In an article titled “Unexpected Tech Boom in Serbia,” the renowned British magazine, The Economist notes that, despite the recent bad environmental news coming from Serbia, whereby the people could barely breathe from the smog in several Serbian towns, some good news comes from Serbia and that is that the country is sitting on one of the largest lithium deposits on the continent, an essential ingredient for the batteries of electric cars.
“Tech accounts for at least 6% of Serbia’s GDP. It employs some 45,000 people. Foreign firms have spent more than $500m on Serbian startups in the past six years,” says Zoja Kukic of the Digital Serbia Initiative (DSI), which champions the sector’s interests.
“Last year’s exports are expected to have reached €1.4bn, an increase of 55% compared to 2017. The real figure could be much higher,” says Nebojsa Djurdjevic, head of the DSI. Foreign-exchange rules mean that payments are often sent to companies set up abroad, and no one can keep track of an estimated 10,000 freelancers who often operate alone.
The magazine then quotes Dragan Tomic, General Manager of Microsoft’s Development Centre in Belgrade who says:” Educated Serbs are leaving in droves—but not if they work in tech. It is one of the few sectors that draw skilled people back home.”
Many industry heads are diaspora Serbs who have returned with skills, contacts and capital.
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“Mr Djurdjevic graduated in electronics in 1990. From his class of about 70, some 40 left. Ten are now back,” the magazine notes and adds:
“One part of Serbia’s government is still enmeshed in the wars of the past. It has only just agreed to reinstate long-severed rail and air connections to Kosovo, which it refuses to recognise. But another part has invested $79m in digital infrastructure, reforming regulatory frameworks and creating tax breaks to woo investment. Primary schools now teach coding. The country’s education system is churning out 5,000 graduates a year primed for tech jobs.”
“Blockchain and games development are already big parts of Serbia’s digital economy. Top Eleven, a football game produced by Nordeus, Serbia’s best-known tech company, has 219 million registered users. But fintech, biotech and AI are increasingly important, though they still find it hard to attract investors at home,” The Economist writes and adds:
“While digital tech is Serbia’s current boom industry, lithium may be the next. Rio Tinto has invested $200 million to explore a site near Loznica. Unlike many other lithium mines, this one would be close to where it is needed. Fiat cars are Serbia’s second-biggest export. By 2035, Rio Tinto expects 50% of cars to be electric. If Rio Tinto’s board gives the go-ahead, production would begin in 2025. With all the ancillary industries, that could add a couple of percentage points to the GDP.”
(B92, The Economist, 28.02.2020)
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