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Building the Future of SMEs in the Western Balkans

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Creating Jobs and Opportunities for Small Businesses

Small businesses form the backbone of the Western Balkan economies and are the stepping stone to their economic convergence and path towards the EU accession. Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) employ between 60% and 80% of the active population in the region, which is on average higher than in the EU. Since its foundation in 2012, the Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility (WB EDIF) supported 4,000 SMEs and created 78,000 jobs in the Western Balkans.

As in most transition economies, local SMEs suffer from low competitiveness, difficult access to finance, lack of skills, poor integration in global supply chains and often challenging regulatory environments. The Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility (WB EDIF) was founded with the aim of reversing these negative trends while improving the access to finance for small business owners in the economies of the Western Balkans.

Since its creation in 2012, WB EDIF’s regional approach and the beneficiaries’ involvement promote the sharing of experience and collaboration in finding solutions to common challenges, boost regional economic integration and scale up businesses. WB EDIF has many success stories in the Western Balkans, including:

BG Reklam: At the Forefront of Innovation, Improving Efficiency 

Founded in 2000 as a one-man show, BG Reklam is a Serbian designer, engineer and seller of high-quality advertisement products such as banners, displays, light ads, shelves, etc. BG Reklam has upped its efficiency thanks to an expansion in its production facilities. BG Reklam’s project to expand its production capacity is supported jointly by the EU’s WB EDIF through the Enterprise Expansion Fund (ENEF) which finances high-growth potential enterprises and the EBRD through business advice, which paired the company with local and international consultants to enhance their business strategy. As a result, BG Reklam acquired energy efficient industrial machinery for producing better quality end products in less time Expanding its production in new facilities led the way for a turnover increase of over 50%, and also enabled the company to double the number of employees to 170 in total in three different countries: Serbia, Germany, and UK. BG Reklam delivers goods and services to companies such as Samsung, L’Oreal, Coca-Cola, among many others.

OWN: Investment for the Digital Generation

Own is a fast-growing financial services technology company with headquarters in Sarajevo. Its digital asset marketplace breaks down investment barriers to help companies get quicker and cheaper access to capital by connecting them with investors around the world. Own’s flagship solution is its FAST Platform, which enables companies to create digital assets and launch private fundraising offerings, in addition to managing their investor relationships online. Own requested EIB Advisory support under the WB EDIF. Advisors helped to develop a trade-secret strategy, reviewing all Own’s non-disclosure agreements and employment contracts to determine how the company could legally make money out of the information contained in its database. Own also received technical assistance on intellectual property-related metrics that is being used in promotional materials targeting potential investors.

Cognism: Artificial Intelligence for Sales Acceleration

Cognism is a sales acceleration platform which provides B2B sales teams with a real-time company, people and event data, to help them streamline prospecting and generate new revenue. Cognism was founded by North Macedonia and UK-based entrepreneurs. The investment of €2.4m, possible through the Western Balkans Enterprise Innovation Fund, allowed the company to accelerate its growth by creating a dedicated sales team to drive the expansion of its client portfolios, and the opportunity to strengthen the development team and improve the solution based on market feedback. Cognism’s success has been recognised with several industry awards. The team has grown over 12 times since the initial investment and the company now employs more than 80 people across offices in North Macedonia, Croatia, and the UK.

Project Description

The Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility (WB EDIF) is an EU funded initiative, founded in 2012, whereby partner financial institutions and beneficiary governments seek to improve access to finance for small business owners in the six economies of the Western Balkans. WB EDIF leverages upon the expertise and capabilities of 27 international, regional and local market players including representation from the economies themselves.

What does WB EDIF do?

WB EDIF works to provide financing and business support to SMEs in the Western Balkans. It aims to improve the economic and regulatory environment in which local SMEs operate, which often suffers from a lack of competitiveness and is hampered by low access to funding among other challenges. The focus of WB EDIF efforts are:

  • Policy reforms in accordance with EU acquis and best international practices;
  • Provision of equity finance for early stage and mature SMEs;
  • Provision of debt finance to local financial intermediaries through guarantees and incentives;
  • Dedicated advisory services to improve sales, productivity, employment and financial literacy, and enhance the emergence and growth of innovative and high-potential SMEs in the region.

How does WB EDIF work?

WB EDIF focuses its efforts on the synergistic use of four strategic components - three with a financial and one with a technical assistance component:

  • SME equity financing through the equity component which includes two investment funds for early stage innovative SMEs and already stablished SMEs searching for expansion;
  • SME loans guarantees component that supports local banks in developing their SME business through risk sharing to reduce the cost of loans;
  • SME lending pillar that provides funds to local banks for credit lines to SMEs;
  • Support services through a technical assistance component that delivers policy and advisory services to support entrepreneurial capacity and boost the business ecosystem.

Who is part of WB EDIF?

WB EDIF is a joint initiative of the EU, International Financial Institutions (IFIs), bilateral partners and the public institutions of the Western Balkans economies (EIB, EIF, EBRD, World Bank, OECD, KfW, DEG, OeEB and the Italian Republic). It is the first regional initiative focusing on SMEs, which in 2012 received a first tranche of grant financing through the Western Balkan Investment Framework (WBIF).

Building the European Future Together

WBIF was jointly launched in 2009 by the European Commission (DG ELARG now DG NEAR), International Financial Institutions and Bilateral Donors to enhance harmonisation and cooperation in investments for the socio-economic development of the Western Balkans. Together with the Western Balkan beneficiaries, WBIF forms a unique partnership, defining priorities and support packages needed for strategic investments and institutional reform. WBIF contributes to the European perspective of the Western Balkans by supporting not only investment projects improving competitiveness and growth, but also by reinforcing regional cooperation and connectivity. Eligible sectors include digital infrastructure, energy, environment, social, transport, and private sector development through WBIF’s dedicated initiative EDIF (Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility). This cooperation is only possible due to the close and coordinated interaction among the European Commission, International Financial Institutions and Bilateral Donors, together with the Western Balkan beneficiaries.

This year marks WBIF’s 10th anniversary, and during the past decade over €1 billion in grants were allocated for preparation and implementation of infrastructure projects. Starting with 2015, around €200 million in investment grants per annum is allocated to the Western Balkan beneficiaries for the implementation of Connectivity Agenda. The EU grant channelled through the WBIF since inception, will support investment projects with an estimated total investment cost of €18 billion. The successful implementation of the EU grant have resulted in many tangible and intangible gains, including but not limited to: significantly reduced travel times; increased transport safety; reduced emissions; improved quality of life and urban environment; better learning conditions; and increased competitiveness, etc.

Some of the concrete benefits of the infrastructure projects supported by WBIF will entail:

  • Construction or rehabilitation of 800 km of roads;
  • Refurbishment or construction of approximately 1,000 km of railway lines
  • 40 MW of new electricity generation from renewable energy resources (sufficient to supply the energy needs of a medium sized city);
  • Access to clean drinking water for around 1 million people;
  • Refurbishment and construction of 24 healthcare and over 80 educational facilities.

Besides physical infrastructure, these investments will reduce existing barriers making the horizon of European accession visible and obtainable.

BG Reklam, Serbia (c) EBRD

Own, Bosnia and Herzegovina (c) Own

Cognism, North Macedonia (c) Cognism

'New ideas? Need Money? Need advice? EDIF is a unique Partnership to support the Western Balkans private sector. It highlights innovation. It creates jobs.'

Colin Wolfe, Head of Western Balkans Regional Cooperation, DG NEAR, European Commission

'We can say beyond doubt that the WB EDIF has now established itself as an effective and integrated platform in support of access to finance for small companies across the Western Balkans economies.'

Hubert Cottogni, Director & Head of Mandate Management at European Investment Fund (EIF)

Short EDIF video (c) EU

Partner Financial Organisations

Western Balkans Partners