What if the Balkans aren’t just where the east meets the west, it’s where the past meets the future?
A wonderful attraction of the Balkans for foreigners is how comfortably it operates in the crossroads of quaint and quirky.
Take for example one of my favorite holidays on the planet, Old New Year. There’s something great about the celebration of this holiday beyond its curious name.
It’s packed with persistence.
In spite of being tied to a calendar considered out of date to the majority of the world and in the shadow of a much bigger, better known, and more lavishly celebrated holiday with a similar name and concept, Old New Year celebrates on.
And so goes the startup scene in North Macedonia. The startups operating within the entrepreneurship ecosystem of North Macedonia are creating an amazing combination of young entrepreneur-energy colliding with an outpouring of interest, mentorship, and opportunity.
It wasn’t that long ago entrepreneurship in North Macedonia meant you operated a taxi or a prodavnica — sometimes together.
Today, in North Macedonia, being an entrepreneur means creating an app, becoming a freelancer, opening a school, working with farmers, creating opportunities for others, sharing your learning with others, competing and collaborating with other entrepreneurs across the entire Balkans, and so much more I am still learning about today.
I first learned about Old New Year and how to celebrate Christmas in January over two decades ago as a Peace Corps Volunteer. During the two years of my service, I lived in Skopje and Kratovo, North Macedonia — back then, it had a “Former” in its name rather than a “North” — and I have been returning on a regular basis ever since.
Yet, it was during my most recent trip during November 2021 for the Global Entrepreneurship Week I noticed the biggest changes.
I didn’t just learn about the local startup scene, I could feel its energy.
Perhaps the most incredible thing I experienced was just how curious entrepreneurs in North Macedonia are, especially regarding how willing they are to do something new and take chances — or sheezick na reezick they might say in Skopje — in order to become better entrepreneurs.
I remember a time when almost all I heard from Macedonians were doubts and apologies. On this last visit, though, I heard startup founders brag about their failures and excitedly tell me about the time they got second place at a contest. Their thirst for learning and experiencing was contagious and their confidence was earned.
The future is incredibly bright for the entrepreneurial ecosystem in North Macedonia and I am excited to feed off its energy. It is only a matter of time before others discover the Balkans as a place where entrepreneurship is fun now and again… and again!
Here’s to everything next year brings, old, new, and Balkans!
About Matthew: Matthew Murrie is motivated to help solve our planet’s biggest challenges by applying curiosity (curiosity-inspired innovation) in education, culture, and industry. He works across sectors and industries to empower people with the tools and training necessary to create a more curious world–and improve our world in the process. The Curiosity-Based Thinking & Learning processes he developed and experiences are designed to unite global networks of educators, entrepreneurs, innovators, scientists, artists, and other curious minds passionate about solving big and small challenges through curiosity-inspired actions. Matt is deeply passionate about the North Macedonia entrepreneurial ecosystem, which he first experienced as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the early 2000s.