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Markéta Mentelová: Creativity allows companies to truly thrive, not just survive

line-arrow Markéta Mentelová: Creativity allows companies to truly thrive, not just survive

Innovative roof systems, cellos created on a 3D printer and menstrual panties. These are the products of Czech innovative startups that managed to impress at the global competition Creative Business Cup. Coming soon, specifically on the 14th. March in Liberec’s Varšava cinema, other Czech creative startups will try to emulate them at the national final of the Creative Business Cup competition. The winner will go through to the global final in Copenhagen in June.

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This year’s edition also offers a variety of creative solutions (see box at the end of the article). The winning startup needs to win over a five-member jury, before which it will give a three-minute presentation. But even companies that don’t win need not regret it. Participation alone will provide them with invaluable experience, including the opportunity to test the viability of their business model. Will this year’s final be any different from previous ones? What is the preparation for the competition? Read the interview with Markéta Mentelová, Director of the Creative Hub of the CzechInvest state agency, which organizes the Creative Business Cup.

National Final of the Creative Business Cup 2023

Will this year’s Creative Business Cup final be any different from previous ones? What can the audience look forward to?

The evening itself will not be that different, conceptually it will be the same as in previous years. It will feature great startups and cultural performances.

However, this year’s edition will be in a larger format, which we are participating in in cooperation with the innovation centre in Liberec. The final evening will be part of the creative day, which will start in the afternoon. We will organize a creative expo at, where lectures on the topic of “entrepreneurship and creativity” will be held.

Within the Creative Hub of the Technology Incubation project, which falls under CzechInvest, a “Fuck-up Dessert” session will take place. Representatives of universities, innovation centres and companies will be presenting and discussing their “aha moments” in technology transfer. We want to promote cooperation between universities and companies. We will therefore give the floor to speakers who have experience with it to talk about the possible pitfalls of such cooperation.

How can finalists improve their chances of winning?

In practical terms, the contestants have only three minutes to present their case. This is a very short time to introduce their business, which they have been doing for several years. Especially when they’re standing on stage, spotlight shining on them and facing a jury. Such a presentation brings a lot of stress and someone may forget some parts of the presentation.

So my advice to them is to prepare their speeches in advance, not just talk about the awesomeness of their product, but also focus on the practicalities. How their business model works, who they target with their product. We want to hear from them how they think business-wise.

Winner of the national final of Creative Business Cup 2019 – Snuggs

Who will be on the jury this year?

In addition to a representative of CzechInvest, the jury will also include our experienced partners who are active in the startup environment. We usually work with a local innovation centre, so one juror is supplied by In addition, the exhibiting companies will be evaluated by a representative of our partner START IT @ČSOB. We value their experience because they work with startups on a daily basis. The fourth juror will be Tom Cironis from Startup Kitchen and the fifth will be a representative of the Liberec marketing agency maveb. media.

Why did you choose Liberec as a venue?

We are such nomads with this competition, we like to hold it somewhere else every time. We don’t want everything to take place in Prague. In the selected region we try to mobilise all those involved in the creative industries. This includes the city, the region, innovation and creative institutions, but we are also interested in involving local universities and secondary schools.

In the beginning, we chose the locations ourselves in a small team and we oriented ourselves mainly according to where the creative centre was in the region. As the prestige of the competition grew, regional branches of CzechInvest became more interested in organizing it. They are often already well connected to regional actors.

This year we chose Liberec not only because it is a beautiful city with a rich creative history thanks to glassmaking, but also because there was a great interest from the region to host the national finals.

So the activity comes from your regional branches, which then compete with each other for the organisership?

I wouldn’t call it a competition. As the sponsor of the Creative Business Cup, I involve both colleagues from the headquarters and regional offices in the selection of the venue. As this is a demanding event in terms of organisation, we are checking their capacities, coherence with partners and other things. It has never happened that we have not agreed together, and if someone fails to host, next year we will give the region in question extra points in the selection process.

Winner of the national final of the Creative Business Cup 2022 – MyCello

How long does it take to prepare a given year?

It runs more or less all year round, only during the summer we have holidays. In September we are already probing interest in hosting from our regions. In October, we will open applications for startups and start discussions with partners. The following period is in January, when we select the TOP 10 startups. At that time, the preparation begins to intensify.

The national finals are in March, but then there is the international finals in Copenhagen in June, which we are also preparing for.

In the cooperation between the headquarters and the CzechInvest branches, is it true that one party has the decisive word? Or is it more of a consensus?

I would call it mutual cooperation. We always establish who is responsible for what, and we break down the tasks. For example, marketing is always the responsibility of the head office, while the regions are more concerned with local partnerships, but everything is always in coordination with each other, which I primarily oversee.

What are the biggest achievements that the Creative Business Cup has accomplished during its existence?

We are excited about the success of Czech startups in the world finals. In 2019 and 2022, Czech winners snuggs and MyCello took bronze. Last year, our country achieved the greatest success, Nebesys won the global first place.

I myself see the growing response to the Creative Business Cup as a great success. The small competition has become the flagship of our organisation within CzechInvest, now also under the banner of Creative Hub.

Now it’s a big well-known event that can attract startups. I dare say that CzechInvest has managed to raise the prestige of the creative industries. Thanks to this, there was a will to create a creative incubator.

What is CzechInvest’s relationship to the winner of the national final? Are you preparing him in any way for the global?

We are in contact with them and we want them to represent us in the best possible way. We arrange practical things like flights and accommodation for them. But beyond that, we will put them in touch with the organisers of the global finals. They organize the preparatory workshops, and then we act as a coordinator to make everything work.

What direction do you want the competition to take in the future?

I like tradition, so I don’t want to change something that works. I would like to continue with the competition in the same spirit.

However, we are counting on extending the final day according to the Liberec model. We want to create an afternoon program where not only the finalists but also other creative startups from the region will be presented. This year we will check if there will be interest in this format. If so, we’ll turn it into a one-day creative event.

Why should Czech creative startups apply to the Creative Business Cup?

Primarily they should be attracted by the possibility of winning, increasing prestige and participation in the global finals. Who wouldn’t want that?

But of course, there are many other things. Startups will get the opportunity to connect with potential investors. Some have gone through this phase and have a tested business model. But we also encounter companies that are only working on their product and have not yet addressed the business side of their business.

For such companies, participation in the competition will provide invaluable experience. They have to send a business plan at the beginning of the application process, which will make them think about some things. While it’s nice to come up with something new, you also need to keep in mind who their customers will be or what their marketing strategy will be. This phase already makes them consolidate their thoughts. In the competition, they will meet other startups through which they will gain contacts and with whom they can share their experience. They will also get feedback from the judges.

Another interesting experience awaits them with the preparation of the presentation, which they have to do in three minutes. Taking part in the Creative Business Cup may bring them a bit of stress to deal with. But we want the final night to be a pleasant experience for them.

The stress resilience gained in the competition will be useful in future negotiations with investors we invite to the competition. Startups get the opportunity to introduce themselves to them and potentially get in their crosshairs. Another benefit is the opportunity to present ourselves in the media, through which we try to promote the competition.

Which investors are they?

In the case of the competition itself, it’s such a mix. For example, venture capital funds, because CzechInvest cooperates with them a lot. But angel investors often show up on the final night and often turn out to have a few million available and are looking for a use for it.

What experience can startups take from last year’s winner Nebesys, who went on to win the world final?

That it’s obviously possible. It is often said that we Czechs are not so confident in business. That we are afraid to start companies, that we are not as forward-thinking and so on. I would say that fortunately this attitude is changing, but we are still afraid of failure. Heaven serves as a reminder not to worry when you have a great product.

National final of Creative Business Cup 2023 – the winning startup Nebesys is in the forefront

What do you think is the role of creative thinking in business?

Fundamental. Take it from the consumer’s point of view. The market today meets many of our needs. But still, more startups with original ideas keep applying to our incubators. New companies need to be creative to attract attention, but at the same time look for new ways.

It’s not a problem to make something nowadays. Creativity allows companies to not only survive, but to truly thrive.

How are the creative industries in the Czech Republic in terms of investor interest? Do you see more investment in creative startups?

I am not in daily contact with investors, so it is more difficult for me to judge. But I would break it down by scalability. For non-scalable projects, such as theatre or paintings, creativity is essential. I may like these products as a person, but we can’t evaluate them at CzechInvest and Creative HUB, so I don’t even meet investors in these areas.

Last autumn, I made inquiries about the creative industries with what I would call classic venture capitalists. I applied this mainly to the gaming industry, which is, on the other hand, well scalable. However, even here they mainly considered the creative side rather than scalability. Creativity is difficult for them to judge and therefore creative industries, in this case despite the increasing valuation of the gaming industry, represent a risk for them. Their complete focus on finding the next unicorn (a company with a valuation of over a billion dollars) and their ignorance of that very creative process leads them to be overly cautious of the creative industries.

However, if it is a product close to them and well scalable (usually a software application) with an overlap into the creative industries, I would say that the investors’ behaviour is appropriate to the market situation, i.e. sometimes it is a good time to invest, sometimes it is not.

What advice would you give to people who are thinking about starting a creative startup?

I would like to encourage aspiring creatives not to be afraid. We have many institutions in our country that are involved in supporting entrepreneurs. It is not only the regional offices of CzechInvest, but also various innovation centres in the regions. I recommend they set up a consultation. Thanks to it, they will be able to verify their business model and find out about financing options.

Author Igor Březina

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