This is a story of Voja Lalic and Nebojsa Lazic, two computer engineers, who decided to go to the USA at the beginning of the new millennium, who started their own companies and hired employees from Serbia, who sold those companies and invested in new ones. Today, they are opening a first accelerator in Serbia that will operate at regional level and invest in both Serbian and regional startups.
We sat down with the StartLabs’ founders and talked about their grand vision for Serbia and the South East Europe.
From Belgrade to San Francisco
Voja Lalic and Nebojsa Lazic met more than 15 years ago when Nebojsa started to work in Voja’s first company. They were in a computer consulting business that offered services to foreign and local companies.
During the dot-com boom Voja and Nebojsa decided to move to the U.S. in order to continue with their work there. They started a new company that made professional systems for various clients. The mobile technology started to bloom, so the duo opened a company named Motion Apps that operated from San Francisco and Belgrade.
Afterwards they started cooperating with Palm and got a licence for Palm OS in order to create an application emulator for the new WebOS, which was created after Jon Rubenstein took the CEO position. The OS was sold to Hewlett Packard and Nebojsa and Voja realized it was the right time to find a new project.
Back to the roots
Years went by and the duo founded a few successful businesses. Most of the companies were sold, due to the effective exit strategy. However, the Silicon Valley became a bit unchallenging and starting a new business in Belgrade was an opportunity for a new beginning.
Nebojsa and Voja realized a while ago that they are very good at bootstrapping, so they founded Grupovina, Super Putovanja and Super Shopping in Serbia. Ecommerce was a great experience and change of pace brought a fresh business perspective. That is one of the main reasons why StartLabs will be focused on B2B startups, but web, gaming and hardware startups are welcomed as well.
Startlabs – The Balkan connection between Belgrade and San Francisco
The first Serbian accelerator will be similar to other accelerators from this region, but there is one difference – it will only accept up to six startups per generation. The smaller number will make sure that the program is high quality and a bit exclusive at the same time. The founders said they want to make a “bridge” between Silicon Valley and SEE, connecting regional startups with the Valley’s most eminent names.
The program is divided into two phases – the first one will be conducted in Belgrade, where the startups will receive initial seed capital, a chance to work with mentors and an office space in Belgrade. During that time, startups will work on their MVP and Product Market Fit phase which will determine if they are ready for the second part of the program.
Startups that make it to the next phase will get another round of funding, airplane ticket to San Francisco, USA visa, place to stay and to work in Silicon Valley and a possibility to engage with some of the well-known Valley mentors. That phase, as well as the first one, will last for three months and the startups will have an opportunity to recieve up to 50,000 dollars of investment in exchange for 10 to 15 percent of company share.
It’s time for others to live their dreams
We asked Voja what was the main reason for founding a first Serbian accelerator and he told us that he wanted to help young people from this region and to show them that there is a way to chase their silver lining. Years of working in the epicenter of technological entrepreneurship gained them a vast knowledge and it is time to pass it on in this region.
Many of the local founders probably haven’t heard for Voja Lalic and Nebojsa Lazic, but that doesn’t mean that these two entrepreneurs, engineers and investors are not familiar with the Serbian and the regional startup scene. On the contrary, a few of the renowned Netocratic’s followers confirmed that this Balkan duo is quite familiar with the local ecosystem and that their presence and knowledge will have a huge impact on this region.
StarLabs is officially launching today and the first investments will follow shortly. You can find more information about the program on the official website, but it is up to Voja and Nebojsa to prove that one Serbian accelerator, with the Valley’s experience, can make a difference on a much broader level.