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

Croatia – Startups Jostling To Economic Success



The world of entrepreneurship has had a case of “zoology envy” (with a proliferation of animal terms used to describe different types of companies) for a few years now in the Western developed and business thriving countries that constantly keep on the lookout for new job creation opportunities. Spend enough time talking about entrepreneurship and you’re likely to hear people refer to “gazelles,” “cheetahs,” or other fleet-footed animals (even the mythical unicorn!). These terms may leave you scratching your head, wondering if you wandered into a safari—not an accelerator.

Like many labels, the utility of these terms is limited; but these words are used because we need a way to describe and talk about an important phenomenon in entrepreneurship—the fact that some businesses grow and others do not. And even among the firms that grow, a few blossom substantially bigger and faster than the rest.

Startups have significantly contributed to economic growth, encouraging it also, and new job creation in economically thriving countries even if they primarily drive innovation. Startup rates are positively correlated with innovation in only those countries that invested in research and development. So evangelizing entrepreneurship in a place that isn’t ready for it might not pan out so well in Croatia, given its relatively minuscule attention to investing in innovation and development. For Croatia to pick up on benefiting from startup entrepreneurship it must get much better at promoting research and development from government coffers.

Entrepreneurship drives economic growth, but it requires long-term patient investments in research, a culture that accepts failure, agile and skilled talent, and a resilient ecosystem that will enable workers and ideas to flow easily from one firm to the next. The way things are in Croatia innovation developers and researchers to a large extent struggle to find support and development funding in and, hence, leave the country and go to the one that will support their work.

Nevertheless, Croatian people brainpower seems to be paving its way to develop a thriving startup community in Croatia as an increasing number of startup events and venture funding dot the calendar. Established within the last three years, five startups appear to have the potential to shake the Croatian tech ecosystem and to push Croatia up on the European startup map. The startup ecosystem in Croatia is on the upward move and this is mainly due to the solid base of young, hard-working entrepreneurs with great ideas and who are highly qualified in the areas of technology. Unfortunately, what doesn’t exist yet are a matching number of investors and capital that back these bright young people.

Furthermore the utterly inflexible and unfriendly bureaucracy (held on life support it seems by the former Yugoslavia communist mental blocks) for creating businesses does business development enormous damage: it is long, complicated, often riddled with corruption and bribery, lacks stable procedures and policies, expensive… In short, the structural conditions are discouraging and make many entrepreneurs give up before they’ve even started.

But there are success stories even if they are thus far few in number. The success stories like electric supercar developers and producers Rimac Automobili, the global team of microfinance and technology experts Oradian and App developers for field team connections etc. Repsly, leads one to look for new rising stars in entrepreneurship and startups during 2018 in Croatia.

PARKLIO is world’s first truly smart parking solution, which prevents unauthorised parking and enables real-time parking place reservation. Their smart parking barrier will not only protect the parking place from unauthorised usage but it will also provide the possibility to share digital keys with other users via the Parklio app. Winner of 2017 Get in the Ring Croatia competition and Croatia’s nominee for the Central European startup awards.




VOLLO aims to provide the easiest way to search, compare and book bus tickets in Croatia. Search hundreds of lines, routes and connections and find best way for your trip. Vollo is Croatia’s leading online retailer of bus tickets. The Zagreb-based startup allows customers to travel smarter and save time, money and hassle. Vollo was officially founded in 2016. Its CEO Marko Jukic previously worked for Rocket Internet as co-founder and Managing Director of foodpanda in Azerbaijan.


SENTINEL MARINE SOLUTIONS – With a vision of building “IoT at sea”, Sentinel is solving boat maintenance and logistics problem by bringing boat’s data online. They provide a quick and easy overview of the boat’s position and vital on-board systems for private boats and charter fleets, through a central unit and a series of sensors placed on the vessel. South Central Ventures together with private investor Matej Tomazin invested €1 million in Sentinel Marine Solutions.




TRAKBAR – provides smart business intelligence solutions for hospitality SME to help with day-to-day decision-making, while saving time and money. Trakbar provides precise forecasts of traffic, consumption, stock status, etc. assisted by artificial intelligence, which enables users to be proactive and optimize their overall business to make them more efficient. Part of the Startupbootcamp FoodTech class of 2016, the startup is slowly expanding from Croatia and Italy to Austria and Germany.




NANO-DIY – has designed a printing innovation which drastically reduces the price of printing patterns on textiles, by using a standard home printer and a thermal press. The printing technology enables the binding of dye to cotton materials with a very high percentage of adhesion, realizing a more cost-effective production. The startup received an investment from the Croatian business angels associations and was a Croatian nominee for the Central European startup awards in the category Newcomer.



The Croatian government should be utilising the positive energy emanating from startup industries across the developed world and allocate more funds to boost the already positively mobile startup energy in Croatia and bring successful startup accelerators to Croatia to help the local startup entrepreneurs expand and grow their businesses. This would also be a practical avenue through which the wealth of knowledge within the Croatian diaspora is utilised for economic growth in Croatia. Accelerators are an important component of the ecosystem and boost the skills of participating startups through training, mentoring and exposure to investor networks and a national program and policy that would see an implementation of startup supports on local areas’ level would mean a revitalisation of business development and job creation especially given that an overwhelming number of people seeking employment and economic prosperity are leaving regional parts, smaller towns and villages in droves. Perhaps 2018 will, after all, be the year of awakening within the Croatian government to the fact that you need to invest solidly from state budget in innovation and development, both money and effort, in order to achieve real progress.

Talk has always been and will remain cheap.

Of course, a bunch of new startups won’t create sustainable jobs overnight. But as long as we’re in it for the broader vision and the long haul, it’s certainly the way to go. Because every company in a thriving economy to which Croatia aspires was once really a startup. Ina Vukic

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