Teslianum: Bringing up the Western Balkan Region

On behalf of Vision2020: The Horizon Network, I'd like to present the first article in a series of interviews with some of our most active members.

Today, I'd like to welcome Mirjana Prljevic, the Owner and General Manager of TESLIANUM Ltd. Having founded TESLIANUM in 1993, and with offices in Belgrade and Paris, Mirjana has over 20 years of experience in strategic positioning.

In addition, Mirjana has been a guest lecturer at several universities, including the London School of Commerce, Harvard, BIMBA-Beijing International MBA, Antai College Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Moscow Higher School of Economics, and several others.

Her book The Strategy of Positioning as a Key to Success has been translated into seven languages. Mirjana is also a columnist for the Forbes China magazine and has an impressive amount of experience in the domains of Global Strategic Positioning, Sustainable Country Development, New Economic diplomacy, and Energy efficiency. You can find more on www.prljevic.com.

I spoke with Mirjana recently regarding her experience so far with the Vision2020 initiative and how we can work together to increase the amount of Horizon 2020 funding flowing into the Western Balkan region. 

By Cais Jurgens

Hi Mirjana, thanks for joining us. How did you first come across Vision2020?

I first heard about the benefits of becoming a member of Vision2020 from the Brussels office of Horizon 2020 program DG R&D. From there, I wrote to them and expressed interest in becoming a member of this remarkable business- and academia-based family.

The first time I met with Vision2020 staff was in Belgrade at a Workshop organised by the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. The second was at Cardiff University at a Vision2020 Energy Helix event. It was then, I must say, that I recognised the potential for a strategic partnership between their network and the Western Balkan Region.

Since then, we've helped several very interesting and prominent businesses become members of Vision2020, including Energoprojekt, one of the biggest companies in Serbian industry, RADEI – Regional Development Agency for European Integration of Belgrade and ECS – An Executive Car Service from the SME sector. 

You recently held a week of events with Vision2020 staff in Belgrade. What would you say was achieved during that week?

Sending the right message to Serbian and Western Balkan Region potential members regarding how to be successful in applications for different program funds of Horizon 2020 can be a very challenging activity. 

Academics and experts from our University and research organisations, SMEs, and big industrial corporates possess a huge interest in participating in Horizon 2020 programs. I was very pleased to recommend to the potential partners in attendance over the course of that week that Vision2020 is the number one partner in this domain.

During a recent meeting in Belgrade with Vision2020 co-founders Abdul Rahim and Michael Browne, we took note of this ever growing interest, as well as the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done to get the West Balkan Region more involved, and went from there.

Furthermore, we felt a strong amount of goodwill from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Belgrade, on behalf of Dean, PhD Radivoje Mitrovic, and State Secretary of Government of The Republic of Serbia, PhD Vladimir Popovic, to establish a group of technical faculties – as a smaller Serbian consortium – which can then be a part of a much larger collaboration effort, once they become full members.

The Helixes on Vision2020's networking platform, Crowdhelix, for which they expressed the most interest are Materials, Manufacturing, Energy, Digital, and Climate. It is my hope that they'll be able to find a number of relevant collaborators within these Helixes and successfully apply for funding. 

What do you hope to accomplish by partnering with Vision2020?

For the moment, work-packages or project coordination activities are not the priority. What is important is finding the appropriate partners within the network to exploit the huge potential of Serbia and other countries in the region. 

As soon as we identify goals and the interests of our members in the Western Balkan region, and work to get more Horizon 2020 projects to Serbia and the rest of the region, we will be stronger as a strategic partner with Vision2020. Overall, that is my goal for the coming year. 

We have an opportunity to offer some incredibly interesting opportunities for collaboration between industry, experienced professors and young researchers desperate for funds.

For me, this is one of the most valuable contributions that Vision2020 makes through the different Helix consortiums. Regarding Teslianum, and how we go about choosing partners, we are certain to give our very best to secure membership only for members that possess, in my opinion, excellence as a trademark of their business activities.

What are some of the struggles your region has faced in the past when attempting to collaborate within Horizon 2020 for the purpose of winning funding?

Serbia and other countries of the Western Balkans region have really suffered a lot in the last few decades, especially, through an enormous exodus of the young and well-educated people.

We are lacking people who work intensively on EU programs, which as you know, is not an easy way to secure funds due to different conditions, different applications, different portfolios for the consortium membership, different strategies, etc.

From the Danube strategy projects to the IPA and IPARD, from the Ionic-Adriatic strategy the right to Horizon 2020, it is not easy for companies, for the government, local municipalities, or for SME's.

Different stakeholders have begun to understand in the last two years that we need to cultivate an integral approach to the different industrial and economic challenges. From targeted ones, such as agriculture and infrastructure projects, to energy and telecommunications.

Regarding Horizon 2020 programs, we have several evaluators, but not so many projects where Serbian organisations have had the opportunity to be project leaders, but much more often as coordinators or WP managers. Now, with more focus and with more integrality at the same time, our struggles, I hope, will be more technical and operational than strategic.

How do you feel further collaboration and funding will specifically benefit your region?

As I said, we need more knowledge and best practice examples to see and understand. Vision2020 is the right network and Crowdhelix is the best platform for finding the right partners for our projects, as well as the experienced people needed on applications. But perhaps, most important of all, we'll have more information on how to successfully apply for Horizon 2020 funding, and I'm looking forward to seeing the benefits in accordance with our efforts.