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EBRD and EU support Serbia’s Kovačević winery

By Bojana Vlajcic

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How EU and EBRD advice helped an entrepreneur gain the right know-how

Miroslav Kovačević is the owner of the Kovačević winery in Irig, Serbia. His wines are among the most famous in the country and are served during official state visits there. Not bad for a label launched as recently as 2001!      

Before the arrival of Kovačević and a few other wine makers on the scene, Serbia boasted  only a few labels - of poor quality - produced by state-owned cooperatives. Most wine of high standard was imported.

However, in the early 2000s, the private sector started to involve itself in wine production and ever since this has been the fastest growing branch of Serbian agriculture, employing thousands of people.

“When I started to produce wine I had only one employee and we worked all day and night. Today we have around 150 people in the team and we produce around 1 million litres of wine per year,” explained Mr Kovačević.  

However, despite his entrepreneurial skills, his road to success did not run smooth. Mr Kovačević started that journey as the owner of a small grocery, then opened a café after which he decided that he should follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by producing wine.

“You have to believe in what you do and be honest with yourself. People often want to achieve success overnight, but it does not work that way,” he reflected

The biggest problems he encountered at the beginning.

“Maybe one of the main challenges is when the market still doesn’t know you, and you have a vision and goals but there is no one to support you,” he said.  

While thinking how to move his business to the next level, he approached the EBRD for help. The Bank’s advisory programme, which is supported by the European Union, is designed to help entrepreneurs at just such moments: when they are at a crossroads, wondering how to overcome challenges and grow in the right direction. It offers business advice through local and international consultants, which helps companies acquire the know-how to become more competitive. 

“I was not born a winemaker or even a manager. I needed to learn everything. When you start from scratch and move one step at a time, every five to seven years you arrive at a stage when you ask yourself what’s next, and that’s when you need external help,” Mr Kovačević said.

The EBRD and EU helped the Kovačević winery to improve in several areas: from corporate governance to grape planting and wine and food pairing.

“We had a consultant from Italy for the plantation of vineyards, catering advisers and we even hired a famous chef, Stevo Karapandža, to help us learn about food pairing.” 

“I wanted to expand my business knowledge, to do a diagnostic analysis of my company, to see where we are and what we could do to improve our business and our knowledge. Consultants help us do all this together. One can start a business alone, but you cannot progress alone. When I realised that my company outgrew me, I realised that I need support and I found it”.

Advice for success

“Kovačević is a great example and successful business story and we are happy that we have supported it,” said Bojana Vukosavljevic, EBRD Principal Manager for Advice for Small Businesses in Serbia.

The programme in Serbia has already reached over 900 businesses and entrepreneurs since 2001 and has been supported by the European Union to the tune of over €14 million so far.

"The new project cycle will enable at least 130 Serbian companies to improve their skills and become more innovative, attract financing, gain relevant expertise and become business leaders, increasing their competitiveness and productivity,” said Steffen Hudolin, Head of Operations in the EU Delegation to Serbia.”

Together with other EU-funded support for the business environment, bank guarantees for access to finance and grants to innovators, we have addressed the most important needs of Serbia’s economy. We hope that the result of our support to the Kovačević winery will be enjoyed by wine connoisseurs around the world."

What is Mr Kovačević’s vision now, when he already achieved more than he expected?

“Now that we have in place the right technological standards and expanded our production, I want to go back to the roots and increase organic production, to produce wine the way my grandfather used to,” he said. 

At the same time, they are diversifying their business and even looking into building a “wine spa,” sourced with local organic food, and, of course, their own wine.

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