Yassen, the co-founder and Managing Director of Malkite5 in Bulgaria went to Serbia in July 2017 to meet Nova Iskra through the European Creative Hubs Network and the Peer-to-Peer Scheme (P2P). This is his article about the experience of exchanging knowledge, creative hub to creative hub.
Does working with friends really work?
Yes indeed, says Yassen Stanchev, the co-founder and Managing Director of the co-working space Malkite5. Last month, he visited the design incubator Nova Iskra in Belgrade as part of the European Creative Hubs P2P Scheme.
Established six years ago, Nova Iskra started as a joint project between friends and evolved in one of the coolest places in town — the sweet spot where arts, crafts, and even corporate people intersect.
Two of the founders of Nova Iskra, Marko Radenković and his sister Nana Radenković, gathered a group of close friends together — people who were just looking at what to do next. Amongst them was also Relja Bobić, now an Education Platform Coordinator at Nova Iskra, who, back then, was working independently for more than 10 years in the field of media arts and musical events. And that’s how Nova Iskra was born in 2011.
And because there are always pitfalls along the way, the team initially chose a location that just didn’t feel right, however, after a couple of months they finally found their perfect home in the heart of Savamala, an up-and-coming neighbourhood of Belgrade with lots of bars, kebab places and small art galleries.
After the physical location was figured out, the team started to build their own community as well as the public image of the company. As usually happens — when you’re good at what you do and you do it with passion, the nimble little setup of Nova Iskra attracted more and more people who wanted to be part of the community. “People were coming along because they had heard that there’s something exciting and new going on here. That’s how we met and become friends with a lot of talented folks and were able to build our different teams of entrepreneurs, designers, tech and art professionals. Today, they are the face of our co-working space”, says Relja.
Most of his colleagues at Nova Iskra are professionals with academic background in cultural management who had worked in the advertising industry or public cultural institutions like museums, theaters, and so on. Contrary to other co-working spaces, at Nova Iskra one can find not only Community and Event Managers but also Educational Program Manager, Fundraising Manager, and an in-house designer.
Education done right
With such a cool and diverse team, it was just a matter of time before clients started knocking on Nova Iskra’s door. Most of the time they wanted to present their product or service at the space, or to start an initiative together with the team of the space. Today, amongst the coolest projects of Nova Iskra are courses in 3D Printing, Crowdfunding, Design Management and even a print magazine that they publish in collaboration with a group of journalists and editors. This September, they are also launching a course in Modular Synthesizers — an emerging field in the production of music that is now going to be part of Nova Iskra’s commercial program.
“Unfortunately it’s still hard for young people here to finance and invest in that type of education. Maybe if the economic situation here was better, 100€ fee for a one-month course would have not been too much for them”, says Relja. And that’s the reason why the team sometimes even manages to raise funds for the courses they offer through crowdfunding so they can be free of charge.
Actually, the educational program of Nova Iskra was one of the first pillars of the co-working space back in 2012. “We didn’t have any money, however, we’ve had a pop-up classroom that was basically everything we needed in terms of infrastructure, so we decided to kick-off. Since then, we organized more than 300 projects within the program — lectures and workshops, on one hand, and seminars, on the other.” The team also launched their very own Student Program, funded by a big Serbian logistics and transportation company. This program is a great chance for 25 students to benefit from mentorship, insightful lectures and workshops, and expert consultations – a chance to talk for free with experienced professionals who can provide them with the big picture but also some very practical advice in different fields. Usually, the last workshop they do is with international guest artists.
Projects, projects, projects
Apart from all this, the team recently launched a spin-off company called Nova Iskra Studio, doing everything — from industrial design and food packaging, to branding and communications. Based on the brief they receive from the client, the team chooses the right people for the project which means designers not only from the co-working space but also from their wider network of over 200 affiliates. “We usually know in advance who would be the best choice for a particular job — if, for example, the deadline is tight, we know who is the fastest. And when the project is really interesting, people are always ready to jump in”, says Relja.
Another big project of the team is called Folkk, their first social business brand. “Last month, we have successfully raised 20 000 dollars via Kickstarter to fund our initiative which means that now we’ll be able to work together with craftsmen and small producers from Serbia in order to manufacture traditional wooden and textile objects.”, elaborates Relja. This project is the result of a year long research on traditional crafts that the team did. “After we were done with the research, we organized an invite-only pitch for designers to present their products and ideas. We selected 12 great designers from the region and did a lot of prototyping with them. In the end, we came down to four products that we’ll produce and sell — 2 wooden ones and 2 hand-woven.
And because the team want to show to the world all these unique, creative projects and activities, they are now working on their two new websites — one for the co-working space and a second one for all the programs, projects, and collaborations. So if you want to be up to date with what’s cool in Belgrade, especially in the creative fields, check out regularly Nova Iskra’s new website at novaiskra.com or their Instagram account.