Coaching a new generation of entrepreneurs in Serbia

Woman holding up small jar (Mirjana Vukša Zavišić/USAID)
Tatjana Avramov had a solid product but lacked adequate production technology for her raspberry jams. USAID teamed her up with Desing, a game-changer for her company. (Mirjana Vukša Zavišić/USAID)

With just two employees, Miodrag Tomić opened a small food-processing business in his home town of Knjaževac, Serbia, in 1992. Today, that business — Desing — employs 45 people in a 9,000-square-meter factory and exports to 27 countries with an annual revenue of 4 million euros (roughly $4.3 million).

Named Serbia’s second-best business in 2017 by the World Bank, the company is a leading producer of fruit and cream desserts in the Balkans, launching 20 innovative new products each year.

Three people smiling for camera (Mirjana Vukša Zavišić/USAID)
Miodrag Tomić (center) with his team at the Desing Taste Center in Belgrade, established to help drive innovation in the food industry. (Mirjana Vukša Zavišić/USAID)

Tomić says two factors helped Desing grow: McDonald’s Serbia selecting Desing as its main supplier of ice cream toppings, and working with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Since a small company always faces challenges with financing, USAID helped us acquire knowledge to design our label, develop new packaging, obtain food-safety and quality standards, [and] procure software for managing the company that helped us generate savings,” Tomić said. “We are still using the bottle for dessert dressings that USAID helped us develop.”

In 2016, Tomić established the Desing Taste Center to drive innovation in the food industry. Each year, the center offers internships to the 20 best students from Belgrade’s agriculture and technology faculties. Through its Food Design Hub, USAID teamed up with the Desing Taste Center in 2018 to help a new generation of food entrepreneurs to excel and innovate.

Compilation of two close-ups of woman (Mirjana Vukša Zavišić/USAID)
With USAID support, Jana Mitrović, left, was able to double the number of high-end restaurants where she sells her microgreens, while Ana Dolovac was able to turn her thesis into a premium product now sold through a major Serbian retail chain. (Mirjana Vukša Zavišić/USAID)

Tomić understands what it takes to translate a good idea into a profitable business and hopes to help promising young entrepreneurs. “Many believe that having an idea and approval from friends and family is enough to sell their product. They rarely have a plan,” he said.

Through guidance from leaders at Tomić’s Desing Taste Center, a new cohort of young entrepreneurs has already achieved considerable success as new business owners. With new products on the shelves of Serbia’s most prominent grocery stores, they are on track to becoming the next generation of innovators to drive Serbia’s food industry forward.

A longer version of this story is available from USAID. Mirjana Vukša Zavišić of USAID’s Serbia mission is the author.