My name is Vladimir. I have supported entrepreneurs, startups, startup enthusiasts, and different communities in my hometown of Banja Luka for over ten years now.
One of the biggest challenges I had in my work was to explain what a startup ecosystem is. I got this question a lot, and I tried explaining it in many different ways. I spent hours thinking about the best explanation, and finally, I discovered that the staircase metaphor works the best. So I will try to explain it now.
Imagine a staircase! Entrepreneurs start this journey at the foot of the stairs. On their way to developing a company, they must climb up towards the top. Each step represents one of the actors in the startup ecosystem. Over time, an entrepreneur can skip a step or two, they can even jump over a few of them, but it will be tough. If all the startup ecosystem actors are present, and we have a whole staircase, it will be much easier for entrepreneurs to climb.
Even if the first version of the staircase has wooden stairs that are pretty loose, startup founders can still use them to reach the goal. Later, when we assure people that this staircase is the way to go, we can improve them. We can make a new one from concrete, even put some cool tiles, add railing, ornaments, and a safety fence 🙂
A startup ecosystem represents a group of different individual actors, interconnected, all pushing in the same direction, gathered around the same vision of creating a sustainable system capable of producing scalable and fast-growing companies. In the center of every startup ecosystem are the Entrepreneurs/Founders (or, at least, they should be in the center), and around them are other actors who must be actively involved in supporting them. So we are talking about a wide variety of actors—entrepreneur support organizations, incubators, accelerators, investors, service providers, local and national governments, universities, corporations, media, and others.
Each actor mentioned above has its role in the system. They can promote, mentor, educate, run an idea stage program, run acceleration programs, invest, counsel, provide services, write startup stories, etc. But the most important thing to achieve is that those actors work together, as one, to provide top-level service in their field. In that case, our Founders will go from one step (or stage) to another using what they need.
This is also an excellent place to differentiate startup and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Even if some actors are the same, and the functionality of these ecosystems should be the same, the end-user is not. Programs, instruments, and some actors are different if you create an environment to support innovative tech businesses, opposed to conventional ones where people establish micro and small businesses. Using marketing terminology, the startup ecosystem and the entrepreneurial ecosystem have different personas, and they require different value propositions (services).
Speaking from my own experience, I can say that the startup ecosystem started developing in Banja Luka. We can say that it is in its early development. Different actors host different ad hoc activities, the level of connection among actors remains low, and the number of programs and instruments to support startups is also relatively limited in numbers. As a result, we have a low number of startup teams. The general conclusion would be that we still have to make our startup ecosystem more solid,reliable and consistent.
If we get back to the staircase metaphor, we could say that Banja Luka has a good foundation on which future stairs may be built. For now, the stairs remain a little shaky with a few loose steps. Nevertheless, it is excellent that there are people who dare to use this staircase, and they are on their way to the top. Others will follow their example, and soon we will be in a position when we must invest in our staircase, making it stronger and more coherent.
I firmly believe that we are on the right track and that our staircase is improving one ‘step’ at a time.