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The Big Interview

Ivan Bjelajac: Serbia is aiming to punch above its weight in blockchain

Although it only has a tiny population, Serbia's aiming to outperform larger countries with its blockchain expertise, as Ivan Bjelajac the interim president of the Serbian Blockchain Initiative explains

Ivan Bjelajac became involved in computing when he was a teenager – at the age of 19. He has gone on to work as a systems engineer, COO and company founder.

Over a six-year period, he helped build Devana Technologies, its Manage WP software was acquired by GoDaddy, the world’s leading domain registrar, and one of the world’s largest hosting companies.

He also co-founded MVP Workshop, where he is CEO, specialising in consultancy and research and development in emerging blockchain technologies. He and his team are working on a number of projects implementing blockchain in a range of industries.

Major player

Last March, MVP Workshop executed Celsius Networks’ ICO which raised $50 million. His work as interim president with Serbia’s Blockchain Initiative involves “making Serbia a top blockchain project destination.” Despite its size, the population is only seven million or so, it has an ambition to be a major player globally.

He is successfully engaging and sharing best practice with government and regulatory stakeholders. He’s also a startup mentor for a number of organisations.

“The industry in the 17 or 18 years since I have been involved has been transformative,” he says. “I came late into the mobile and internet technology because I was really young, but I’ve had a chance to become involved in blockchain.”

On the map

He says: “We want to make Serbia a destination for projects and more and more people are interested in internet-related products and blockchain has provided opportunities to put Serbia on the map for leading edge technology.”

All the new technology, such as machine learning and AI requires a lot of investment from businesses, he says.

“In a small market like Serbia we are definitely focused globally. The US and German companies have the benefit of domestic markets, which we don’t have.”

Referring to the issue of women in blockchain, he says they are “definitely underrepresented but we are finding STEM subjects are becoming more popular with women. It will take a couple of generations to catch up with women in IT.”

Agriculture and IT

Education is very important to address the issue of gender imbalance. Serbia as a nation was previously well-known for its agriculture and now it is establishing itself globally for agriculture and IT.

He believes things are beginning to change with more women becoming involved and “people no longer look to information technology as a male industry.”

As blockchain continues to develop, it will offer sought-after jobs such as lawyers which may also appeal to women and not those who are studying STEM subjects.

Despite the problems with rogue ICOs disappearing with investors money and largely being dismissed following the collapse in cryptocurrency prices, he refuses to believe that they are “dead in the water.”

“In the east, they are still performing at a certain level,” he says of ICOs. “There is evidence that they lacked really good governance and companies raised funding without proper mechanisms.”

Closer regulation

He is unsure whether STOs can solve the problems presented by ICOs but agrees it needs “much closer regulation.”

“Right now, it’s possible for people to be doing this sort of thing from their garage and I don’t think that it is a good way to operate,” he adds. “We need to impose good governance and ensure investors are more involved in projects.”

The lack of regulation is definitely “not a good thing,” he adds.

A lot of the businesses in blockchain are not tied to the price of cryptocurrency. There should be more regulation to reduce the risk for day-to-day use.

He says the Serbian government has “blockchain listed as a priority project. The prime minister Ana Brnabic wants to work on digitalisation and blockchain’s a big part of that. The aim is to make Serbia a blockchain-friendly country.” Last year, she shared her vision of the digitalisation of Serbia, which was well received.

 

 

 

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