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News@Ivey · Jonathan Soriano

Exploring business and education in Montenegro: The Ivey LEADER Project

May 24, 2024

Jonathan Soriano and Sophie Fiala in Montenegro

(Photo on left) l-r: Dominic Lim, Mladen Perazic, Jonathan Soriano, and Sophie Fiala; (Photo on right) l-r: Sophie Fiala and Jonathan Soriano.

Jonathan Soriano is an MBA ’24 candidate and an Executive Director with the Ivey LEADER Project, a student-led international economic development program. In his blog below, he writes about his recent exploratory trip to Podgorica, Montenegro to assess the potential for adding a LEADER site there in 2025.

After wrapping up my MBA at the end of March, I enjoyed a few weeks of down time before my travels with the Ivey LEADER Project took me overseas. As one of the Executive Directors of LEADER, alongside HBA students Sophie Fiala and Lauren Nunes, I am responsible for completing due diligence when LEADER is considering opening a new teaching site. Following months of research, Sophie Fiala and I planned an exploratory trip to Podgorica, Montenegro as the final step in our due diligence process. Having successfully completed this process earlier in the year in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which resulted in the launch of a pilot teaching site, we were excited to be in a similar position with Podgorica.

Strong local business network fuels collaboration

The Chamber of Economy of Montenegro is the institution that would become our site partner if LEADER is to launch. Mladen Perazic, Director of the Education and Quality Department, was our key contact there. Despite the short notice for our trip, he was able to successfully tap into the Chamber’s network and arranged 14 meetings for us over four days. During our meetings, an important topic was continually raised: the need and desire for further collaboration across all industry stakeholders. The Chamber had already developed a strong network and collaborative culture within the business community and was keen on continuing to do so with LEADER. You often learn in school about the importance of these connections, but seeing it in practice and witnessing the benefits firsthand was an eye-opening experience. I was also pleasantly surprised that Filip Petrovic, Trade Commissioner, Embassy of Canada in Serbia, took the time to fly into Montenegro to spend a day with us and ensure our week began well. He has been a strong supporter of LEADER in Serbia, and his presence provided us with additional credibility when pitching LEADER to the Montenegrin business community.

Montenegrin universities support entrepreneurship and innovation

On the third day of our trip, Dominic Lim, PhD ’09, an associate professor of entrepreneurship with the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship Powered by Ivey, joined us. We spent the day visiting the three major universities in Podgorica: University of Montenegro, Mediterranean University, and University of Donja Gorica (UDG). Mladen Perazic was shocked to see how much the University of Montenegro had invested to modernize the facility. I had a similar reaction at UDG when I noticed how much focus had already been placed on entrepreneurship and innovation across a few different industries despite the school only being founded in 2007. In UDG’s “Idea Lab,” all the walls and pillars were made of whiteboard material and covered in ideas scribbled in Montenegrin. I noticed one quote in English on a pillar, which read, “Nothing is more common than an unsuccessful man with a talent.” This is part of a longer quote from former U.S. president Calvin Coolidge that highlights the importance of persistence and determination when solving problems.

A small but potentially mighty economy

Montenegro has a meagre population of 600,000. Coming from Vaughan, Ont., it was difficult for me to fathom an entire country having 600,000 people. The most significant challenge posed by this market size is the “brain drain” to larger economies. Unfortunately, it has become very difficult to keep local talent within Montenegro as options remain sparse, while there is no shortage of opportunities outside the country. Furthermore, the local companies that we spoke with highlighted the importance of exports and tapping into foreign markets, since focusing on a local market that is so small will limit your profitability and growth. For example, Uhura Solutions, a successful artificial intelligence startup in Podgorica, opened an office in London, England, as it began to successfully scale the business. Mladen Perazic mentioned to us that he believes Montenegro will be able to join the European Union in the coming years and hopes that will help to provide access to additional resources as well as present some better business opportunities.

Although we had a week full of business meetings, we still squeezed in some sightseeing. We spent one evening driving down to the Bay of Kotor (the Boka), a distinctive winding bay of the Adriatic Sea, and had some time to explore the town before eating dinner at a restaurant on the beach. On Dominic Lim’s final day, we had lunch together at a restaurant by a lake. There is no doubt this was a successful exploratory trip full of productive meetings, beautiful sights, and fantastic company.