At the end of 2017, the Sarajevo Unlimited Forum organized by the local accelerator Networks took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the second time. The aim of this innovation forum to bring established companies and IT start-ups together was clearly achieved: More than 3,000 participants from 20 countries, including around 50 start-ups, met in five locations all over the city of Sarajevo which presented itself as a city full of possibilities – according to the conference’s name “Sarajevo Unlimited”.

Opening ceremony

In total 75 speakers addressed different topics related to the start-up ecosystem in Southeastern Europe (SEE): artificial intelligence, agile business models, entrepreneurship, leadership, crowd funding and many more. Anne-Marie Imafidom, one of the youngest people ever to be awarded a master’s degree in Mathematics & Computer Science by the University of Oxford at the age of 20, gave an inspirational speech about encouragement of females into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers. Erik Meijer of DEUTSCHE TELEKOM’s Innovation Group shined a spotlight on how artificial today’s technology is. The nature of modern storytelling through the internet’s best technologies was the topic of BBC’s senior producer Ian Forrester. Mirza Cifrić, co-founder and CEO of Veritas Genetics, one of the 50 most innovative companies according to the MIT Technology Review gave the audience a little taste of the impressive possibilities of genome sequencing. He also shared his company’s vision of building the first large-scale service capable of sequencing and interpreting millions of human genomes every year.

Panel discussion – Agile transformation of the finance sector

These presentations were complemented by a start-up battle for the Best Start-up Award by the Bosnian and Herzegovinian Youth Employment Project (YEP). YEP follows a new labor market approach including e.g. entrepreneurship programs and led to the employment of more than 5,500 young people between its beginning in 2008 and end of 2016. While presenting their ideas, 21 selected start-ups showed a high level of dynamics and motivation revealing the great potential of the scene. The winner was a Bosnian and Herzegovinian hardware and software solution provider called Koola. It connects cars with dealerships when the customer is at the point of need e.g. in the case of a car crash or engine trouble. Koola’s idea allows car dealerships to access information about the condition of their clients’ cars through wireless diagnostics or vehicle tracking for an optimized fleet management. An OBD2 (On Board Diagnosis, second generation) device that is placed in the car and collects data such as oil level, fuel level, water temperature, engine load and speed serves as hardware. The software is a web-based dashboard that collects and aggregates diagnostics, processes them and gives a clear picture of the car’s state. In this way dealerships can see their customers’ problems in real time and provide advice.

Group photo Ideathon

Another challenge was an Ideathon asking students to pitch their ideas to increase the use of digital banking channels including, for example, banking via the – in SEE common messenger – Viber. The creative proposals presented by six teams ranged from build-in application improvements, interesting digital campaign approaches, useful award systems in applications to gamification of digital banking. Gamification is the application of game-based elements and principles in a non-game context. Since gamification is a hot topic nowadays, the team that proposed the development of a game-like version of mobile banking attracted a lot of attention. It came up with the idea of creating an in-app game where users would try to hack a banking system although it would never be possible to win, i.e. hack the system. As this approach follows the trend of very popular games it would not only attract a lot of interest but also promote bank services reducing at the same time security concerns regarding online banking especially amongst young people.

Digitization is a great job opportunity for young people all over the world but in Bosnia and Herzegovina it has a special significance where it is currently the field with the highest hiring rates. Here, young people are working for large-scale companies from the USA, Europe and Asia contributing notably to the performance of these companies. Even though it is still too early to talk about a big start-up ecosystem in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a palpable change is visible: more and more people are choosing to start their own companies. Digitization and IT opportunities are bringing a much needed optimism to the work situation for young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.