The ecosystem behind entrepreneurship also needs to help and disseminate global knowledge as fast and as efficiently as possible.

Interview with Professor Mladen J. Cudanov

The Review of Economic Theory and Policy requested an interview from Professor Mladen J. Cudanov about the entrepreneurial activity in Serbia and the development path of the Serbian economy regarding the role of entrepreneurs. Mladen J. Cudanov is full professor at the Faculty of Organizational Sciences, University of Belgrade. The interview is part of our series with three professors from University of Belgrade.

RETP: What leadership skills and capabilities do you believe entrepreneurs need to possess in order to meet the demands of new technologies within the emerging knowledge-based economy?

Mladen Cudanov: First of all, I would emphasize the ability to change and adapt. This world has never changed at such a fast pace as in recent decades, and entrepreneurs need to follow that change. They must constantly learn – not just acquire new information but also change their mind patterns and fundamental assumptions. After that first and foremost trait and skill, I would choose the following:

  1. Knowledge of new technologies, especially digital tools. These are important as the context most entrepreneurship endeavours take on, but also as a communication tool.
  2. Capability to manage crisis and risks. The Entrepreneurs have always created value in unstable and unexplored environments, and those environment traits are exceptionally high today. However, plain readiness to take risks will not get them too far today as the blunt, brute force approach. They must be able to manage those risks and ever-occurring, some would say – perpetual crises.
  3. Focus on customers. Technology development has improved the means to create value, but we are unsure if yesterday’s value packages still count today. So entrepreneurs must maintain direct communication with the customers, from the idea’s inception to the product development’s final stages.
  4. Development of social capital. The ability to attract people to activities with uncertain consequences, without too many hard resources, was ever necessary. Today, in a global economy, competition for the best talent may be one of the paramount skills of the entrepreneur.
  5. Global vision. In the interconnected world, skills to scale up are among top-five. Good startups soon outgrow national boundaries, and entrepreneurs need to have capabilities to grow their businesses globally.

RETP: The knowledge-based economy also means an emphasis on adapting local culture to international trends, monitoring global knowledge, and applying it to business. What does this mean in your specific economic context?

Mladen Cudanov: Finding what specific national traits fit in the global economic puzzle is very hard. In the context of the Serbian economy, most challenges are the same as for Hungary, Iceland, Chile or any other emerging economy, but some are specific. Entrepreneurs must have cultural flexibility and find the mutual traits applicable to all the people but also identify specific “spice” that each national culture has in particular. The ecosystem behind entrepreneurship also needs to help and disseminate global knowledge as fast and as efficiently as possible. That is in particular role of academia, which can no longer rely on the ivory-tower approach, Also, some sterner Humboldt type university concepts are no longer appropriate, and the paradigm of the research university is too slow to create, disseminate and especially apply the knowledge needed by the entrepreneurs. That is why we have established the Danube Cup organization and aim our second international conference on entrepreneurship education: .

RETP: What sectors and economic domains do you anticipate will experience growth in the upcoming decade? Are there any national industrial policies in place that aim to support the establishment and growth of internationally competitive knowledge-based enterprises?

Mladen Cudanov: I believe growth in information and communication technologies (ICT) will continue, especially as fueled by artificial intelligence. However, the demand for some low-tech services will also increase. While our youth finds manual jobs especially unattractive, a gap emerges in the services still inapplicable by AI. Handyman, repair services, and crafts are huge opportunities because the demand will steadily grow, but the supply diminishes. Also, as our village population grows older and migrates to the cities, the demand for soil-grown food will increase. Serbian government keeps pace and like other national governments, is working to answer those calls with digital development strategy, dual education and rural development strategies.

RETP:  In the context of the Central and Eastern European region, where business organizations often face significant corruption issues (as indicated by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index), how can we effectively motivate young individuals to venture into entrepreneurship?

Mladen Cudanov: I would divide this issue into two parts. First is primarily the role of the government and judicial system – it is to use hard means to eliminate corruption and make it not pay for any party in the process. The second part is to change the culture and use softer means by promoting the narrative that we are all on the same ship and how low it is to drill holes in that ship through corruption. We need to educate our future officials, not just to scare them off the corruption, and diminish it as much as possible for entrepreneurship to flourish. Otherwise, motivating youth to venture into startups to fill the coffers of corrupt officials around them is morally questionable. Transparent procedures and public administration digitalisation will be our arsenal tools. I think that the message we need to send to young entrepreneurs is that the gains are still bigger than the hardships, even with the corruption included.

RETP: What challenges arise from the aforementioned trends in entrepreneurship education? What specific professional knowledge and educational tools are required to foster the development of new entrepreneurial skills?

Mladen Cudanov: We need to step out of the traditional means of education. We need to use flipped classrooms, digital and remote learning. We need to adapt our knowledge chunks to the Tic-Toc generation. I am not sure they can stand through a classic ex-cathedra 45-minute class. We need to understand that entrepreneurship is not taught in the university when there is one or two subjects, like “Entrepreneurship”, “Startup management” or so on are put in the curriculum of the study program. Entrepreneurship is taught at the university when, besides focused entrepreneurship subjects, every subject has a part of entrepreneurship in its syllabus. It does not matter if the subject is business/management oriented (like finance, marketing, logistics or quality management) or technical (whatever is the main aim of the study program), entrepreneurship needs and can be infused into it. Entrepreneurship is taught at the university when students have equal chances to learn it in classes and by doing it in the network of extracurricular activities and organizations.

RETP: Is there a recognized necessity to expand entrepreneurship education to public schools, and are there any ongoing initiatives aiming to accomplish this goal?

Mladen Cudanov: Serbian ministry of education has recognized the necessity of entrepreneurship. While the government efforts can and should be criticized, Secondary technical schools students have the subject in their final years, and there are initiatives to incorporate entrepreneurship into elementary schools, even kindergartens. More than two-thirds of EU countries has entrepreneurship integrated in their elementary education. Every “lemonade stand” initiative counts, and we need to work together not only in formal education of all levels, but also on informal education. When the role models of our children are no longer reality-show stars, youtubers, even shady entrepreneurs, but become real entrepreneurs who work hard to discover and create value in the context of high uncertainty, when our children see them properly rewarded and on high recognition, we can say that we are doing a good job.

Thank you for the interview!

Loretta Huszák – László Trautmann

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