The Serbian tech scene

You may have known about the Serbian tech industry for a long while, you might have just gotten heard of it. In this place we’ll get you all the basic info you should know about tech in Serbia, regardless of whether you’re just curious, are looking for partners there or a career opportunity. This is a developing document so feel free to check in here often, or follow our news & blog section for real time updates.

SEE OPEN POSITIONS OF OUR HIRING PARTNERS

Context

Great Serbian scientists and inventors of the late 19th and the first half ofthe 20th century such as Nikola Tesla, Mihajlo Pupin, Milutin Milanković and many others, have inspired generations of young Serbs to go into science and technology. The communist revolution and dictatorship after the Second world war brought along with it a crackdown on free thought, as well as an additional government focus on technology due to national security reasons. This provided funding for technical universities which also attracted the best and the brightest of the society, since science ruled and ideology and politics did not interfere. Some notable milestones from this period include the fifth digital computer in Europe (1960), a widely distributed built-it-yourself home computer Galaksija (1983), with the majority of technological advances being confined to the state run defense industy.

After the breakup of Yugoslavia and the establishment of market economy in Serbia, all of the engineering talent was now being directed to the market and available for business purposes. Because of strong technical universities which keep churning out talent to this day, hundreds of successful technology consulting businesses were developed in Serbia. The fact that business knowledge and talent wasn’t in communist curriculum, there has culturally been a lack of emphasis on soft skills, sales, marketing and business in general, resulting in fewer companies which have and sell their own products.

Today we’re witnessing a big transformation in the local tech scene — the service companies are getting ever more focused on deep technology expertise, while more and more product based companies are building globally successful businesses.

We have reason to believe that today we’re witnessing the first phases of a boom of the Serbian tech industry, and time will tell how big it will turn out to be. For now, in the following paragraphs you can get the story on where it is today.

THIS IS VERSION 0.1 OF THE TEXT — IF YOU NEED ADDITIONAL INFORMATION OR WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST EDITS PLEASE REACH OUT

The industry

There are more than 2.500 software companies currently active in Serbia. The industry is growing steadily which is well illustrated in the exports revenue of our tech companies which has been growing consistently in this decade — almost 10x since 2010.

For the past four years, the tech sector has been the single largest contributor to the Serbian economy, leaving behind long dominant agricultural commodities.

Most of the industry (about 67%) is still focused on creating solutions for third parties, and one third is developing their own products. Two-thirds of the profit also come from businesses that are providing services for third parties. However, the trend that we see evolving in the past couple of years shows that a significant number of Serbian service companies begin to put their own products on the market, combining these two types of businesses. Most of the industry is comprised of small and medium enterprises so the average number of employees per company is 11.

Many multinational companies have established a strong research and development presence in Serbia, chief among them being Microsoft. Their Belgrade development center works on some of the most sensitive technologies that will shape the future of the Redmond giant.

A number of US blue chip companies have huge presences with R&D and support functions in Serbia. NCR is currently building a tech campus in Belgrade that will employ 4.200 people and one of Microsoft’s most reliable and technologically advanced development centers is located in the Serbian capital. Blackrock has recently entered Serbia with an acquisition giving it a 500 people office in Belgrade, FIS coming in at 300 people with the recent acquisition of SunGard.

European champions have a strong presence here as well. SAP has been present in Belgrade for a long time and has added a huge R&D center after acquiring CallidusCloud. Schneider Electric has a huge presence with over 1000 people in Novi Sad where they develop hyper sensitive electrical network management systems, based on an acquired from a home grown tech company.

A few recent acquisitions have brought big new players to Serbia — Nutanix’s $200M of Frame has created another big cloud player in Belgrade (in addition to Microsoft’s Azure team and Seven Bridges), while Epic Games’s $100M acquisition of 3lateral brought the second multinational digital

The startups

The startup scene is quite colorful and dynamic, especially in Belgrade and Novi Sad, which are the two largest cities and tech centers in Serbia. The latest research that was conducted among a hundred local startups, showed that most of the Serbian startups create enterprise solutions, video games, AI and Big Data analysis and Smart City solutions. According to this survey conducted by Digital Serbia Initiative, they have raised 143 million euros in VC funding, and are currently employing more than 1.700 people. Most of them are focused on the USA and Western European markets.

The Serbian startup ecosystem has also been recognized and supported by Google through its Launchpad program, focused on supporting emerging markets and economies throughout the world. Serbia was also the first country in Europe to become a part of Google Launchpad’s global acceleration program.

Notable startups successes include:

Seven Bridges Genomics — platform for helping scientists discover therapies for illnesses such as various forms of cancer, raised $100M+. They employ the biggest number of bioinformaticians of any private company in the world, and they all sit in Belgrade. They’re also providing technology for Vice President Biden’s cancer moonshot initiative.

Nordeus — bootstrapped gaming studio with the most popular online sports game in the world, last public figure put yearly revenue at $75M.

Frame — the biggest exit so far with the $200M acquisition to Nutanix.

3lateral — recently acquired by Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, for an undisclosed amount, known for it’s “digital humans” technology told to be the best in the world.

Additional stories of note include exits of AskGamblers to Catena Media (€16M), ManageWP to GoDaddy and MotionDSP to Cubic.

Technology

While the Serbian tech scene might be lacking in marketing, sales and other business skills, the traditional technical prowess are clearly visible in technology built by organizations in Serbia.

It wouldn’t be 2019 if we didn’t start off with AI. There’s more than hype in Serbia though — Microsoft is developing significant parts of its AI effort in Belgrade, products of which find their way in Cortana, Office, maps and other products, with ex-MDCS engineers founding autonomous driving and other AI based products. Deep learning startups have raised significant momir@basiq.iofunding and AI consulting companies are doing world class work for international clients.

Cloud infrastructure is a big deal in Serbia. Again, Microsoft leads the way with their Azure and SQL server team which are contributing significantly to these products — it’s notable that the only other Azure severe emergency center location other than Redmond is located in Belgrade. Then there’s Nutanix, the enterprise cloud juggernaut, which entered Serbia through the Frame acquisition, and Seven Bridges Genomics, the company building the leading bioinformatics cloud platform for medical researchers. Seven Bridges has also shed light on a small but high potential biotech scene, which also includes Totient.

There’s also fun and games — digital entertainment is a bedrock of the Serbian tech scene, with the local startup hero Nordeus Top Eleven game getting to 100M+ players leading the way. Novi Sad’s 3lateral has recently been acquired by Epic Games, turning it into the Fortnite creator’s R&D center for “digital humans”. Many more companies play in this space, including Two Desperados, Eipix and Mad Head Games.

A number of startups and consulting companies have significantly contributed to the defense industry, including the development of brain-to-computer interface products and autonomous perimeter security system.

Workforce

The Serbian tech industry has a workforce of about 30.000 people, about two-thirds of which are engineers. The tech workforce in Serbia is definitely the strongest when it comes to engineers, and we still have a long way to go in terms of marketing, business, sales, and product knowledge and the number of professionals in these areas.

According to the latest research of the Serbian programming scene, 14.2% of programmers are women, which is in line with the industry average in Silicon Valley, but still shows that we all have a lot of work in front of us in order to encourage more equality into our tech ecosystems.

The most popular programming languages among local engineers are JavaScript, C#, Java, and Python which is becoming more and more widespread in the past couple of years. Most of them work on web and standalone platforms and spend more than 10 hours a week learning new technologies. The majority of engineers work for local companies while 15% of them work as freelancers or run their own companies. However, almost half of them plan on starting their own business in the near future.

There is a visible trend of more and more expats coming to work for Serbian tech companies, mostly because of the really good working environment and complex projects in these companies, but also because of the high salaries compared to the low cost of living in Serbia. Companies such as Microsoft, Nordeus, and Fishing Booker (Serbian startup that has a platform like Booking.com but for fishing trips) are bringing in a lot of talent from abroad, especially in aforementioned areas where our industry lacks expertise. Expats have become an important part of our tech community, especially in term of their knowledge sharing and unique experiences and understanding of other cultures and markets that they bring in.

Education

When it comes to Serbian engineers being world class, a lot is owed to the way computer science is taught throughout the educational system.

From the universities, more than 3.300 students graduate every year in software engineering from one of the 26 colleges across the country. The industry is always hungry for more, and on the bright side the capacities of our universities that are schooling future engineers are literally increasing every year.

In high schools, CS recently just got a major boost with more than 40 specialized computer science classes that began last year in 35 grammar schools across Serbia. The high school kids talented in STEM will have the chance to attend a four-year program dedicated especially to CS, programming and algorithmic literacy and skills. In addition to this, there is more than 80 specialized high schools for computer science and electrical engineering all over Serbia.

Serbia is also the first country in Europe to have Python as a mandatory part of the elementary school curriculums. Serbian kids have programming classes since their 5th grade, starting with Skratch, then off to Python in the 6th grade, Pygame in 7th and Data Science in Jupyter in 8th.

Community and events

Last year there were more than 650 tech and business events happening in Belgrade, Novi Sad, and a lot of other smaller cities in Serbia. Among them were some of the best conferences in Europe.

The local tech community has been based on the pay-it-forward culture, in part organically, in part due to inspiration from Silicon Valley’s history. The main organizations who lead the community have a deep and sincere commitment to this principle and deploy it in practice and evangelize among all community members.

More than 30 tech organizations and user groups meet on a regular basis for knowledge sharing sessions on all levels, from absolute beginners to professionals.

Our WordPress community group hosted last year’s WordCamp Europe, the largest WP conference on the continent which happens once a year at a different location, where they had Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress as one of the speakers.

Also, PHP Serbia conference has a tradition of an outstanding line-up of speakers year after year - two years ago they brought Rasmus Lerdorf to Belgrade. They are generally considered one of the best PHP conferences in Europe, with a lot of foreigners coming every year.

When it comes to the events that are happening on a more regular basis and have more of a networking function, there’s Silicon Drinkabout (happening every Friday) and Belgrade Blockchain Coffee every Wednesday morning.

If you’re more interested in business than just engineering, Product community is organizing meetups once a month, and Lean Startup nights are happening on a pretty much regular basis. Also happening once a month is Tech breakfast (with entrepreneurs telling their stories), organized by one of the first communities on the local tech scene.

If you’re more of a techy, Java community, JS Belgrade, Elixir community, PHP Serbia and Laravel hahen it comes to Data Science, there are Data Science community and R and Python user groups (with Python not being strictly related only to Data Science), all three of which organize meetups quite often. Last year we had the first Python conference in Belgrade, as well as the first R conference.ve some of the best meetups and workshops around.

W Data Science conference has a bit of a longer tradition and will be held for the fifth time this year.

Practical UX meetups are always useful, not just for designers but for startup founders as well, since they often do design feedback on certain products that people want reviewed.

One of the most active local organizations is SGA (Serbian Games Association), comprised of some of the most successful gaming companies and studios. They often organize workshops, hackathons, and meetups, with guests from big companies such as Unity.

There’s, of course, a lot more so feel free to contact us if you need more information on current events or check out your nearby events on meetup.com.

Need help with anything? Drop us a line!

About Tesla Nation

Tesla Nation™ is a project by SEE ICT / Startit started with the goal of choosing the best technology inventors and professionals of Serbian heritage and connect them to partners from all around the world,
inspired by the vision and ambition of Nikola Tesla.

How can we help?

Hi there — please fill out this quick form so that we can get back to you.