World-recognized artificial intelligence expert on the present and future of the Montenegrin startup community: Startup before and after Corona

16.06.2020

The coronavirus pandemic continues to cause changes in every area of activity. For some, the crisis has made normal business more difficult, while for others – in line with the thesis that every crisis is also an opportunity – it has opened up new opportunities. All over the world, experts from the IT world, computer science, robotics, and technology have created and improved tools that have made it easier to overcome the crisis. In Montenegro, among others, that community was also on the front lines of defense against the coronavirus. In a short time, it was confirmed how crucial their role in the systemic development of society is even beyond the crisis and the process of digitalization of society is not only inevitable but also necessary.

About global trends, opportunities and threats, how the corona crisis is changing the market and society, the potentials and perspectives that Montenegro has in that domain, we talked with an experienced international expert, Vladimir Nedovic (Netherlands).

Vladimir Nedovic is a doctor of informatics with a specialization in artificial intelligence and a residence in Amsterdam. He has many years of experience in digital innovations and startup ecosystems. This path begins with research work on high-resolution cameras (Imaging Technology Lab, USA, 2001), continues at major research institutes (Philips Research, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2004-2011) and works on pioneering ventures in the field of augmented reality / AR (Layar, The Netherlands, 2012). He is the conceptual creator and co-founder of several companies in the field of artificial intelligence, such as the company Flavorspace, which develops technologies for individualized nutritional advice. He is an Entrepreneur in Residence, precisely technical director of the Rockstart AI program, the first European accelerator dedicated to startups in the field of artificial intelligence.

V. N.: Considering the pandemic and the crisis, which has shaken the planet enough and forced us to look back at the (previous) reality, it will take some time before digital innovations gain the necessary momentum. But some existing technologies (because they are often available long before they are accepted by the market and the critical mass) have, despite or precisely because of the crisis, gained in importance many times: video calling platforms, virtual education, online food ordering and delivery, all kinds of e-commerce platforms and especially digital medical tools. In that last sector, I primarily see space for innovation in the coming period: not only for digital tools but also those based on virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Has the pandemic accelerated the development, acceptance, and integration of innovative and digital solutions in all areas of activity or will it still direct this sector differently?

V.N.:It will take some more time for the world to get out of spasms and start investing in innovation again: for now, the funds are largely frozen and the focus is primarily on reducing costs. But some sectors, such as the already mentioned medical one, will certainly be in the center of attention and the new conditions of life and movement will lead to new needs, which are already obvious to some extent. For example, news recently arrived that Uber is in negotiation to take over a competitive food delivery platform in the U.S., called Grubhub. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get similar news about Google in the next month, or Zoom. As a civilization, the pandemic shook us well and made us think about what is important and necessary in our lives and resourceful entrepreneurs among us to see a chance even in a crisis (“in every defeat, I saw a part of freedom”, as Ekatarina Velika says), observe new trends and trends well and be creative with new ideas and solutions. Only attention will be distributed completely differently by sector than before: new reality, different priorities. New day, new chance!

“AFTER EACH CRISIS, THE GROUND IS FERTILE FOR STARTUPS AND INNOVATIONS”

The necessary acceleration will be given by the startup community and young people with their ideas. Thanks to the S3 strategy of smart specialization, Montenegro is already largely in the process of digitalization of society. BoostMeUp, the first national pre-acceleration program implemented by IPC “Technopolis”, Science and Technology Park and “Amplitude”, which brought together development teams and individuals whose ideas they will develop, transform into a successful startup and launch into business orbit, also contributes to this. In the previous phase of the program, Bootcamp, from 19 teams that participated, six ideas were selected with the greatest potential to be part of a four-month pre-acceleration program. Six teams will receive financial support of 4.500 EUR each, a mentoring program in 7 modules, services for using the coworking space Code Hub Nikšić, FILA innovation laboratories, biotechnology laboratories, space for rapid prototyping, while three teams will receive non-financial support of the program.

Nedovic, as a mentor within the project, has the opportunity to follow the development of team ideas and through them see the startup potential of Montenegro. BoostMeUp BootCamp was recently implemented in circumstances caused by the current crisis. How satisfied are you with the teams and their approach and performance?

VN: I was pleasantly surprised by the ideas that were reported – first of all, how diverse, modern and current they are. The teams took the interviews very seriously and it seems that the sudden new circumstance – namely, virtual meetings via the Zoom platform – did not disturb them at all. And among the teams were not only programmers or Z generation, but a very wide range of profiles – from proven inventors to unfinished students and even high school students.

How do you see the position of Montenegro in the context of the startup ecosystem? What have we done so far and what do we still need to work on and direct our capacities and potentials?

VN: When we talk about the startup ecosystem, it is clear that we are still at a very early stage. The wide range of profiles I have pronounced also points to the fact that there are people with different needs and ambitions, but that some concepts are still not sufficiently demarcated among the population. Thus, any idea is considered as suitable for a startup program, whether it is based on a new scientific formula, software code or a clearly defined earnings model. But this is not only characteristic of Montenegro, I have often encountered it in the Netherlands, where I live. Practically, rare successful startup examples, mostly from America and Silicon Valley, have gained a lot of media space and created a romantic image of this kind of choice and life. But as we have recently witnessed many cases, that were “inflated” and burst with a bang (eg. WeWork, Uber and also Tesla which is constantly on the edge), we can learn from their examples and make wiser choices. So we started well, and the team of Tehnopolis from Nikšić did a great and very good job there: in motivating all those teams that applied, in hiring quality mentors and in organizing the whole job. What we could invest in the next phase more is to hire even more mentors who are active in startup ecosystems in the world: people from the region or foreigners, as well as members of the Montenegrin diaspora, who would certainly be willing to contribute to this part.

Teams that have qualified for the continuation of the BoostMeUp program expect several months of training and mastering of knowledge and skills within 7 modules. What is it that everyone with a startup idea needs to know at the start? In which part of the development of their idea are the best opportunities and possibilities hidden, and where are the most common pitfalls and dangers?

What is a message for young people with ideas at the one side and for decision makers and investors at the other?

VN: First of all, don’t give up! And that applies to both sides. While each of us generates a lot of ideas, not everyone is able to turn an idea into a successful business or product for the global market. But the dynamics of this process is very interesting and often does not consume people, but gives them enthusiasm and energy. But on that path, which is certainly very thorny, support is needed, both from the family and the wider environment, as well as from the institutions of the state, which should enable the necessary ecosystem and influence public opinion. But as I have already said, we can learn from the mistakes of others on that path and therefore progress much faster.

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