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Using a University Model to Support Science Startups in Serbia

May 31, 2018

The GIST Network partnered with the U.S. Embassy in Serbia to host a masterclass series on supporting science startups in the country. Wiley Larsen, co-founder and COO of medical startup and faculty at Arizona State University, lead the masterclass series and stressed that the best place entrepreneurs can get support for their startups is from their local universities.

Famous entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg became wildly successful without ever getting a college degree. But these entrepreneurs are the exception, not the norm, said Larsen. Most entrepreneurs, Larsen explained, especially those working in the science and technology field, need support from a university or an incubator.

During the masterclass series “Supporting Science Based Startups in Serbia,” Larsen traveled to incubators in Belgrade, Nis and North Novasad to discuss how universities can provide the foundation many young startups need to succeed.

Speaking from his own experience at Arizona State University, Larsen said there is a pattern among successful science startups based on university research. He has used that pattern to develop a model that aims to increase the likelihood of success for future entrepreneurs.

Larsen’s model includes a university entrepreneurship program that is focused around technology, a PhD or postdoc student who founds the company, a faculty member who serves as a lead scientific adviser, and a seasoned CEO from outside the university who can help the startup scale and groom the founder to become a CEO.

But during the masterclass, Larsen explained that his model – while based on startups at universities – can be applied to science startups outside a university setting as well.

“Startups are hard, but communities can grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem by supporting startups through incubator spaces, mentoring and providing a pathway to funding opportunities,” said Larsen.

Over 80 participants attended the masterclass series. They ranged from entrepreneurs to ecosystem builders and even investors. The hope of the series is to provide the insights necessary to support a healthy startup ecosystem in Serbia.

The U.S. Embassy in Serbia was given the opportunity to host the masterclass series after Serbia was recognized for having the most votes tallied during the public voting portion of the 2016 GIST Tech-I Competition.

The GIST Initiative is the U.S. Department of States flagship science and technology entrepreneurship program. Through online seminars, masterclass series and training programs, GIST supports entrepreneurs in 136 emerging economies around the world.