When Denis Cavkic arrived home late one evening from his metal processing company C.J. and scrolled through his emails one last time, he didn’t expect to receive a message from Kinderlachen – a German-based NGO that supports children in need. After having seen Denis’ company on television, a Bosnian family contacted the NGO to ask if C.J. could customise a hospital bed for their son, who was bedridden due to a severe illness. To Denis, this email was a sad reminder of the sobering reality that modern, functional hospital beds were not as readily available on the market in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) as they were elsewhere.
Denis poised to lend a helping hand, remembering that he, too, had suffered an injury, which had almost left him paralyzed.
Before war broke out in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Denis left his hometown to join his siblings in Austria. There, he learned the welding trade and started helping his brother Fadil revive their father’s wood processing business that had closed shop in the ’80s.
Despite suffering a terrible leg injury on the job and enduring countless surgeries, he threw all his energy behind their joint project.
The brothers worked during the week and used the weekends to travel to their small sawmill in Bihac, where they trained their employees and transferred the knowledge and experience they had gained in Austria.
“We grew up poor,” says Denis. “The beginning was the hardest. But all the money we earned from our full-time jobs was reinvested in the workshop and the few machines we were able to buy to produce and put the metal components together.’’
In 2004, Denis and Fadil abandoned wood processing and reoriented their business activities entirely towards metal processing and construction.
Even in the midst of the economic crisis of 2009, C.J. performed exceptionally well, hiring more workers, ramping up production and reporting strong figures.
Step by step, their business grew into Bihac’s leading welding company, and now mounts turbines and produces parts for cranes and boilers, selling to a broad range of well-known construction companies around the European Union.
Discovering a window of opportunity
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, C.J. lost the automotive industry as one of their biggest customers, and their sales and profits plummeted as a result.
But as the old adage goes, “when one door closes, another opens,” and Denis and Fadil quickly identified a gap in the local market for new hospital beds.
“We realised that we already had the capability to produce 80 per cent of that bed, but we lacked the experience and know-how to launch our own product. In a competitive market, we had to account for many factors like research and development. That’s when we turned to the EBRD for assistance,” says Denis.
With support from the European Union’s Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility (WB EDIF), the EBRD paired the company with Targer Engineering and Consulting, a leading consulting firm in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in order to help etch out a design and production plan for their first ‘Made in BiH’ prototype.
“If I look back and ask myself whether I had made the right decision for our business – even if it hadn’t worked out – I think it was the right one,” adds Denis. “The possibility to churn out our very first original product awakened such an enthusiasm and positivity in our team that it almost took on a life of its own.”
The company donated prototypes to hospital and healthcare facilities and is now discussing the rollout of their mobile, ergonomic beds with several foundations in the country.