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:

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

Croat Among New Europe 100 Changemakers

Mate Rimac at Geneva car show March 2016 Photo: Gregor Prebil

Mate Rimac at
Geneva car show March 2016
Photo: Gregor Prebil

Res Publica, Google, Visegrad Fund and the Financial Times have named 15 November 2016 Croatia’s Mate Rimac, the founder and chief executive of Rimac Automobili, a Croatian car manufacturer that develops and produces high-performance electric cars, as one of Central and Eastern Europe’s top 100 changemakers.

The event held at BIP Brussels brought together the New Europe 100 challengers and the EU policymakers to celebrate success and debate the digital and innovation agenda across Europe. The individuals and organisations involved, business innovators, political challengers, social entrepreneurs, and cultural animators leverage technology to transform the region and create impact at a pan-European or even global scale. Their stories offer important lessons on technology-driven innovation, entrepreneurship, and broader socio – economic transformation in Europe, which currently (as many other parts of the world do) urgently needs to reboot its economic and innovation performance.

The list of New Europe 100 was created as part of a campaign, which aims at promoting innovation in Central and Eastern Europe by distinguishing those who are the engine of positive changes. Candidates for the New Europe 100 list could have been people and teams that use new technologies in their industries, and their activities have a positive impact on the economy, science, culture and the local communities. 2016 produced a list of outstanding challengers, leading world-class innovation from Central and Eastern Europe, this list celebrates their achievements, tells their stories and establishes a community of people whose work may change the world.

Autonomous driving software for self-driving cars, telemedicine company supporting women during pregnancy, animated sign language messenger, self-driving car software, ‘iKnife’ scalpel that can tell surgeons if tissue is cancerous – these are only some of the 2016 finalists of the third edition of the New Europe (NE) 100 list.
NE100 challengers create apps, run social initiatives, invent projects of usefulness in many life’s and living domains and technologies useful for people in Europe and around the world in business, in society and politics, in science and in media and culture. They share creative approach both to their projects, and the region in which they work – Central and Eastern Europe.

We want to tell a story of inspiring, creative and socially engaged innovators from Central and Eastern Europe. Our region can be proud of developers, business owners, scientists and cultural managers, who are now the driving force behind the innovation for the future” – says Wojciech Przybylski, president of the Res Publica foundation, initiator of the project.

The final one hundred was chosen from nominations submitted by Nominating Partners and general public. This year, the largest group of finalists represent individuals and teams working in business (54%), for society and in politics (29%). Other categories include science (10%), media and culture (7%).

It is great to see there are more and more cases of successful and innovative businesses that were born in Central and Eastern Europe. It shows how immense potential exists in our region and how new technologies and digital economy became not just a challenge, but rather a great opportunity for outstanding scientists, ambitious entrepreneurs and creative activists to transform their plans and ideas into reality” – said Marta Poślad, Head of Public Policy & Government Relations CEE Google.

The idea behind New Europe 100 was to show the potential and creativity of people from Central and Eastern Europe. It is also a networking platform, which helps challengers to meet and exchange. We believe this is the best way of supporting the advancement of fresh, innovative ideas, the progress of which benefits all of us in the region” – added Beata Jaczewska, Executive Director of the International Visegrad Fund.

New Europe 100 aims to continue supporting innovation in Central and Eastern Europe by identifying leaders of positive change. This year is the third edition of the project, organised by Res Publica, Google, the International Visegrad Fund and the Financial Times, in collaboration with many other institutions from Central and Eastern Europe. It’s about attracting central and eastern Europe’s brightest and best people as well as plus the organisations who are changing the region’s societies, politics or business environments and displaying innovation, entrepreneurialism and fresh approaches to prevailing problems.

The aim is to raise the profile of world-leading changemakers in emerging Europe and to build connections among those in the vanguard, says Financial Times.

Countries in Central and Eastern Europe are home to some of the world’s oldest universities, best inventions and it’s no surprise that efforts such as NE 100 are a potent focus on the value of nurturing progress and connectedness into the future. The American visionary inventor and entrepreneur, Thomas Edison, Eastern European born Nikola Tesla’s contemporary, once said “to have a great idea, have a lot of them”. The constant and abundant flow of ideas is a prerequisite for the emergence of technologies that can make a positive difference to society. As bastions of knowledge and learning, universities and research institutes are awash with curious minds that seek to develop creative solutions to present-day challenges. As hubs of creativity, universities and research organizations represent countless opportunities to forge intellectual potential into creative solutions. Hence Start-up companies and projects are a whole relatively new breed of economic promises that may hold solutions to quite a few problems today’s societies face, which include gainful employment in areas we hardly are able to dream of without our young innovators. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe have a strong academic tradition, are home to some of the world’s oldest universities dating back to 14th century. Countries in the region have a deep pool of talented and well-educated inventors and creators and a strong capacity for producing and expanding knowledge.

"Nearby Hostel" a Croatian budding idea for a new startup mobile or pop-up hostel, what a great idea Photo:

“Nearby Hostel” a Croatian
budding idea for a new startup
mobile or pop-up hostel, what a great idea

While, in general, Central and Eastern European countries have significantly boosted their innovative capacities, many within the business community are acutely aware that further progress is needed to ensure the region realises and benefits from its full innovative potential. Croatia, in particular has so much great talent and innovation drive in its people who, regretfully, due to either the lack of local support or the lack of investments in innovative ideas more often than not find themselves searching the world for a place outside of Croatia that will embrace and support their innovations. Start-up venture capital has been rather slow coming to Croatia, however, the World Bank did in 2015 announce some interesting movements in this area of development. The development objective of the World Bank Innovation and Entrepreneurship Venture Capital Project for Croatia is to strengthen risk capital financing for innovative small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups in Croatia. The project comprises of three components. The first component, pilot venture capital fund will consist of both public and private financing, in a ratio consistent with European Union (EU) state aid regulation. It will be established with the purpose of providing financing, in the form of equity or quasi equity instruments, to innovative SMEs (including startups) with the locus of activity in Croatia. The second component, seed co-investment fund will strengthen the early stage investing industry in Croatia by providing smaller amounts of risk capital financing alongside investors in the market such as angel investors and incubators. The third component, technical assistance consists of following four sub-components: (i) global advisory network; (ii) capacity building and networking; (iii) monitoring and evaluation; and (iv) project management and audit.

A push for faster burning of red tape in Croatia to facilitate and aid faster small to medium business growth is still on the agenda and has been for decades. But, with each new government we get promised it’ll all go away and business will thrive, investments will pour in, startups will rise like mushrooms after rain. I personally would like to see more entries from Croatia in the New Europe 100 competitions and in others like it but for that to occur the new Croatian government will need to take a hard look into the incentives and supports it provides for young innovators on a daily basis.

The new government in Croatia keeps saying it wants to stop the “brain-drain” from Croatia; it wants to stop or slow down emigration of young people in particular. It would do well to see that closer and more effective collaboration between academia and business can help stem the outflow of skilled labour from the country. The current “brain drain” experienced is making it increasingly difficult for universities and businesses to retain the high-calibre individuals they require to enhance their capacities to generate high-value technologies. The link between technological development and economic growth is now firmly established throughout the world and Croatia needs to do much more in retaining its talent. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.,Ps. (Syd)

Move Over Bugatti Croatia Now Has Fastest Electric Car Ever

Rimac Concept One Electric Supercar from Croatia

Rimac Concept One
Electric Supercar
from Croatia

In case the Bugatti Chiron launch a few days ago, that would set you back some cool US$2.6 million (before tax) but will take you as fast as 420kph, had you saying to yourself you could really do with a hypercar but Bugatti’s old-fashioned internal combustion is too uncool for school, never fear: the Croatian Rimac Automobili (headquarters Sveta Nedjelja, near Zagreb, Croatia) has you covered. Move over Tesla (electric car) as well – here comes the Croatian made Rimac Concept One – the fastest electric car made so far and will only set you back a cool US$1.4 million. The Croatian electric vehicle maker has been showing off the Concept One for about five years now but the production version broke cover spectacularly at the Geneva auto show on 1 March 2016.

Rimac Concept One was designed by a 28-year old wunderkind named Mate Rimac, a Croatian-native with some serious talent, who is also the founder and CEO of Rimac Automobili company that’s backed by investments from abroad including South America and Asia.

Mate Rimac CEO of Rimac Automobili in Croatia and inventor of Concept One and Concept S supercars

Mate Rimac
CEO of Rimac Automobili in Croatia
and inventor of Concept One and Concept S

With 1072hp the Rimac Concept One accelerates from zero to 96 kph in 2.6 seconds. It reaches 193 kph in 6.2 seconds and has a top speed of 335 kph. Quite simply, it leaves a Tesla electric car (US manufactured car named after the 19th century Croatian born inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla) in the dust and is hailed as the fastest electric car on the planet.
The Concept One uses a pair of electric motors fed by an 82kWh lithium-ion battery pack and all-wheel torque vectoring that Rimac says provides the functions of traction control, stability control, and antilock braking by constantly calculating the optimum torque for each of the four wheels. So, the use of for electric motors mounted at the center of the both axles give the Rimac Concept One a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system that continuously calculates optimal torque distribution between the front and rear wheels. The all-wheel drive system has four different modes –comfort, control, track and drift. Owners have the option of deactivating the system if they so desire or customizing it to suit their needs.

Rimac Automobili Headquarters in Croatia

Rimac Automobili
Headquarters in Croatia

The car isn’t just fast. A quick look at the Concept One gives away the fine craftsmanship. No parts in the interior are plastic. Rimac opted for carbon, aluminum and alcantara, a high-end fabric found in yachts and Formula 1 cars.



Rimac Concept S - is one amped up supercar

Rimac Concept S –
is one amped up supercar

And if the Rimac Concept One isn’t enough for you, it now, literally, has an evil twin, called the Concept S that has just stepped from the shadows at the Geneva Motor Show, but instead of sporting a sinister Van Dyke beard and a menacing glare to denote the devilish difference, this doppelganger goes all-in on an aerodynamics package to put its perverse point across. The deviations are more than just skin-deep too – says auto blogger Domenick Yoney.
Unseen like an ulterior motive, the Rimac Concept S turns up the wick of an already diabolically powerful electric drivetrain, adding enough muscle to turn this all-wheel-drive supercar into a megawatt machine. Boasting 1,018 kW (1,365 horsepower) at peak with 1800 Nm (1,328 pound feet) of axle-twisting torque, we mean that in the most literal sense.
This version drops some weight (50kg) and gains an additional 296hp (200kW) and 147 lb-ft (200 Nm). That drops 0.1 seconds off the 0-100kph time and more than a second from the dash to 300kph.

True, Rimac Concept One and Concept S, or Bugatti Chiron for that matter, will go just as fast as any other car on the planet in city, town, village and any road traffic and a couple of handfuls or few dozens will own such a super super car  – most will not, but, hey, one can dream. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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