Skip to main content

Conference on Internationalisation of the Economy: Green and Innovative Breakthrough Solutions

The 5th National Conference on the Internationalisation of the Slovenian Economy was held in Maribor, Slovenia. Under the slogan "Greenovated in Slovenia", businessmen, entrepreneurs and researchers discussed the visibility of Slovenia abroad, the penetration of companies in foreign markets, market niches for innovative and high-tech solutions, and opportunities for companies in international development cooperation.

They all agreed that the key to success is networking, cooperation, courage and ambition. The participants were addressed by their hosts, Tanja Fajon, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, and Matjaž Han, Minister of the Economy, Tourism and Sport. The speaker of honour was the former President of the Republic, Borut Pahor.

Tanja Fajon, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, stressed that "Slovenia's membership of the United Nations Security Council has changed the baseline perspective of our economy. The numerous talks with representatives of 189 countries in total have strengthened Slovenia's visibility and thus brought the opportunities. In addition to cooperation with traditional economic partners, we will strengthen our engagement in Africa, Latin America and Asia, as domestic companies express interest in entering third country markets where we are expanding our network of diplomatic and consular missions. At the end of June, Minister Han and I are leading a trade delegation to South Korea, where we have opened an embassy, also in response to the interest expressed by Slovenian business. Economic diplomacy is at the heart of the Ministry's activities, as it plays a key role in the international promotion of Slovenian excellence in business, science and culture and contributes to the creation of higher added value."

In his speech, Matjaž Han, Minister of the Economy, Tourism and Sport, pointed out that the world, and the EU with it, is facing major changes, such as climate, technology, geopolitics, social and environmental changes. This has an impact on the European economic model and the Slovenian economy. Europe as a whole is facing disruptions in the supply of raw materials, dependence on materials and foreign energy sources, and a shortage of human resources.

"The Slovenian economy is highly export-oriented. We must therefore urgently maintain our competitiveness in a global world and our existing markets. The successful performance of Slovenian diplomacy and the country's election to the Security Council opens up the whole world to the Slovenian economy. We must now take advantage of this hand in hand with the economy," stressed Mr Han. He highlighted three areas where we need to move forward as soon as possible: changing tax policy, providing venture capital to fast-growing companies, encouraging new investments to kick-start the economy, and improving the integration of new investments into the environment while protecting nature.

The internationalisation of the Slovenian economy is important to diversify exports to different foreign markets and to exploit niche markets with high-tech products and services. Therefore our Ministry, resposnible for the Economy supports companies' breakthroughs into foreign markets in various ways. This year, it will allocate more than €61.5 million to promote investment and internationalisation. It opens the door to foreign markets through the promotional activities of SPIRIT Slovenia, political and economic visits and economic delegations. The Ministry supports companies at all stages of their development path by co-financing market research, presentations at business events, encouraging domestic and foreign investment and participation in international organisations such as the European Space Agency (ESA). The Ministry is currently preparing two calls for tenders to co-finance the creation of partnerships with the aim of jointly entering a selected foreign market and to strengthen brands on foreign markets.

In his speech, the Honorary Speaker Borut Pahor, former President of the Republic, touched upon the situation of Slovenia today and the prospects for the future. "Slovenia will be famous. It is respectable, it is safe, it has potential. But above all, it has something that is still hidden, and that is its people. It is the people who will make the difference in the future. When I look at young people, I see analytical skills, empathy. The generation that is coming is the generation that will give its best, that will know how to take this country forward, both politically and economically. It is important that in the future, Slovenia should have as few social differences as possible. If and to the extent that we give you, the entrepreneurs, the opportunity to have a favourable business environment, a favourable tax policy, as much free economic initiative as possible, the more successful this country will be. That is why I see a bright future for Slovenia," Pahor said.

Rok Capl, Acting Director of SPIRIT Slovenia, pointed out: "As an executive institution of the Ministry of Economy, SPIRIT Slovenia offers a number of programmes for export-oriented Slovenian companies wishing to expand their business to foreign markets. Every year we organise a number of business delegations, supplier days, group presentations of the Slovenian economy at international fairs abroad, B2B meetings, seminars, business conferences and business forums, trainings and trainings, which facilitate companies' entry to their chosen foreign market. This is particularly valuable in distant markets such as the USA, Japan and the United Arab Emirates, where it is the responsibility of the state to try to help companies as much as possible and to make it easier for them to start doing business in these markets. The network of Slovenian business clubs abroad is also of great help to us in this respect. All our activities are carefully tailored to the needs of companies and thus provide a good support to the Slovenian economy in internationalising their business. Among our recent successes, I would like to highlight Slovenia's largest business presentation in its history at the World Expo in Dubai, which will be followed by a similar one in Osaka, Japan, in 2025. The high-profile Texas Feels Slovenia business and investment conference in Dallas also stands out strongly, and I am proud of our national communication campaign I feel Slovenia. Green. Creative. Smart., which is successfully putting Slovenia on the global map of economically successful countries."

An alliance between business, science and politics for the development of Slovenia's prosperity has recently been established on the initiative of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Vesna Nahtigal, Director General of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "We want to infuse the Slovenian business sphere with reflections and activities that move us up the value chains. The most sensible way to do this is to use knowledge, which is not an end in itself, locked in academic showcases, but enriched with experience and intended for the market and to contribute to the growth of prosperity. These big words, which no one can argue with, mean nothing if it does not pay for companies to work with and for science," she explained. She described platforms such as the BigScience marketplace, technology parks and incubators as "playgrounds" for developing, qualifying and testing ideas for implementation and "trading".

Iztok Podkrižnik, owner and CEO of Podkrižnik group, said about the conference: "Conferences like today's are a great platform to share experiences, positive practices as well as to set some new goals for the future. Slovenia has many opportunities to launch innovative products, but of course it needs qualified staff. Slovenia is an Alpine country, most of Europe lives in this area, they know and understand us. So I believe that we will continue to open doors abroad." 

Keynote speaker Dr Matevž Raškovič said that we are living in a time of ominous problems with many different stakeholders with different views, values, beliefs. These are problems we need to know how to live with and manage. They need to be brought to a common table and discussed. We are also living in what is called a global narrative economy. History teaches us that patterns repeat themselves over time. We need to ask ourselves what this means for the Slovenian economy. In the narrative economy, New Zealand has found that how it presents itself to the world is very important. The same is true for Slovenia." He stressed: "Businesses, and not just multinationals, are increasingly having to deal with non-market strategies, including issues of corruption, populism and non-market risks, and therefore with social risk management. If a decade ago we were talking about social responsibility, today we are talking about political responsibility. Ominous problems require stakeholders to work together, to understand and to listen. They require an awareness of the moral responsibility of decision-makers. We are finding that multinationals are becoming lightning rods for discontent in society, for globalisation, for more and more elitism. They are also becoming lightning rods for identity politics and thus increasingly shaping social identities."

Five panels on topical issues of international business in the Slovenian economy

The first panel discussed the importance of a country's visibility in the world and the impact on individual companies to achieve greater competitiveness. State Secretary Matevž Frangež, Dr Tomaž Rotovnik, Skylabs, Dr Iztok Seljak, Hidria Holding and President of the Manager's Association, Iztok Podkrižnik from the company of the same name, and Nuša Pavljinek from Roto Group highlighted the fast pace of global change, which poses challenges for companies, but can also be an advantage. As they concluded, our opportunity lies not only in increasing our global visibility but also in our mindset. A positive attitude towards opportunities, networking and self-confidence are the elements they are betting on to lead us to leading positions. An interesting question was raised on how to link the good stories we have. Speakers saw an opportunity in creating our own opportunities before challenges and global trends would create them, with the state as a stable pillar and backbone. The panel concluded with a focus on the legacy and the opportunities of our relationship with technology and nature. Green innovation has brought us to this moment, and the opportunity is there for them to create new opportunities in green technology through dedication and awareness of natural endowments and high-tech know-how.

The panel "Where and how to go to foreign markets" addressed the potential of linking Slovenian sporting excellence with economic promotion. "Exports are the backbone of the Slovenian economy, but 80% of them are focused on the EU and the Western Balkans," said Dr Slobodan Šešum, Director General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He presented the economic diplomacy assistance to companies to strengthen economic cooperation abroad. Mr Jernej Salecl, Director-General at the Ministry of Economy, stressed the importance of entrepreneurial spirit and the importance of niche promotion of Slovenian industry, such as the aerospace sector. Rok Capl, Acting Director of SPIRIT Slovenia, presented financial incentives for Slovenian companies. "Let's be confident, let's strive to be the first and position ourselves higher up the value added chains. It is the economy that dictates our trends," said Mr Capl. Comark CEO Branko Butala presented a successful logistics project for the transport of transformers to Vietnam.

In a panel on private sector involvement in international programmes and international development cooperation, representatives of various international organisations agreed that the private sector can play a key role in development and humanitarian aid. In this way, they demonstrate their social responsibility and contribute to solving social and development challenges, while at the same time bringing new business opportunities and new partnerships for companies that contribute to business development. In the future, there should be more networking and partnerships between the EU, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, Norfund and with development institutions such as the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Small and medium-sized enterprises with unique expertise can also be involved in development projects, as demonstrated by the example of GeoCodis, which has been working successfully with countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Opportunities for cooperation are also evident in the infrastructure projects of the Global Gateway strategy, which will be presented in more detail at the Slovenian Development Days on 2 and 3 October in Ljubljana.

The panel on niche markets for innovative and high-tech solutions agreed that science is not only a tool that is still under-used by companies for higher technological breakthroughs, but it can also be a client and a buyer of products and solutions. Tanja Permozer, Head of the Slovenian Space Office at the Ministry of Economy, spoke about the excellent cooperation between industry, institutes and universities in the field of space, where even large companies cannot work alone. She stressed that "in space, it is not size that matters, but boldness, innovation, development, human resources." Everything is connected to space, which she illustrated with the example of Teflon developed for rockets, adding that in space, mistakes are not allowed. "Slovenian industry has shown that it is able to compete for ESA funding", said Stephen Airey, Head of Capability and Country Support at the European Space Agency. "You have to be crazy not to be there, at least in partnerships, to grow with them," commented Dr Jernej Pintar, Director of the Ljubljana Technology Park, on the cooperation in space. A champion must be recognised and supported, he was clear, because that is how winners are born. Mihael Gornik, Head of TQM at DEWESoft d.o.o. and Director of Katapult d.o.o., considered the integration of accelerators as positive, which allows mutual learning. Marko Grobelnik, CTO at the Jožef Štefan Institute, highlighted the problem of the slowness of regulators. He described ChatGPT "as a kind of forest fire spreading around the world". The tsunami will reach us sometime after the summer, when this technology will no longer be avoidable. According to Sama Tuma, Liaison Officer (ILO) with CERN and Head of Sales and Marketing, Bureau Veritas, Slovenian business is already quite successful in its cooperation with CERN. He sees opportunities mainly in electronics, software and support services.

In addition, CETIS, SoftNET, BreakThrough and SkipQ, and Tosama presented themselves as examples of good practice in penetrating different markets around the world.