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SME Sector in a Nutshell

Explore our comprehensive series of infographics that thoroughly present the features, performance, and trends of Serbia’s SME sector. This engaging visual display leverages data and insights from the SME Compass, specially prepared for the SME100: Expo 2023 Event hosted at the Science Technology Park in Niš.

 

SME100

Launched in 2022 by CEVES, the SME100 initiative aims to spotlight and gather leading small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are poised to influence Serbia’s sustainable growth in the coming decade. The initiative focuses on three distinct SME categories: (i) those showcasing competitive ability via sustained and notable export levels to markets outside our immediate region; (ii) those with development prospects based on innovation; and (iii) those offering substantial or groundbreaking contributions to Serbia’s green transition. A key prerequisite for SME100 is maintaining a positive business reputation and adhering to positive business ethics.

 

SME100: Expo

The initial SME100 Expo took place in Mind Park Kragujevac in June 2022, serving as the first official gathering of Serbia’s top 100 domestic small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The event progressed in the following year with “SME100 Expo 2023: People are the Key to Success”, hosted at the Science and Technology Park in Niš. Characterized by its strong business-to-business (B2B) orientation, the expo facilitated a platform for companies to exchange experiences and best practices, as well as to foster direct dialogue with government representatives.

The 2023 expo attracted approximately 100 of the nation’s leading SMEs and more than 300 participants, including government officials, business association members, representatives of the international organizations, media professionals, banking sector representatives, members of non-governmental organizations, industry experts, and local stakeholders. The diverse participation highlighted the expo’s expansive influence and importance.

 

Initiatives

In mid-2022, CEVES introduced a set of initiatives aimed at enabling a more supportive environment for the general SME landscape and its leading companies. These initiatives are the result of a year-long, structured dialogue facilitated by CEVES, involving over 100 stakeholders from the SME ecosystem—ranging from private sector leaders, business associations, and industry experts, to international organizations and government representatives.

The initiatives advocate for some pivotal structural measures, including the integration of the “think small first” principle into major strategic processes of the Government and the establishment of a Development Bank. Beyond structural changes, the initiatives also propose targeted activities in the areas of education and skills development, improving access to financing, capacity building, and support in technological and green transitions.

In November 2023, CEVES released a Progress Report on the Implementation of these Initiatives. The report provides a comprehensive overview of significant policy developments and institutional changes that have taken place over the previous year, reflecting on the progress made in improving the SME sector’s landscape.

 

It’s time for SMEs

During 2023, CEVES has launched campaign “It is time for SMEs”, emphasizing the need to shift development policy towards greater support for domestic companies, particularly leading ones that are rapidly growing and becoming increasingly competitive. CEVES has organized series of round tables, workshops, and exhibitions, promoting Serbia’s domestic SME sector and advocating for greater focus on them. Two initiatives were of particular importance:

  • Reenabling right to SMEs to use “tax credit” – their investments should be odbitna stavka u poreskoj osnovici
  • Serbian Export Credit and Insurance Agency should start providing guarantees and insurance to domestic exporters exporting sophisticated products with payments duration over 2 years.

In 2023, CEVES initiated the “It’s Time for SMEs” campaign, underscoring the urgency to shift development policies in favor of domestic SMEs, especially those that are growing rapidly and gaining competitive edges. In support of this, CEVES organized a series of round tables, workshops, and exhibitions, all designed to spotlight and support Serbia’s SME sector, advocating for an increased emphasis on these enterprises.

Within the scope of the campaign, two initiatives were in particular focus:

  • Restoring the entitlement of SMEs to utilize “tax holiday” – allowing their investments to be deductible items from their profit tax base.
  • Advocating for the Serbian Export Credit and Insurance Agency to begin offering guarantees and insurance to domestic exporters engaged in selling their sophisticated products abroad with payment terms extending beyond two years.

These proposals aim to create a more favorable fiscal landscape for SMEs and support their growth and stability in international trade.

 

Big Small Businesses

As the local knowledge partner for the five-year USAID-supported initiative “Big Small Businesses”, CEVES has developed a set of analytical documents that laid the basis for defining the project’s focus, goals, and action plans. Among most important analytical inputs was the SME Support Ecosystem Overview. The aim of this document was to identify and map all key entities within Serbia’s SME support network. It also compiled a list of all relevant support programs associated with these entities. This effort consolidated and clarified all the relevant data in this field in a systematic and coherent manner. The complete analysis is available for download.

Big Small Businesses Project empowers Serbian market actors to lead localized initiatives that spur small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) growth. The activity is aimed to strengthen SME linkages with business support providers to improve their productivity and profitability; expand SME exports to regional, EU, and other markets; and strengthen SME access to financing instruments. Big Small Businesses is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented in partnership with  ACDI/VOCA, J.E. Austin Associates, Center for Advanced Economic Studies (CEVES), and the Ana and Vlade Divac Foundation.