December 12, 2020 – This is the year to forget for all of us. Or is it? Look on the bright side – 25 things which made Croatia shine in the pandemic year of 2020.
There are only 20 days to go until the (hopefully) brighter lights of 2021. I am sure that many of you, like me, have lived about ten lifetimes this year, the most chaotic, stressful, unpredictable and scary perhaps ever. But we are still here, hanging on, and hoping for better things.
But 2020 was not such a disaster for everyone. In fact, if you take a step back from all the doom and gloom and try and look on the brighter side of life, there is an awful lot of positivity to celebrate, especially if you are Croatian. In an effort to balance the understandable depressive posts on the web, here is an ode of recognition to 25 things which made Croatia shine in the pandemic year of 2020.
1. Croatia gets its first unicorn – bravo Infobip
Croatia may not be home to the headquarters of the major tech companies, but it does have a thriving IT startup scene, with an increasing number of IT companies excelling on the world stage. Top of the list is Infobip, and 2020 was a landmark year for both Infobip and the Croatian IT sector, as the Istrian company officially became Croatia’s first unicorn. Read more in Infobip: Croatian Company Raises 200 Million US Dollars for Investment. It was an extremely busy and successful year for the company, and you can follow its progress on TCN’s dedicated Infobip section.
2. Nanobit sells for US$148 million
Not quite a unicorn, but equally impressive was the sale of Nanobit to Swedish company Stillfront for a cool US$148 million. What started out as a journey with a fitness app for founders Alan Sumina and Zoran Vucinic 12 years ago quickly took off after they saw and took advantage of an opportunity in the gaming industry. Read more in Croatian Nanobit’s Sale to Swedish Stillfront Will Continue Growth, and for more on the Nanobit success story, check out the TCN Nanobit section.
3. Andrej Djukic, a Rijeka genius producing quality prosthetics… for free
Not all Croatian tech successes are about the money, and Croatian innovation stretches across an array of sectors. A worthy inclusion in this list of Croatian 2020 success is Andrej Djukic. Born in Rijeka in 1991, Djukic won the Cybathlon world championship, an international sports competition for people with disabilities in which the most modern prosthetic equipment is used. With an open-source project available to everyone, Andrej wants to provide functional solutions without financial burden for prosthesis users and their families, as he believes access to medicine should be free. Read more in Andrej Djukic Wants Winning Prosthetic Hand Project to be Available to Everyone.
4. Infinum and the Porsche connection
Rimac Automobili may be the most famous Croatian company attracting investment from the biggest names in the global auto industry, but it is not the only one. Infinum, a Croatian global player in the software design and development sector, announced a partnership in September with Porsche Digital, a subsiduary of German Porsche, that it was launching the Porsche Digital Croatia company in Croatia, for software design and development, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, which will see a 10 million euro investment. Read more in Infinum and Porsche Digital Invest 10 Million Euros in Joint Company in Croatia. More on the latest from Infinum here.
5. Bugatti, a global brand with a Croatian address, and another amazing year at Rimac
Where to start with Mate Rimac and his Rimac Automobili company in Sveta Nedelja? Croatia’s one-man car industry had already secured investment from both Porsche and Hyundai before the year started. What was in store for 2020? Despite the last-minute cancellation of the Geneva Motor Show in February, it was another exceptional year for Rimac, which TCN documented in 30 stories over the year. The Rimac story of the year was undoubtedly Car Magazine: Rimac Automobili to Takeover Bugatti, but special mention should also be made of THAT video, above, Live and Work in Croatia, easily the best promotional video about Croatia in the last few years (at least in my humble opinion).
6. Croatia, leading the world in polar discovery cruiser construction
While Rimac might rule the world with the fastest hypercar, Croatian excellence was taking tourism discovery far beyond parts of the world which have roads. Last year saw the launch of Scenic Eclipse, a luxury polar discovery cruiser – a new type of cruise ship combining the cruise ship experience with the luxury super yacht. The last vessel to be produced in the Uljanik shipyard in Pula at a cost of 200 million euro, Scenic Eclipse won international awards within weeks for its quality, and so impressed with Croatian shipbuilding expertise were the Australian owners that they ordered 5 more to be built in Rijeka. You can follow this ongoing story of Croatian shipbuilding excellence here.
7. Rudjer Boskovic Institute builds 100% spy-free communications system
The boffins at the world-famous Rudjer Boskovic Institute also had plenty to smile about in 2020, not least for their most notable achievement of the year. In an era where secure communications are ever more important, the Rudjer Boskovic Institute built a 100% spy-free communications system. This was one of a number of notable achievements, more of which you can read in the dedicated TCN section.
8. Human beats Google to win the Webby Oscars
You have to be pretty good to beat Google in any Internet award, but that is exactly what Zagreb company Human managed in May, as they beat the other four finalists – Google, Samsung, KLM and Khan Academy, to win the category of Best Website Practices at the 2020 Webby Awards, considered to be the web ‘Oscars.’ In all, there were over 13,000 entries from 70 countries. Read more in Croatian Agency ‘Human’ Beats Google in Webby’s Best Practices Category.
9. Croatian company Q among 20 best IT Companies in the world
There was more recognition for Croatia’s IT industry in October, as Clutch, the world’s leading research agency for ranking IT companies, placed Croatian company Q as one of the 20 best global web development companies in the world, among the top ten in Europe, and the best B2B company in Croatia.
“We are proud that Clutch, as the world’s best-known IT ranking platform, has recognized Q as one of the best agencies in Europe. As many as 9 of Q’s 10 largest clients are the world’s leading companies in their industries. This is a great confirmation to the whole team we are raising the projects we are working on to an even higher level,” stressed CEO Filip Ljubic. Croatian Company Q Among 20 Best IT Companies in World.
10. MIRET develops stylish sneakers from 97% natural products
One of my favourite Croatian startup stories hit new heights of excellence in 2020. Having produced the world’s first eco-sneaker back in 2016, from predominantly natural, biodegradable products, the Boljar brothers and their MIRET show brand went even better this year with the launch of their Forest Dark range, based on the colours of 5 of the world’s endangered species to highlight their plight, and made from an impressive 97% natural products. In an industry that produces 20 BILLION shoes a year, all of which are thrown away, the time for change is now. Read more in With 20 BILLION New Shoes a Year, Meet MIRET’s 97% Natural Eco Sneakers Collection.
11. Young Croats have the best digital skills In Europe
The future of Croatia is in the next generation, and equipping them with the necessary digital skills to compete in this fast-changing world is an important challenge.
And it appears that things are on track. Figures released by the European Union/Eurostat show that young Croats have the best digital skills in Europe. 97% of 16 to 24-year-olds in Croatia have basic or above basic digital skills. Read more in Young Croats Have The Best Digital Skills In Europe.
12. Dejan Nemcic is the best geography teacher in the world
A key ingredient to a good education is access to the best teachers, and pupils at Ivo Andric Elementary School in Sopot, Zagreb have got exactly that, in the geography department at least. Teacher Dejan Nemcic received what will be the highest accolade of his career in October, as he was named the best geography teacher in the world at the annual Global Teacher Awards. Here is how he did it.
(Dorijan Lendvaj Facebook)
13. Dorijan Lendvaj, a teenage robotics world champion
And sometimes in Croatia, perhaps some kids don’t need much teaching at all. A young genius from Popovaca, Dorijan Lendvaj, first came to our attention back in 2016 as a 13-year-old. After six national titles, he became the world champion in robotics. And it seems that the teenage years have not slowed down his genius. Only this week, young Dorijan was back in the news, claiming top spot in the International Romanian Master of Informatics.
14. Istrian olive oil named the best in the world – again!
Tourism and gourmet excellence are usually prevalent in the media when talking about Croatia, but with the pandemic dominating everything, tourism and gourmet stories were a little more muted than in more normal years. But you can’t keep a very good story quiet, pandemic or no pandemic. For the SIXTH year in a row, the experts at Flos Olei came to the same conclusion as everyone in Istria – Istria is the very best olive oil region in the world.
15. Where does the best beer in Europe come from – Croatia of course
Croatia has never really been known as a country with excellent beer, but is that changing? After more than 400,000 ratings and votes from over 50,000 beer fans Zagreb-based The Garden Brewery was voted the best brewery in the EU by Beer52 in their first ever awards. Beer 52 was founded in 2013 and is the world’s most popular beer club with over 50,000 UK people subscribing to get a box of craft beers delivered to their door every month. The Garden Brewery beat off competition from some 9,500 breweries to win top spot.
The craft beer scene has exploded in recent years, with some really innovative new beers. While we are on my favourite subject, it is worthwhile mentioning a new product just released called Chef’s Beer, bringing together plenty of Croatian gourmet excellence – chef Mate Jankovic, Zmajska pivovara, Bibich Winery, Varionica, and Slovenian Barut brewing & blending.
16. CROP Hrvatska – making Croatia grow again
Food and technology. A new initiative from Split-based Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong and Croatian PR guru Jerko Trogrlic to grow tomatoes in northern Croatia makes this list of excellence even though no tomatoes have actually been grown yet. De Jong is of the opinion that Croatia should return to the days when Slavonia fed not only Croatia, but also the region, and that Croatia should become a net exporter of food once more. Using his contacts back home with agricultural technology, as well as Trogrlic’s know-how and contacts, the pair announced plans to grow tomatoes on a 5-hectare plot in an economically depressed part of northern Croatia, creating an initial 72 jobs. If successful, the project would be upscaled considerably. Within 48 hours of announcing the project on LinkedIn, de Jong had received investment interest from all over the world totalling 5 million euro. One to watch in 2021, and you can learn more here.
17. The Zagreb Earthquake volunteer response
While the rest of the world will remember 2020 for COVID-19, residents of Zagreb and surrounding area will have additional horror stories following the devastating earthquakes of March 22. The first quake hit at 06:24 in the morning, and TCN was the first to publish the breaking story in English at 06:39. It was the first of more than 60 articles TCN wrote about the earthquake. One thing became immediately clear, and something that we have known from previous crises – the generosity and resilience of the Croatian people in adversity is one of their most enduring and endearing qualities. And the combined devastation of the pandemic and the earthquake brought out the best in people. Perhaps symbolically, nowhere was this better emphasised than with the efforts of the Bad Boys Blue brigade from Dinamo Zagreb and their noble assistance moving newborn babies from Dubrava hospital after it had been damaged.
It was a terrible time in Croatia, but the resilience of the people gave a lot of strength.
18. Zagreb hospital wins medical Oscar for care of premature babies during the Zagreb earthquake
Earthquakes are not perhaps the place one would expect to win an Oscar, but that is exactly what happened this week, as KBC Zagreb won the medical equivalent of an Oscar at the annual International Medis Awards. This Oscar of Medicine was awarded for the outstanding achievement in medicine and outstanding efforts by medical staff at the Women’s Hospital in taking care of patients, particularly premature babies during the earthquake. Read more in Zagreb Hospital Wins Medical Oscar for Care of Premature Babies During Earthquake.
19. Igor Rudan, Ivan Djikic and Ivica Letunic among the top 0.1% most cited scientists in the world
Understanding the true threat of COVID-19 has been one of the challenges of 2020. With so many keyboard warrior experts, conspiracy theorists and fake news specialists, trying to get a true picture of the real issues has been a constant battle. One early beacon of calm during the crisis was Professor Igor Rudan of Edinburgh University. HIs authoritative texts in the first half of the year became essential reading. When I reached out to Igor to publish some of them on TCN, and he readily agreed, before then agreeing a translation partnership for his books with TCN editor Lauren Simmonds. You can see Igor’s TCN articles here.
Demand for Igor’s insights and expertise ran far beyond this small portal, and in November, it emerged that he was in the top 0.1% of cited scientists globally.
(Article edit: Thanks to reader Karlo for pointing out that Igor Rudan was actually one of three Croatian scientists in the top 0.1% more cited. Here are links to the citation info for Igor Rudan, Ivan Djikic and Ivica Letunic.)
20. Croatia filming locations are best again as Succession bags 7 Emmys
With messages of Stay Home, Travel Later, 2020 was never going to be the best year for tourism excellence. But that did not mean that promotion could not continue. Following the global exposure of Kings Landing and the numerous Game of Thrones filming locations, Croatia’s attractiveness as a filming location was once more in the spotlight. This attractiveness was reinforced as HBO’s ‘Succession’ bagged 7 Emmy Awards.
21. Croatia’s men take handball silver at the 2020 Euros
2020 was supposed to be a year of Croatian sporting glory. Would the Vatreni go one better than in Moscow 2018 and win Euro 2020? How many golds would Croatian athletes bring home from Tokyo? Alas, there was nothing to report, as corona saw to it that neither of these major events took place. But that does not mean that Croatia ended the year with no sporting success to report. Back in January, before the first case of the virus was recorded in Croatia, the Croatian men’s handball team were conducting heroics in Stockholm at the European Championship, coming home with a very creditable silver after losing 22-20 in the final with Spain.
22. Stipe Miocic becomes best heavyweight MMA fighter of all time
But no year is complete without a true Croatian champion, and in the absence of the Olympics and Euro 2020, it was left to heavyweight MMA fighter Stipe Miocic to step up. And step up he did, becoming the best MMA heavyweight fighter of all time in August, after beating American legend Daniel Cormier.
23. EnterCroatia form – COVID-19 bureaucracy the envy of Europe
Three more items to make it to our list of 25 things which made Croatia shine in this craziest of crazy years, and people will perhaps be surprised that they are filled with a topic for which Croatia is not known for its excellence – bureaucracy.
The pandemic brought so many problems and new situations, as well as the need for fast reactions and innovative solutions. One of the great unsung heroes of 2020 are the Croatian border police. Not only did they assume the jobs of the ministry of tourism and national tourist board in handling the bulk (and it WAS bulk) of the enquiries from tourists desperate for travel information, but they also implemented a border control system in just 8 days which was not only ahead of its time, but also the envy of Europe.
If you entered Croatia after May, you will have come across the amazing Enter Croatia border form, which slashed waiting times at borders. It was so effective that we calculated it saved some 21.7 YEARS of waiting in the first three months of operation. It was the first – and the fastest – such border control system in the EU this year. An outstanding effort.
24. Croatian bureaucracy 2.0 – the arrival of the digital nomad visa
If the Croatian police could come up with such an effective system in 8 days, then what else could be achieved in this land noted for its horrendous bureaucracy? That Dutchman Jan de Jong managed to get an encouraging answer to that question. Just 44 days after writing an open letter on LinkedIn to Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, de Jong found himself in a meeting with the Croatian PM, after which Plenkovic tweeted that his government would be pushing for the introduction of a Croatian digital nomad visa.
Progress – by Croatian standards – has been quick, with some of the legislation already ratified. The visa will be available I would estimate in the first quarter of 2021 (technically from January 1, but I would think early March more likely). My guess is that there will be the following requirements – proof of health insurance, no criminal record, a visa fee of less than 100 euro, and a proven income of between 1,500 – 2,500 euro a month. I don’t expect nomads to have to pay tax in Croatia, but they will also not be allowed to do business with Croatian companies with the visa. These issues will become much clearer in the next two weeks, starting with a tax announcement next week. To follow the latest, follow the dedicated TCN digital nomad section.
25. Sveta Nedelja, a blueprint for entrepreneurial and bureaucratic excellence and change for Croatia
I wanted to save for last what has been one of the great discoveries of 2020 for me personally – the amazing story of entrepreneurial and administrative success in the town of Sveta Nedelja, just outside Zagreb. Perhaps best known as the home of Rimac Automobili, my first visit to Croatia’s youngest town in September revealed a MUCH bigger story that the world’s fastest electric car maker. And there are surely lessons to be learned here for other towns and cities in Croatia, so that their citizens and businesses can enjoy similar benefits.
In an age of mass emigration, rising unemployment and cuts in public spending, Sveta Nedelja is showing that there is another way. Its population has grown 10% since the 2011 census, jobs have increased 20% since 2017 alone, unemployment is an enviable 3.9%. And far from cutting public services, the town introduced free buses for all earlier this month. In addition to this, it is the most transparent local administration in the country, and it was recently named the best medium-sized town in Croatia for the economy for the third year in a row, as well as in the top 5 places in the country for quality of life.
From small acorns, mighty oaks grow. Croatia needs more acorns like Sveta Nedelja. You can read more about my findings in Sveta Nedelja here.
2020 has been a horrendous year, and it is easy to be depressed. But if you surround yourself with positive people and stories, you will find that your own outlook is a lot more positive. I often say that there is a default negative mindset in Croatia, but there really doesn’t need to be. For there really is excellence and opportunity everywhere – we just need to change the mindset. Something I discussed at the recent LEAP Summit in Zagreb. with my presentation Injecting Positivity into the Default Negative Croatian Mindset, which you can watch below.