Novska in Croatia has big ambitions. Its stated aim is to become the Silicon Valley of the Balkans. That’s because over the last five years the region of Sisak Moslavina has become a tech hub.
«30 years ago, we had heavy, heavy industry here and then, everything collapsed. You know, we had the war and crisis and everything, and we were wondering, what should we do to keep the young people here? And we started to work on this big initiative called Sisak Moslavina County Center of Gaming Industry. So that’s how this story started,» explained Andreja Šeperac, Deputy Director of the Regional Development Agency SIMORA
Thanks to a European project called PISMO,the town of Novska has two fully-equipped incubators specialising in video gaming.
PISMO cost 3.36 million euros. Almost 80 percent of that came from the European Union’s Cohesion Policy — the rest was financed by the region of Sisak Moslavina.
Today, the project includes 67 companies and startups, almost three times the number envisioned when it was launched in 2017.
One innovative firm inside PISMO called Grow has developed VOICEE smart AR glasses for people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment. The device, which was recently unveiled at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, converts sound into text on the lenses of the glasses in real-time.
The company is currently preparing an investment round to go to market and says a pair should cost around 500 euros.
“There is a directional microphone in the glasses, which after receiving the sound sends the same sound to the «cloud», and that comes back transformed into a written word, printing it on the lens of the glasses via this small device,” explained Josipa Bencek, Grow’s Co-founder.
Hiroma is another company inside PISMO. Its founder and CEO Stefan Vedrina develops educational video games for children. His latest creation — called MOOPIES — teaches young children maths through playtime.
Explaining how PISMO is helping his startup, Stefan said: «We pay only rent, not the utilities. Some people from PISMO gather investors from the region, but even from the whole of Europe, and we often get to pitch our ideas at least once a week to some investors. So, we have a lot of opportunities there.”
Lorena, a 15-year-old student also regularly comes to the incubators to practice programming, a subject that is now part of the region’s school curriculum.
“This is my first year learning about programming and I would like to do more graphic designs and blender. This is my dream. And now, it’s real and I’m so happy,» she says.