In 2013, a group of young and ambitious individuals embarked on a mission named Lean Startup Croatia. In April of that year, when the Croatian startup ecosystem was still in its infancy and the term “startup” was a novelty, we began organizing the first meetups, workshops, and lectures. We noticed a small but active and connected community created by new generations of entrepreneurs interested in doing business differently, which motivated us to continue contributing.
Throughout a decade of working on developing the startup ecosystem, we can proudly say that we have made a significant contribution and achieved numerous successes. However, like any journey, ours had its challenges. Each challenge was an opportunity for learning and growth. As we reflect on the past ten years and everything we have experienced, we are excited to share the lessons we’ve learned on this journey.
Curiosity and boldness as fundamental traits for business development
Early on, we observed that many participants attending meetups had invested everything in their startups, yet only a few had successfully monetized their efforts and operated according to their plans. While “The Lean Startup” was mandatory literature for launching any new business idea, we noticed it was rarely correctly utilized in the early stages of startups. This sparked our curiosity to discover and explore what hindered its application.
We delved into literature, conducted research, and attended workshops abroad, concluding that there was a lack of a validation tool in the early stages.
In 2016, we developed our own methodology for elaborating and testing business ideas in the early stages, called Startup Drill. This methodology, based on lean startup principles and customer development heritage, led us to collaborate on international projects in regions such as Scandinavia, Southeast Asia, and the United States.
Adaptation, automation, and digitization of business processes
In the initial years, we invested an incredible amount of energy and time into organizing and moderating events. With each subsequent project and program, we learned, progressed, and can now say that we’ve streamlined a significant part of our work, making the entire organization process easier and faster.
The organization of public events and education became more frequent over the years. While developing materials, sharing knowledge, and collaborating with people fulfilled us, we became aware that the promotion and sale of tickets did not contribute additional value that we needed to create. Consequently, we increasingly delegated that segment to others.
Today, we handle promotion and participant recruitment for events and programs only when we can add value to the overall program.
Proudly, we highlight our experienced team that has conducted over 50 innovation projects in 10 countries, engaging with over 2000 users and possessing expertise in entrepreneurship and practical business idea development.
Surrounding ourselves with quality and expertise
We always say that we work with the best people—those striving to make a positive change and improve the world. While everyone has good intentions, there are those willing to give more, go further, and exceed expectations. Even though they are in the minority, we realized that we must emphasize this small group and invest even more effort and time in supporting them.
Over the past 10 years, we have supported numerous innovative startups, educated, mentored, and customized many programs to support, guide, and encourage teams in their progress toward realizing entrepreneurial dreams and ways of thinking.
Understanding the significance of persistence on the path to success
Shortly after spreading the Startup Drill methodology through workshops, we noticed that female founders demonstrated significantly more persistence and perseverance than their male counterparts. Driven by the desire to support them and encourage even more women to embark on their entrepreneurial endeavors, we initiated and organized projects like Startup Drill Women Led in collaboration with Impact Hub Zagreb and Empowering Women in Agrifood, supported by EIT Food. We are fulfilled by the fact that women entrepreneurs from these programs successfully operate their businesses, employ others, and some have even made successful exits by selling their ventures.
Working with young and promising individuals who are not hesitant to invest their time and effort into developing something new is particularly fulfilling. As part of the StartIT Startup Academy, a two-week pre-incubation program organized by the Split-Dalmatia County and the startup community Digitalna Dalmacija, we had the opportunity to serve as educators, moderators, and mentors for teams whose ideas could compete in both domestic and international markets. The program’s specificity lies in initiating the ecosystem from the very beginning with a long-term vision of creating Digitalna Dalmacija, based on technological entrepreneurship and innovations.
From the second generation of teams, we recall one excellent participant, Ena from MetaBelly, a startup based on intellectual achievements from her doctoral research. This experience, along with other innovative ideas related to the maritime sector, blue economy, and tourism, is a testament to the diversity of talent and ideas we’ve encountered over the past decade.
Reflecting on our decade-long journey, we fondly remember the 5 teams from the first generation of the Startup Factory Zagreb project organized by ZICER, along with the 38 teams we trained and mentored in the subsequent years in the validation of problems and the development of user segments.
It is an honor for us to collaborate and work with resilient individuals who tirelessly pursue their goals.
Sharing knowledge with younger generations
Through the Start Me Up High School program organized by the International Burch University in collaboration with the Association of High School Students in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we had the opportunity to work with even younger future entrepreneurs—high school students from Bosnia and Herzegovina who wanted to master the basics of entrepreneurship through a series of workshops and practical activities. This competition provided not only a learning opportunity but also practical experience through gamification, workshops, and activities, allowing participants to compete and apply the knowledge they gained. We witnessed high school students full of enthusiasm taking their first but solid entrepreneurial steps, noticed their agility and desire for validation, and successfully achieved above-average motivation and skill development with our partners.
We also engaged with high school students in the GreenTech Entrepreneurship Challenge program, a competition for students in higher grades of technical high schools in Croatia and Macedonia. This initiative was launched with the goal of conceiving innovations in the field of green technology, specifically addressing the fight against climate change through entrepreneurial education.”
The curiosity of the students led to thinking beyond the conventional, and after five weeks of the program, the students developed numerous prototypes. These included a solar phone mask, a system for heating buildings using wastewater, a Carpling toy car for reforestation, and an application that recycles furniture through a circular economy while simultaneously promising to plant one tree for every order. The program was organized with the support of industry partners such as Infobip and ZOV.
Collaboration with schools has demonstrated a positive impact and relevance for the personal and professional development of students, proving how much such projects are needed in the educational system.
Green tech is one of the three verticals in which we boldly continue our activities and development, as we believe it is crucial for our future.
In working with young people, we have been reminded that play is an integral part of life, enjoyed by both the young and old. This realization inspired us to incorporate gamification methods into a large number of our programs, encouraging participants to stay focused, persevere until the end, and learn more effectively throughout the process.
Today, gamification is an integral part of every one of our programs, workshops, and lectures.
Adapting to trends and the current business environment
To harness the current potential, the Center for Research, Development, and Technology Transfer at the University of Zagreb (EIT Health HUB Croatia) joined forces with the innovation agency Lean Startup Croatia. Together, we launched the ‘Get Started in Health Innovation’ program, supported by industry partners. This specialized 6-month pre-acceleration program was designed for healthcare professionals, scientists, students, and entrepreneurs ambitiously seeking to create innovations in healthcare. The program combined interdisciplinary education, support from industry partners, and access to an international network to empower each participant. Launched in 2023, the ‘Get Started in Health Innovation’ program continues to work collaboratively towards revolutionizing the healthcare sector and shaping the future of medicine.
The field of healthcare is exceptionally significant for investment, offering a plethora of potential, but it requires patience, courage, and intellect.
Community comes first
It all started with the creation of a community and the first meetups. Bringing together individuals interested in technological entrepreneurship and hungry for new knowledge enabled an open exchange of experiences and challenges. Over the years, we organized various meetup formats, from public gatherings with 200 or more participants to intimate, invitation-only sessions where a dozen entrepreneurs gathered around a table to discuss common topics.
Through these meetups, we had the opportunity to host leading entrepreneurs and advisors in the lean startup field, as well as numerous Croatian startup founders and aspiring entrepreneurs.
A noteworthy initiative is the TeamUp project, of which we are particularly proud. The initial TeamUps were organized in collaboration with Founder Institute Zagreb and the Career Center of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing at the KSET club. Over the years, TeamUp evolved, and in 2021, we launched the TeamUp Online platform.
The TeamUp platform allows startups to showcase open positions, making it easier to establish successful collaborations and potentially expand their teams.
TeamUp is more than just an online platform; it’s an opportunity for startup founders and anyone eager to enter the startup entrepreneurship world to engage in real interaction. At TeamUp Live events, participants have the chance to meet, network, and create shared business stories. Many have found co-founders, collaborators, and their first employees here. TeamUp’s intention is to provide a platform for ambitious individuals looking to step into the startup world, supporting various sectors such as TeamUp X Health, TeamUp X Web 3, and TeamUp X Agrifood.
Learning, progress, and quality content creation at the core of our work
From the very beginning, the strategy of creating content has been crucial, and we have excelled in this area. While we still conduct many live education sessions, we’ve recognized the advantages of well-produced video and textual materials. We’ve discovered that, with the most engaged participants, we can achieve comparable outcomes with less time and resources invested. This not only optimizes our efforts but also allows for a broader reach and impact. In the future, we will further focus on creating and publishing quality content, providing opportunities for independent learning.
After ten years, we can take pride in numerous achievements and lessons learned. We draw inspiration and knowledge from each of the eight key learnings, guiding us toward a better future. With boldness, curiosity, and optimism, we are ready for the next decade.
From the outset, we have been guided by the deep conviction that creativity and ambition are the key drivers of change in the world. This belief motivates us with every new idea, project, or initiative. We are always open to collaboration, consistently striving for excellence and positive impact.
Our vision is clear: “We envision a world where every entrepreneur possesses the tools, resources, and support needed to successfully innovate, solve challenging problems, and transform the world for the better with their ideas.” Join us in our mission!