SKILLS FACTORY Podcast #4: How to start a green business
Welcome to the fourth episode of the Skills Factory talks and Ideas about skills from Europe and Beyond. You're listening, a podcast series done by the European Training Foundation, the European Union Agency, working on the topic of human capital development in the EU neighbouring countries. In our first episode. We've discussed whether inclusive learning is a myth or a challenge.
Our second episode was about the skills for the future. Then we spoke about whether the future of education will be fully online. Today, I'd like to introduce you to a new interesting topic, green entrepreneurship and green skills.
What is it and why is it important? In the past decade, there has been an increasing awareness towards the ecological challenges and consequences of climate change. Some countries already understood the importance of the green transition and invest heavily on greening their economies like South Korea with seven percent of its GDP going towards this goal. European countries are facing an enormous challenge as well. They try to intensify efforts for expanding and sustaining economic opportunities, and at the same time they try to address environmental pressure.
Green enterprises and green entrepreneurs or ecopreneurs could become a win-win solution to address current economic challenges and tackle the transition to a carbon neutral economy. In the European Union, 97% of enterprises are small and eco and green industries supports some three point four million jobs in the EU. But in order to make the green economy a reality in upcoming years, we need to reach a critical mass of people that would have a green mindset and green skills and today will speak about green skills and how people can acquire them and will have an opportunity to speak to a real ecopreneur I'm Maria Lovla and let me introduce you to our guests for this discussion today, we're speaking with dragana vukasinovic from Serbia. Dragana is a founder of Fauna Smart Start-Up that aims to reduce the use of pesticides in farming by leveraging artificial intelligence and knowledge of plants own immune systems. So, Dragana is a perfect definition of what a green entrepreneur or ecopreneur is.
Welcome, Dragana. Hello. And Anthony Gribben, senior expert, entrepreneur, learning enterprise skills, ETF. Hi Tony 00:03:05:11 00:03:06:11 Good morning. So to start our conversation, Dragana, could you please tell us your story, a story for real ecopreneur, where are you from and when you decided to set up your Start-Up and why? 00:03:18:16 00:03:20:13 Well, that started, I think, in my family because I come from a family of entrepreneurs. I also grew up in Northern region of Serbia called Voivodeship, now very famous for agriculture.
So I grew up in this green having this green mindset. And then I continue my studies when it comes to crop protection and food security. And this is actually the place where I learn, at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Agriculture. It's where I learnt about different farming systems.
I also did in Serbia my first PhD, where I was also working on innovative molecular methods, how to reduce pesticides and introduce more more biological control agents. Then I continued my research in Denmark, where I could reveal this is also the place where I did my second PhD on climate change effects. And it's basically the place where I learnt about the greenest farming ecosystems in Europe. And further, when I came out, it was a collaboration between Stockholm Resilience Centre and Copenhagen University, where I was a part of. And I could see that if we work cross-disciplinary, multidisciplinary, that we can really solve pressing problems in our society. And this is also where I got this drive that, yes, I'm doing this, I'm stepping out. I'm going to connect to all these
scientists. And this is how actually the story of Foulness Technologies started. But yes, our vision is to farm in line with nature In terms of the market, so what exactly foulness your Start-Up of sounds to people? Yes. Is basically right now, its testing is a service that we want to leverage and make products for real time in field, decision making support, because I think this is actually where technologically we are capable right now to have real time in field devices. But then what do we want to leverage, what do we want to measure? and for example, it makes perfect sens of measure plant security because in last 5 to 10 years scientists got this knowledge about how plants react of different packages on a molecoular level, on a biochemical level.
So, it makes perfect sense if a community is acting, shall we spread plants, shall we reduce the number of springs? shall we introduce biological ways of crop protection? This is the thing we want to leverage scientific findings using diverse technologies. That's why it's Fauna smart technologies using technologies in a smart way to empower phono to empower biodiversity and this natural control that existed before us humans kicked in with chemical pesticides and killing that intelligent plant communication. So that was it, a big jump from being a scientist.
But your academic background is about science and to become an entrepreneur. Was it a big jump? A difficult. Yes, yes. Yes, yes, yes.
And of course, when people ask me, was I scared? Of course I was scared. Although I do come from from a family where I could see the patterns, where people, my parents were exposing themselves to some higher risky projects. But of course, I was scared. But I think this is also the factor of growth. If you feel scared, just go out there still and do it and you will grow as a person.
So I think, yes, scare yourself on a daily basis. It's a good piece of advice, Tony. But what can be done to help entrepreneurs like Dragana to start their own business and to overcome these initial fears and doubts? 00:07:40:04 00:07:41:24 I think people are already on a good footing because they have all of this extra knowledge of extra skills which go with science. So that makes people like Dragana a little bit more confident and 00:07:54:15 00:07:56:16 probably the wider population of people.
So Dragana is extremely in an advantageous position. The only thing is not. And maybe Dragan and I can ask this, you know, out of all of the alumni that she that we're with her in both Copenhagen and at the university, back home in Serbia, how many people went off to set up their business together? Tell me, do you know of.
It's less than one percent that actually think about it. Right. So I think this is also something quite important to do. So, yeah, it's thinking about it even then, it's like less than one percent.
So the reason why I asked first of first of all, it's generally about in terms of making career choices as we move through our schooling systems. And certainly for me it was quite traditional, was expected to go through upper secondary education, then into into a third level education, maybe master's. That was the track at no point along the way that anyone has ever say, would you like to start your business now? That's from the school inside. However, my father did and like Dragana, I come from a farming community. Yeah. My father expected all of us to somehow we would have to connect in with with the farm and keep the farm going on, the farms going.
Yeah, that really wasn't my scene. And I knew that from from the beginning. But what my father was interested in, what he said to me, we had I don't know if you remember, but years ago they used to have what these called milk runs.
So this would be someone who would be responsible for going to a dairy to pick up all these pints of milk and fill up crates and put them on the lorry and then go doors. This is what we had in Ireland. And my father said, and you bought a milk round at that time, you would have to buy the ranch. You had the ownership to a certain district.
And my father said to me, this is an idea I have for you. Would you like to? And I thought maybe not. Well, maybe maybe if it introduced the idea when I was 11, but they introduced this idea when I was 18 and I was already fixated on University .
That's the way it was. So it was too late. It was too late at eighteen. And of course, at the time, you know what we're thinking and leave it home and go to university. My life is beginning.
So the thing is, I think the point here is at what point do parents introduce a possible idea of entrepreneurship as a career option moving forward, and at what point does our learning system, because we spend more time at school learning that we do with our parents. Yeah, yeah, but the schooling systems didn't and still don't accept any more progressive schools, really look at entrepreneurship and say, listen, hey, boys and girls, this could be an option going forward for you. Now, the second thing, of course, is, you know, a Dragana had to choose extremely, as I said, to an advantage that she already had a family background, which was in business, and she already had all of this technical knowledge and skills which she could turn into a business proposition. Yeah, that's if one percent of the university students and regardless class or one percent of whatever move into entrepreneurship. The question is, could we have more Dragana's every year? Would the university be able to establish a policy where youngsters coming in first year arts or sciences or whatever, and they are already introduced to career career options? Frankly, that doesn't really take place.
And certainly when entrepreneurship does come on board, it's usually from another medium, like parents or someone outside or even just to get up and go of the individual. Now, Dragana has got a really interesting business. I think it's the right time. Yeah, as a, you know, Dragana, I spotted that there is society's awareness that's changing. But the importance of our environmental pride and environmental protection. So that's an extreme that's picking up on that opportunity.
But most entrepreneurs out there won't be thinking that way. You know, most entrepreneurs essentially are people, if you read through the literature and most entrepreneurs are people who the real motivation for setting up a business or becoming self-employed is the real motivation is not money. No, no. It's.
Not having to work for someone else, Those are lifestyle choices that each of us have to make. Yes, because you're right, it's a lifetime choice. But when we're speaking about people working in green, it's also a matter of their vision of the future. Yes, exactly. Exactly.
It's like you really want to make that future really see it. Like, there is a great opportunity. We have maturity in science.
We have maturity in technology. So now it's time to marry those two on so many levels and really create the new world. For me, that's the whole change of perception. What is food? What how we grow? So for me, it's it's a really the whole societal change. Society needs this change and society is exactly as Anthony said, society is aware of all these now problems that we do have.
And that's actually where I'm taking. Yes. Advantage of it.
And this is the thing with innovation. You can have amazing innovation and it's about the timing. And this is where I could feel when SDGs came out that now it's going to be building of this awareness more and more. And I could feel I call it also environmental 0:14:24.334,1193:02:47.295 a default. empathy, what I feel for our 0:14:26.334,1193:02:47.295 This is how I really, environment that we need to change.
I think at this point about timing, a crucial. Yeah, timing as opportunities. But the other thing just listening to Dragana is essentially it's about passion. Yeah.
That really has to be something coming from your soul. It's something that you believe in and that you will commit to, because being an entrepreneur, of course, has its ups and downs. It's not an easy ride. But in order to have the passion towards green and the passion to to create your own Start-Up, you need to have a certain set of skills, right. You need to have a certain knowledge. So my question to you both is, when is the right moment to give this knowledge to youngsters so they can have a choice? It's ageless.
You step out when you have something to say and that's your own personal growth, your own personal moment. And then again, when it comes, I think this is the moment where it's like an environment society is ready now for this. As Anthony said, we needed more in education, that this is also a way for a scientist to contribute to a society. So I think there's a lot of things that we can leverage across our education, When do we introduce the education system? I think we have to look at it as I'm coming back to this thing about passion, it's the messages that we give to youngsters essentially from pre-school right up the messages that we give to youngsters to find their vision of the world.
but also I think it's important that they through the education system, but we we we encourage and facilitate children to understand why curiosity is important, that they should they should learn to ask questions, that they should learn to be critical, but they also should be learn to you know, when they identify a problem, they should come forward with their own solutions. And I think this is problem solving, which is missing very much in our education, getting youngsters to understand that there will be problems along the way. Life is essentially a series of ups and downs, whether we like it or not. Dragana, from your years of experience so far, what was the most difficult part of setting up your own business, logistically speaking, very, very down to earth. What was the most difficult part of setting up your own business,.
it was like really like setting up the right team of people. Start ups, they go up and down. So if you can ever feel a bit down, then you want to have somebody in a team to pick you up. And so we pick each other up. Right.
And that's why we need to be all of us need to be fuelled by the same vision, like we really want this to happen. And and so I think like from that perspective, it's the team. It's really always the people. 00:29:20:09 00:29:21:22 I think innovation is really it's the people, how they are led, how much they really are into. Like I jumps, we jump with you. I think that's so important.
Anthony, the question of the century. Entrepreneur or green entrepreneur born and bred. OK, I think the evidence from the evidence is coming out now in different places, U.S., Europe and beyond that, that education plays an incredibly important role.
Students exposed to even one education module and third level education, they demonstrates that the symptoms that they're more likely to set up a business and the business they set up are more likely to be sustained. So, yes, education does play a part. One of the difficulties, of course, is that. In wider society, there's this notion that you either have it or you don't, you're born or bred. You know, it's the nature nurture debate.
And I continue to hear this. I hear this from politicians and you can hear it on television here. I read it in newspapers, even some academics. I hear it from you either have it or you don't has to be something there. It's in the DNA. It's in the genes.
No, it's not. No, it's not. Everybody has the potential. It's the it's an environmental issue. If you grew up in an environment, I think Dragana is a really good example.
She grew up in a business and a family of businesses. That's a great starting point. And many people who grew up in a family business or where there were other family businesses are more likely than themselves because it's already sort of well, this is what they do. And then I can be that as well.
So it's the they can do things. They can do things. The other thing is that I think generally inside the education system, you know, I think it's about about teachers playing a different role of teachers, not only teach, but the teachers are expected to play so many different roles, almost like quasi parental adviser.
You know, teachers have to step in when youngsters are having their little little things in their lives, particularly around teenage years. But I think as we move through life, youngsters start to understand that some of their big objectives are just not achievable. But it's readjusting that mindset. But again, this is about a mindset. But I think the mindset has to continuously adapt.
Just as Dragana was saying, you know, new science will bring in new results. It will have new implications for policy is happening in the economy and the whole policy is happening in agriculture or whatever. Dragana, what would be your advice to people from our audience that might listen to us and think about setting up their own business and maybe even the green business, what would you recommend to them? To if they really feel it to step out and do it, it's really like a just a I think if you're creating something new, you need to create that path for yourself.
And while you're creating that path for yourself or your business, you're kind of giving also this example that, yes, exactly. As I said, it's the I can do mindset. And I would also say that if somebody tells you like, no, you can't do it, then just go out 00:34:50:10 00:34:51:11 there and do it twice.
00:34:52:12 00:34:53:21 It's simply you need to have 00:34:54:11 00:34:56:09 this great you need to 00:34:56:10 00:34:57:12 have this kind. Like, I know that I can do it really. And it's just somehow maybe right now you don't have a clear picture and the mechanism, but you really need to trust that it's going to happen, simply step out So this is the thing, go out and do it. Tony. There are several global ratings about countries that are the best for entrepreneurship. When we think of those countries, first that could come up to our mind would be Denmark, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore.
But even neighbouring countries are usually not in the top 20 or top 15. And still, we know of some amazing stand cases of young entrepreneurs coming from Balkan's or from Eastern Europe. So what is missing? What what should be done to facilitate entrepreneurs? Looking at the broader set of entrepreneurs, I think we need to see the potential for more and better, more successful entrepreneurship if there needs to be formal formal support systems in place now. It's fine to have that great idea which Drag-out and I have been talking about in the past. But if it's totally unrealistic, it's going to be a flop. You're going to lose money, then somehow you need someone to step in and support you there.
But one of the things that a lot of investment is made into a supporting business planning. You know, it's my business idea viable. Is the market ready for this idea? You know, is the market are already overcrowded. You know, these sorts of things are going to be so important. Secondly, how much money will I need in the first year, 18 months, two years? Where do I get that money? Is it going to be my own funds? Generally, people use their own money. Most people would borrow on their own savings.
So that's quite an investment. It can be scary. if you have already started the young family and you've got a mortgage on your home and you've got the car to run and your school fees to pay, you know, this can be scary so that those sorts of things need to be taken into account. And, of course, then it's moving, actually. Do I have the.
To do. I am be able to pull on this and to build my own informal system, which will keep me going through all the ups and downs there. So I think it's the formal and informal, but which need to be thought about, particularly now. In terms of accessing finance, which is usually the biggest stumbling block. Frankly, I don't think, you know, we have for example, you talk about the Western Balkans, Maria, is that we have a relatively developed good banking system across the region.
And then behind that, we have these bigger banks is bigger. The development banks. And for example, EBRD is one of the key banks in the region that lends out to intermediary banks. Then an intermediary banks then become the reference point for potential entrepreneurs.
Dragana You come from Serbia, but you founded your Start-Up in Denmark. Yes exactly these reasons that Anthony is talking about, it's a way better access to capital. It's it's already, I think, a way better ecosystem that is more and more advanced when it comes to entrepreneurship. And I could see that simply also because of adoption of new technologies by the farmers. It's tremendous. It's, again, No.
One in Europe. So it's easy actually, if you approach to a farmer that if you say that, yes, this is science based, they're totally going for it. so we know that we're facing a big economic crisis, a crisis that is a consequence of a health issue with covid-19. So what is the future of entrepreneurship in covid world? A lot of businesses are closing and they might never actually reopen afterwards. Do you think a lot of people will consider becoming an entrepreneur? And do you think that people will consider actually to become an expert? So to start up something in the green? Yeah, yeah, but I think, like the the the solution to every crisis is innovation, and I can see that there's more and more calls for scientists for multidisciplinary approach.
I could feel that, like, really, really coming. And it will continue actually coming up even more so. It's the time. It's the time for start-ups, because this is the thing like it's the change that we can do with basically from a day to day. So you have a really steep learning curve and that's really important.
So I think it is it is about the start-ups. That's why I'm also doing this. It's really about the start-ups. So from this evolutionary perspective, as a as a life scientist, I think like it's really a Start-Up is a prime example of a rapid contemporary social evolution. Actually, Maria, I see your question having really two answers to your question, having to act is certainly yes, I think there's going to be opportunities as environmental technologies evolve.
There's going to be more emphasis on these. I think there's certainly a lot of more public interest policy interest in that area. So there is a potential for for more green, green start-ups or start-ups that are actually focussing on improving, improving environment. So I think that that probably will be people like Dragana. These are people who are at higher and higher level skilled people.
But at the same time and this is another accessor, this is but green entrepreneurship is also about all of those existing businesses out there. And they're going to have to they're going to revisit many of their operations, going to have to rethink their production processes. They're going to have to retrain their staff. They're going to have to adapt their products. And moving forward, products will have to be much more environmentally, environmentally respectful. So those are those are the two issues.
So I think we're going to have a green I think it's going to use the word evolution. Maybe what we need is a revolution, you know, and a revolution means how different is it from evolution? A revolution means that we really need strong, very, very strong leadership and strong advocates that people believe in. And then we believe that this change process is necessary. And evolution is certainly something that's much more bottom up and and whatever.
But I think somehow we have to look at from evolution to revolution. So that would be my my prognosis moving moving forward. And where does the all of our entrepreneurship ecosystems 00:51:58:08 00:52:00:00 fit in between those two those two ideals? So an entrepreneur is an amazing human being, but that needs a support and ecosystem to to flower and grow. All right.
Yes, yes, yes. OK, well, thanks a lot. Thanks a lot. Dragana, thanks a lot to Anthony.
I think we're wrapping up our episode here. And thanks a lot. Thank you.