In today’s global landscape, we witness the thriving presence of a staggering 150 million startups worldwide, with an impressive 50 million new ventures sprouting annually. On an average day, a remarkable 137,000 startups emerge, propelling innovation and progress across diverse economic sectors. As of the year 2023, Europe proudly boasts 130 unicorns as a testament to the region’s dynamic and evolving tech ecosystem.
Central and Eastern European startups have been increasingly catching the world’s attention. Over the past decade, their value has surged an astounding 19-fold, giving birth to 34 unicorns in the region. This remarkable growth underscores the rising prominence of these startups on the global stage. As the startup scene in Adriatic is developing, Microsoft has a unique opportunity to play a key part in helping them grow by offering support programs, mentorship, and knowledge sharing. Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub is a platform that supports startups at any stage throughout their journey offering both technical and business resources to help them launch their ideas or products, unleash creativity, access mentorship, tailor content and learning paths, and broaden their network. Once enrolled in the program, founders get up to $150k of Microsoft Azure credits, a significant level of development and productivity tools, LinkedIn benefits, and many other advantages. Later-stage startups and graduates of Microsoft startup programs are welcome to join the ISV Success program which is suitable for companies developing their solutions on Microsoft Cloud or willing to migrate to Microsoft Cloud and publish the application at Microsoft commercial marketplace. It is a 12-month long, free program with an extensive list of benefits.
The Adriatic region boasts a booming startup scene with two well-known Croatian unicorns and the first-ever Bulgarian unicorn Payhawk, founded in 2018 by a small team that was on a mission to build a software tool that simplifies the management and accounting of business-related expenses. Their product quickly started getting attention from the top VC funds, and after forming a couple of carefully selected partnerships, it was transformed into a comprehensive spend management solution, complete with physical and virtual debit cards. The product has significantly matured in recent years and Payhawk is now focusing its strategy on the larger companies. To facilitate that, the company invested in the development of native integrations with the top ERPs, including Microsoft’s Business Central and Dynamics Finance. The company is currently developing an integration with Microsoft Teams and doing R&D with Azure AI Services and Document Intelligence for some exciting new features.
“Our strategy for future growth is focused on partnerships with ERP implementation providers. To support that plan, we have recently launched a partner program that offers exclusive benefits to Microsoft Solution Partners, including a revenue sharing plan, Partner API access, marketing funds, and leads for digital transformation projects,“ said Oggy Shopov, Director of Partnerships at Payhawk. ”In less than 6 months from having our integration published to Microsoft’s AppSource marketplace we have over 40 active connections with Microsoft Dynamics instances,” Shopov concluded.
Another successful tech startup based in Croatia, Mobility One, developed the fleet management solution mobilityONE fully set on Microsoft Azure. Their idea was to achieve easier management of daily activities and budgeting through connection with vehicles. The company integrated their SAAS solution with Microsoft 365 environment enabling interesting scenarios like sign-in with Microsoft, booking a vehicle in their system from the clients’ Outlook calendar, integrating their functionalities into clients’ Power Automate flows, and invoking their functions from Teams chat. ”We plan to extend the Microsoft technology base we use and position ourselves in Microsoft Marketplace, as that is an interesting way to reach a wide range of customers,” said Damir Škrtić, CTO and co-founder at MobilityOne. “Product wise we will focus on bringing actionable insights from data, increasing productivity through use of AI and positioning ourselves as central platform for managing fleet assets through integrations. We intend to expand our sales reach and tap into other markets while becoming first and go to partner for the customers in our regions. We will strongly focus on customer satisfaction and building value for them,” Damir Škrtić added.
Today, manufacturing companies often encounter issues like opaque processes, master data neglect, ineffective resource allocation, and limited tacit knowledge digitization, in order to overcome this type of challenges, Slovenian startup company QLECTOR Ltd has developed AI-based solutions for manufacturing powered by the QLECTOR LEAP AI Platform. By harnessing cognitive digital twins and AI algorithms for production optimization and planning, QLECTOR’s users achieve an optimized and flexible work schedule, mitigate business risks, and reduce reliance on individual experts, enhance communication efficiency, and reduce inventory levels, as well as production bottlenecks and downtime.
The company had access to Microsoft’s technologies, including Azure cloud services and AI and machine learning capabilities, which helped it to scale more efficiently, while mentorship opportunities from Microsoft expert network also provided valuable insights. “In today’s fast-paced business environment, having the right tools can make all the difference”, said Qlector CEO, Mateja Lavrič. Microsoft offers a comprehensive suite of applications that empowers companies to work more efficiently, especially with Microsoft 365 suite. “Our users are achieving outstanding results with Qlector LEAP, such as a 50% increase in planner productivity, an 8% reduction in organizational downtime, a 10% improvement in asset utilization, a 10% increase in inventory turnover ratio, and a decreased number of errors.”
Serbian startup B2Bee is on a great journey of innovation, transforming traditional B2B transactions into seamless, data-driven experiences that drive growth and success for their partners. They are dedicated to equipping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with cutting-edge wholesale tools, leveraging the latest in AI technology. The Microsoft Startups program has played a pivotal role in their journey by significantly contributing to the growth and evolution of their business and products. They had the opportunity to engage with Microsoft’s talented architects and leverage the vast Azure ecosystem. Transitioning infrastructure from traditional virtual machines to fully managed, scalable services was a seamless process, as their platform operates entirely on the Microsoft stack. This transition significantly accelerated their development efforts and the onboarding of new customers. Leveraging a suite of Microsoft technologies, the company powers its daily operations with tools like Azure OpenAI, Azure SQL Database, Azure Functions, and Azure Data Factory. With the support of services such as Azure DevOps they built a robust foundation that drives their business forward while ensuring consistent offers of top-notch solutions. “What pleasantly surprised us was the outstanding support we received from Microsoft’s partner network and dedicated Microsoft staff during our integration into their ecosystem, including assistance with marketplaces and co-selling initiatives,” said Luka Radovanović, the CEO at B2Bee. “It’s this collaborative spirit and support that has truly fueled our progress and success.”
Startups play a pivotal role in fueling innovation and catalyzing progress in all corners of the economy. They are the driving force behind the digital transformation of traditional industries, creating a virtuous cycle of talent development that, in turn, leads to the creation of more job opportunities. Digital technologies, cloud, AI, big data, modern networks, and the digitization of every experience and business process will provide the keys to delivering economic output and growth in our region, as having a strong and digitally well-developed startup scene today is among the key drivers to success.