living in Ogulin and doing fabulous things with EU funds. So, after several months, I am delighted that Natalia agreed to an interview, thereby reviving our popular feature on foreign entrepreneurs in Croatia, at a time when many young Croats are headed in the opposite direction. 

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1.    First and foremost, why Croatia?

Why not?! I mean, Croatia with all its absurdities is still a beautiful country to live in, especially when you are a young parent. But I did not plan that. I started studying Slavic studies and European Studies in parallel, so I worked on EU projects and studied Croatian. First the academic path and then the business path led me to Croatia. 

In the meantime, I fell in love with my present husband. I am still in love so I can get through everyday obstacles in Croatia somewhat easier.

2. INTRO YOUR BUSINESS, what is it you do?

I am working on the preparation and implementation of EU projects. I advise clients, mostly small businesses, but also the public sector, which of the possible programmes they can use. 

After that, I draft the bidding documentation and, after the approval of the grants, I am responsible for the implementation of investment projects. In theory, I am involved in consulting services. In practice, I deal with management, strategic planning, human resources. All more demanding projects contain at least part of all of these elements.

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3. Tell us about some of the differences in your expectations of running a business in Croatia and the reality.

Before I came to work in Croatia, I did the same job for four years in Poland. I have a university degree in EU projects. The difference is best seen in the fact that my first business partners, a company with large projects in Poland, decided against further investment in Croatia after half a year. 

The calls were not published at the planned time when they were finally launched, and they were complicated and unclear, you could not get any information if you did not have connections and well-placed acquaintances. What was worse, the trust of people in EU funds and the public sector was justifiably very low. When I came talking about EU funds, I felt like a Jehovah's Witness. People thought I was going to cheat them. That was understandable, in view of their experience. But I did not give up despite differences and obstacles. 

Immediately at the very beginning, I had a baptism of fire, and I knew it would be an arduous journey, but by nature, I am clinically persistent – I simply accepted the fact that I would have to learn everything from scratch. I was persistent, gained the trust of people, succeeded with one, two, three projects... And so on.

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4. What (if any) bureaucratical issues have you encountered and how did you overcome them (i.e. any advice to the would-be entrepreneur?)

After five years, whenever I need to make a change in a company, add business activities or change my address, I have to go to a public notary where I personally sign a few sheets of paper. This is an absurdity in the digital world. I pay 20 different fees a month. To receive a grant from an institution, I have to ask that same institution to confirm that we have no debts towards them. What can I say? Two different laws define the same thing in two completely different ways. Each ministry has its own opinion, even every employee in each department has his or her personal opinion. 

When writing a project, you have to follow the regulations, but the question is which regulations and whom you can ask. Of course, if you choose wrongly, you are hit with a fine or a rejection. The rules change daily. The worst thing is that there is no responsibility in the public sector; the whole weight falls on the shoulders of entrepreneurs. I have still not overcome this situation, I have just created my little micro-cosmos, based on the Ogulin model, where I know more or less everyone, and it is easier to get information. 

At one point I wondered, if in Ogulin you can look a person in the eye and solve everything with a conversation, why this does not work at the national level? In the end, we are all people, so I started working with everybody as if we were neighbours, openly, kindly and sincerely.

This proved to be effective. In most cases. There are still bad examples. Therefore, I am always prepared for obstacles, but I am clinically persistent. I sometimes wait for people at their doors or call them 20 times a day. The bigger the challenge, the more persistent I become. It is challenging, but success is sweeter that way.

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5. How is your product or business perceived in the Croatian market?

Now, after four years since we started realising real investments from EU funds, it is a little easier to gain customer trust. In the beginning, it was all too abstract for everyone. Besides, consultancy services are intellectual services, while Croatia values things such as savviness, knowing the right people and political background more than expertise. That is a fact. At first, I was very frustrated, but then I accepted the rules of the game. I created new value. I still respect the expertise and do not let yield too much, but I talk and build informal networks. 

Of course, the inefficient EU funds system has a significant effect on us the consultants who are the main culprits for a possible failure. The client is paying us to bring him or her to the goal of getting the EU grant. They do not care about the path we have to endure and how often a large part of it does not depend on us, but rather on an employee of a particular agency or ministry. This is a great responsibility. As I said, now that I already have my network, my experience, a specific portfolio, it is easier to operate in the market. 

Clients are willing to pay more because they know they get outstanding service, now that I have turned my approach into a brand. You know how it goes: they initially laughed, then they threatened, and now they call me because I am well-known for being direct, decent, and productive. While some projects based on knowing the right people are failing, my projects are expanding.

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

My husband is also crazy about his own ideas, so he fully supports me and stands by me. I am the one who always fears, questions. He keeps asking me, so what if you do not succeed, what can happen that would be so terrible? Then, when faced with the bleakest scenario, I realise we have nothing to lose. We have two kids, and that is what is really important and fixed. Everything else is just passing projects, work. 

Everything I do is for the family, to be a full and happy person, to show my children that they should be persistent and believe in themselves. Other people... so-so. I have people who not only support me but embark on crazy ideas, like coworking in Ogulin or an entrepreneurial incubator - the Entrepreneurship Academy. Some come to me with their crazy ideas that we turn into reality. If the Croatian society were so conservative and passive as it is believed to be, I would not be here because, in the end, I cannot write all the projects, I am only structuring them, but the ideas come from people. And people here are really wonderful when they are given an opportunity to express themselves. I do not care about jealous and envious people. If they want to hinder me, I become even stronger. But I do not care about them; I have too much work with positive stories.

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

Each project is a challenge. But the most challenging project was to start doing business here, without my own capital and knowledge, in Ogulin.

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

Definitely. But, if I knew everything I know now, that would have saved me a lot of nerves and getting upset about things I could not influence. The system is a system, and you cannot bring it down, you can only show by way of example that it can be done differently and that others can follow you and give up on the system which will collapse eventually on its own.

9. What are 3 things you love about Croatia?

1. Food - I suppose I needed to come here to figure out that green salad can be eaten just with olive oil and lemon, the finest side dish after Brussels sprouts.

2. Biodiversity - everything is so close, the sea, mountains, forests...

3. Relaxed way of living – I am choleric so this “let it be” approach by the Croats suits me well. My hyperactivity and the nonchalance produce an exciting combination.

But I have to note that these three things are the reasons that can easily make you slow down and get lazy in Croatia. That is the rabbit hole in the wonderland. But you realise that in the end, the queen cuts off the heads for fun. Yes, it is lovely, but you cannot relax too much.

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

We should cut the public sector by 75%, shift most services to the more efficient private sector. We should merely unleash the market, and then everything will come to its own. The invisible hand will sweep the mess. So, in short, we should improve the business climate and just let people do their jobs. We do not need any incentives, laws, just let people do it.

11. How is it working with Croatians in terms of a business mentality?

Well as I have said, in the end, I have personally created a good combination with the Croatian mindset that works very well. Croatians avoid effort and change, and I am a hyper-activist who continually moves the boundaries. I teach them that you can always do something differently, while they teach me that it sometimes makes no sense. 

Sometimes you have to reconcile with how things work and do not force changes but work systematically on them.

12. Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?

Find reliable partners from Croatia who have experience in this and know how to find their way around. Otherwise, you will spend time and money hitting your head in the wall, while there are a lot of people who have built their own exit. Use them, their experience and knowledge. Otherwise, there is a significant risk you will be duped. Crude but true.

You can learn more about Natalia's Euro Grant Consulting on the official website.

To learn more about the foreign entrepreneurs trying to make it in The Beautiful Croatia, check out the heroes we have covered already. 

Are you a foreign entrepreneur trying to make it work in Croatia and would like to promote your story? Contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.