Serbia was one of the first countries in the region to embrace the so-called “innovation imperative”, that is the notion that successful participation in the global knowledge economy requires the ability to adapt and advance new technological and research capabilities that involve public and private collaboration.

Operational since 2011, the Innovation Fund has been a pioneering effort to operationalize and institutionalize this imperative – first by increasing the capacity of startups and resources available for their growth. It is part of a broader innovation strategy now under development.

The intention of the Innovation Fund is to contribute to the overall development of innovations through various financial aid instruments, particularly by fostering the establishment of new and strengthening the existing companies, by positioning them to access venture capital markets, and by attracting foreign direct investment in the high-tech research and development.

Innovation Fund aims to promote linkages between research and technology development and economy, and encourage and support the development of innovative technologies.

The EU’s support for the Innovation Fund has been instrumental in advancing Serbia’s innovation financing and promoting better integration between the research and private sectors. The Fund is thus an important step towards closer links between Serbia’s and EU’s research communities and innovation ecosystems. It enables the positioning of Serbia as a leader in the region and the establishment of links with the EU and global markets. So far, the EU has allocated around EUR 13 million from the IPA funds to the Innovation Fund.

Between 2011 and 2016, the Innovation Fund implemented the Innovation Serbia Project with the primary goal of piloting financial instruments supporting early-stage innovation activities and stimulating research and development (R&D) with commercial potential in private enterprises in Serbia. This Project, with a total value of EUR 8.4 million, was funded by the 2011 EU Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA), and administered by the World Bank.

It has been instrumental in the evolution of Serbia’s technology startup scene. Out of 470 project proposals the Innovation Fund reviewed, 52 were awarded a total of EUR 6 million.

The Innovation Fund has established an independent governance structure, with a robust international peer review system and a distinguished Investment Committee that includes international and diaspora professionals experienced in managing technology firms, scientific research, commercialization, and the investor community.

The Fund’s activities have yielded tangible results: the revenue of companies which were awarded financing under the Serbia Innovation Project increased by 62%, from EUR 6.21m in 2011 to EUR 10.09m in 2014; 300 mostly high-end jobs were created and the exports of these companies rose from EUR 0.59m to EUR 3.10m.

Finally, a total of 33 national patent applications were filed by Innovation Fund’s beneficiaries, as well as 25 international patent applications (13 PCT, 4 EPO, 1 US, 1 Australia, Eurasia and Japan).

The Innovation Fund is further stimulating public and private investment and unlocking innovative potential in Serbia by enabling well-educated innovators from the academic circles to bring their ideas to the market, create jobs and expand economic activity.

In March and June, 2016, respectively, the Innovation Fund launched two new programs: the pilot activity for the promotion of technology transfer from academic to commercial sector – the TTF Program, and a novel financial aid instrument for financing innovative projects with potential for commercialization, resulting from cooperation between public R&D organizations and private SMEs – the Collaborative Grant Scheme for R&D Organizations and Private Sector Enterprises. In December 2016, total of EUR 3 million were allocated for 14 projects.

In addition to the two new programs, in 2017 the Innovation Fund will continue to provide its existing service lines for Serbian entrepreneurs and researchers – the Mini Grants and Matching Grants programs.