Croatian Startups: From Taking Over Bugatti To Starting A New Airline…

There are many people who believe startup companies are the stuff of small to medium businesses and mostly on the margins of international corporation pathways but events in Croatia this month are proving such train of opinion wrong. We have before us two examples from business entrepreneurship in Croatia where humble startups have and are growing into a giant business landscape of electric cars and airplanes.   

Croatian electric supercar startup Rimac Automobili is taking over Bugatti – was one of many headlines on this business venture across the world early this month. Both Western and Croatian media were breaking news and dishing out accolades and praises to Croatia’s Mate Rimac, who started realising his dreams of developing and manufacturing electric cars via a small startup company that operated in his garage, and his striking a deal with Volkswagen to take over a controlling stake in Bugatti. Rimac and Volskwagen will focus on Bugatti.  Rimac will reportedly hold 55 percent of shares in the new company, while Volkswagen will then delegate its stake of 45 percent to its luxury sports car unit Porsche. The new company will be headquartered in Zagreb and be known as Bugatti-Rimac. Currently Porsche itself holds a minority stake in Rimac. It bought direct shares in the Croatian company in 2018 and has gradually increased its stake to the current level of 24 percent. Mate Rimac will be the CEO of the new company, which is to employ around 300 staff in Zagreb and 130 at Bugatti’s existing site in Molsheim, France. It will initially produce two luxury car models – the Bugatti Chiron and the all-electric Rimac Nevera – with more models planned for the future.

It took Mate Rimac only 12 years to cross the path from the owner of a startup company, founded in his own garage, to a businessman who became the first man of a famous company for the production of sports cars. After this acquisition, “Rimac cars” were transformed into the “Rimac group”, which will consist of “Bugatti Rimac” and “Rimac Technology”. Born to a Croatian family in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1988 Mate Rimac is an innovator who designed the first Croatian electric car “Concept One”, which accelerates from 0 to 200 kilometres per hour in 6.2 seconds, while the top speed it reaches is 355 kilometres per hour. He is also the founder and director of the company “Greyp Bikes”, which is engaged in the production of electric bicycles.

Front: Mate Rimac / July 2021 during meetings in the Bugatti takeover deal Photo: Facebook

Rimac’s fascination with cars led him to enter racing and for this purpose in 2006 he bought a 1984 BMW E30 323i. After the car’s combustion engine exploded during a race, Rimac decided to turn the car into an all-electric. The converted BMW then went on to compete in motorsport events and won against the conventional machines. For a time, it was the world’s fastest electric vehicle. Seeing the potential in electric performance, Mate decided to start a company to build electric cars. Initially called VST Conversions, the company offered conversions of traditional cars to EVs. The company that would eventually turn out as Rimac Automobili, the one taking over Bugatti today, was founded in September 2009, when Mate was 21. While the company was founded in 2009, Rimac had no employees until 2011. In 2010, Rimac met Croatian born Adriano Mudri, who was a car designer at General Motors at the time. Rimac had proposed to Mudri to develop an electric supercar together, which he accepted. Mudri is director of design at Rimac Automobili.

Adriano Mudri (L) Mate Rimac (R) Photo: Screenshot

Mate Rimac appears set to lead on the world stage of fast electric cars and parts of such innovation will surely rub off into a making of a future family car that may surpass the capabilities of today’s (or future) Tesla EVs and the likes.

Stjepan Bedic, ETF Airways CEO Photo: dulist.hr

Up in the skies, though, Croatian startups are evidently attempting to achieve the amazing success achieved on the ground by Rimac.  A new airline emerged in Croatia at the beginning of this month – the ETF Airways. The airline, founded by a former MD-80 and 737NG pilot, received its AOC in May this year, and it is already flying across Europe every day. ETF Airways is a Croatian company founded in November 2020 by a group of aviation industry professionals and former pilots. Among them is the ETF Airways’ CEO, Stjepan Bedic, who was a Boeing 737 pilot for Sun Express and an MD-80 pilot for Dubrovnik Airline.

The ETF in ETF Airways stands for “Easy To Fly.” Speaking to Simple Flying, Bedic revealed that the airline might soon start hiring more pilots because the entire staff is already deployed.

The airline’s business model is charter and ACMI operations only, and it believes it will quickly establish itself as a flexible and reliable aircraft capacity provider. ETF does not consider itself to be a competitor to Croatia Airlines because, according to its CEO, its market is not Croatia but all of Europe.

At times of the Covid-19 pandemic when all existing airlines have been spiralling downward, threatened with extinction here are some brave young people who are just starting in the business amidst the alarming downturn in air travel. But the idea of founding an airline appeared a few years ago, Bedic recalled recently. From the very beginning, they focused on charter flights, that is, selling planes to travel agencies for nothing. It took them a long time to reach the investors who were willing to invest in the project.

“The coronavirus ‘helped’ us in that because we had the opportunity to get to the plane easier. We are aware that 2021 will not be a fabulous year and will help us put the company on its feet, and that is a lot of work – from maintenance systems, airworthiness, cabin crew, pilots, fuel budgets, flight planning to the organisation of ground flights…” said Bedic recently for Dubrovnik Paper (Dubrovački list).

“The market has undergone a speedy recovery after the pandemic subsided in the spring,” said ETF Airways CEO Stjepan Bedic. “The demand for our services outside Croatia has been growing beyond expectations. We were even surprised a bit, but we have a great team that rose to the challenge and prepared the company for its first operating season with two Boeing airliners. This is the first time in the past three decades that a Boeing aircraft entered the regional market,” points out Bedic.

Despite economic uncertainty and a volatile market, the coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge in startups. More businesses are being launched than at any time in the past decade, and existing startups are showing a rapid acceleration worldwide. It has been said that for many companies, the driving force behind this surge has been an alignment of market forces, teams and innovation and I would add persistence and courage. Ina Vukic

Comments

  1. Congratulations to Croatian innovators showing the sway forward.
    Huge Hugs

  2. bobomostarac says:

    Bravo dečki!

  3. I love hearing about successful Croatians. Good on them!

    • Quite amazing and what’s better Anna is that there are quite a few among young people there on a similar path and that is so good to see

  4. It’s been awhile since I’ve posted.

    I had to do online conversions for the car speed from metric to US/Imperial Measurement. Acceleration speed is 124 miles in 6.2 seconds with approx. 221 miles per hour at top speed. That’s great driving mileage!

    • Ain’t life sweet, Elisa. I actually like such conversions because one gets a feeling of a sort of a nice surprise in the process 🙂

  5. Amazing! Congrats to the bold entrepreneurs!

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