What is GIST Innovates?

GIST Innovates The Balkans is a ten-week pre-accelerator training program modeled after the Lean Startup methodology. We will coach teams about how to apply the Lean Startup entrepreneurship methodology and how to do effective customer discovery for problem/solution fit of participants’ ideas. By the end of the program, teams will have completed at least 40 interviews with target customers, gaining valuable insight on how to shape their product for maximum impact. The program will provide innovators with the training, mentoring, and resources they need to build their entrepreneurial skills and bring their ideas to market. The program will provide opportunities for teams to connect with mentors in the US and provide opportunities to interact with U.S.-based investors and companies.

After the training, teams may have an opportunity to pitch their ideas to investors at the Venture Devils Demo Day and visit ASU.

Important Dates

This program will accept 12 teams (2 members per team). 

  • Application window: 22 January 2024 - 7 April, 2024
  • 10-week training program: The training will begin with an in-person workshop 3 - 7 June, 2024 in Skopje, North Macedonia followed by 9 weeks of virtual learning.
  • December 2024 Venture Devils Demo Day at ASU in Greater Phoenix, AZ

Please make sure to review the full eligibility requirements before applying.


"The GIST Innovates Balkans program has been a transformative journey, not just for my personal and professional growth, but also in significantly propelling my venture forward. The inclusion of the Brand Pack in the ASU E&I Perks list, and the opportunity to organize a branding workshop for ASU startups, is not only an opportunity to expand our reach but also to enrich our understanding of diverse entrepreneurial needs against our product. Furthermore, the introduction to other startups and investors for a pilot of our product has opened a new avenue for real-world application and feedback. I am immensely grateful for the dynamic network, practical support, and the tangible opportunities that GIST Innovates Balkans has facilitated, setting a solid foundation for our continued success."

- Leart Zogjani, founder Skins Agency



2023 Venture Devils Demo Day participants and instructors at ASU


GIST Innovates The Balkans Partners

balkans partners

GIST Innovates The Balkans FAQs


Q. How do I apply?

A. The application is available on this page from 22 January, 2024 - 31 March, 2024. Once it is available, click the APPLY NOW button, create an account on GISTNetwork.org, and complete the application. 

Q. Can I complete the application in a language other than English?

A. No. All application questions must be answered in English.

Q. Is knowledge of English required to participate?

A. All instructors will be native English speakers.  At least one member of your team must be proficient enough in English to participate in the one-on-one meetings with the instructors. 

Q. How much of the course is in-person versus virtual?

A. There will be 1 week in-person in The Balkans region in addition to 9 weeks of virtual training.

Q. What is the average age of selected participants?

A: The age of the selected participants is usually between the ages of 18 and 40.

Q: How much of a time commitment (hrs/week) should be expected from selected participants during the entire program? 

A: You should expect to spend an average of 10-15 hours per week.

Q: Do I need a fully working prototype to apply or will a proof of concept (very rough prototype) suffice? 

A: A fully-working prototype is not required. A proof of concept will suffice. The purpose of this program is to talk to potential future customers to help shape the initial minimum viable product.

Q: Do I need Intellectual Property (IP) to participate?

A: No.  But if you do have IP we will not ask you about it during the program nor will we expect you to share that information. This program is not about your technology - it is about the process of exploring market potential and whether you are solving a need in the marketplace.

Q: What specific measures will help prevent IP theft? 

A: IP information will not be shared by anyone during this program.

Q: Can the same person apply with multiple teams?

A: We will only accept one application per applicant.

Q: Can the same team apply with multiple projects? 

A: Each team can only submit a single innovation.

Q: Are there any fees for participants in the program?

A: No. All fees are covered by the program.

Q: If I am selected to attend the ASU Venture Devils Demo Day in the U.S. will I need a visa?

A: Yes. The U.S. Department of State will provide you with an offer letter as proof of your acceptance into this program. We will also work with a J-1 visa issuer to attempt to facilitate your visa issuance. You must get a J-1 visa to participate in this program - no other type of US visa will be eligible. Please read and understand all the J-1 visa requirements at the State Department’s website before applying for this program.  t is the participants’ obligation to adhere to the requirements associated with a J1 visa. 

GIST Innovates Successes

Vamekh Kherkheulidze of Elven Technologies

Elven Technologies is a high-tech personal protection equipment (PPE) company. Our first product is a technologically-advanced full body fire-proof suit with a cooling system to keep firefighters safe in the line of duty and help save lives.

Nataliya Limonova of GIOS

GIOS is designing an interactive platform for the delivery of remote and blended learning. In addition to keeping students engaged in the educational process, the platform aims to support teachers in organizing remote and hybrid teaching by providing them with a flexible course builder, interactive material library, assessment, and analytics.

Djordje Dimitrijevic of SignAvatar

"As a Balkan startup, you might think that having cool technology is enough. But as a GIST Innovates the Balkans alum, I discovered the real key is understanding your buyer. Through customer interviews, you'll learn how to position your business to meet customer needs. This program marries Balkan creativity with American business strategies, helping you fine-tune your ideas and truly connect with your target market. And along the way, you'll also make some great friends." 

Nina Levikj of Brummell

In the U.S. nearly 5k motorcyclists die annually for not wearing suitable motorcycle gear. The Brummell Blazer is a perfectly engineered piece of equipment that looks like an elegant blazer from the outside, but has the same features of a motorcycle jacket from the inside. 


About the Implementer

GIST Innovates the Balkans is administered by Arizona State University (ASU). ASU is a public research university that is committed to access, excellence, and impact at scale. In 2022, for the eighth year in a row, ASU was named No. 1 among the nation's most innovative universities by U.S. News & World Report. ASU is one of the fastest-growing research enterprises in the U.S. and a national leader in bringing innovations to market. It is currently ranked #4 by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) among universities for U.S. patents issued and ranked #4 for startups generated. ASU is the lead university of the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Hub: Desert and Pacific Region building on its experience as an I-Corps Site since 2016.

One of the core tenets of ASU’s vision is the pivotal role universities can have to maximize the impact of use-inspired research through entrepreneurship. Over the last ten years, more than 180 startup companies based on ASU intellectual property (IP) have been created, which has generated over 1300 jobs and raised nearly $1B in funding.

Meet the Program Team

● Visar Berisha, Associate Professor
College of Health Solutions & Fulton Schools of Engineering, Arizona State University (ASU) Berisha has a history of STI entrepreneurship success, including co-founding a VC-funded ASU startup.

● Ji Mi Choi, Director, NSF I-Corps Hub: Desert and Pacific Region
Choi is the Project Director of the ASU-led, NSF-funded I-Corps Hub and previously served as Vice President, ASU Knowledge Enterprise and Founding Executive Director of the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute. She serves in various capacities for numerous start-up organizations and boards.

● Zachary Holman, Associate Professor
Fulton Schools of Engineering, Arizona State University Holman leads entrepreneurship training for the College of Engineering and has successfully co-founded several start-up companies.

● Eusebio Scornavacca, Professor
School for the Future of Innovation in Society, College of Global Futures, and Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona State University Scornavacca has extensive experience developing digital entrepreneurship curricula as well as multinational, cross-disciplinary, inquiry-based learning projects with start-ups around the world.

● Denise McKenzie, Academic Associate | Lecturer
J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation, Arizona State University | Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California (USC) McKenzie provides instruction for the NSF I-Corps national program, works with founders and teaches the Lean Startup methodology at USC and ASU, and has 20 years of experience as an engineer and a patent litigator.

● Uranik Begu, Executive Director Innovation Centre Kosovo
Begu has led implementation of externally-funded training programs in Kosovo and the Balkan region.

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