Declared the Best Female Entrepreneur in 2015, Zivka Kostadinovska was one of the first participants in the Self-Employment Programme set up by UNDP and the Government nine years ago to help unemployed people start up their own companies. Initially piloted in 2007 and soon expanded nationwide, the highly successful Programme has since directly supported the creation of almost 8,000 new companies.
Zivka’s journey to the top started when she first had the simple but smart idea of tapping into the growing demand across the world for organic, additive-free food—a demand that was then still far from being met by the country’s suppliers.
“We started from our kitchen table,” says Zivka. “Working with my daughter we experimented with different combinations of organic ingredients and recipes from the internet. One of our first successes was with our own variation of simple vegetarian crackers. Once we were confident that our products could sell, I applied to the Self-Employment Programme with our business idea.”
Following her successful application, Zivka attended the Programme’s workshop—an intensive four-day training course carefully designed by UNDP to help participants acquire basic business skills and receive expert advice on how to develop their business plans and put them into practice.
“The advice I got from the trainers and mentors at the workshop helped me knock my business plan into shape,” says Zivka. “It was only a short course but I’m still applying the lessons we learnt today.”
Equipped with basic business knowledge and ever-greater confidence in her idea, Zivka started up the Aronija Healthy Food Company and used the 3,000 Euros she received as part of the Programme to purchase various types of flour, nuts and moulds for producing the company’s first batches of vegetarian desserts.
Sales were highly encouraging and the company’s initial success enabled Zivka to open her first shop in Veles and take on new employees. At the same time, she started working on establishing the company’s brand, Biocosmos. This brand name has since emerged as one of the most popular in the country. The distinctive green Biocosmos logo is now found on dozens of organic products on display in all main supermarkets, as well as in five specialised Biocosmos shops.
With demand growing daily, Zivka decided to hand over the responsibilities of management to her daughter Aneta, who is now the driving force behind the business.
Today the company employs 24 full-time employees and is set for further growth as Zivka and Aneta embark on a new area for expansion—the production of gluten-free food.
“We’ve been keeping a close eye on the local health food market over the years,” Aneta explains, “and we’ve seen a strong and growing demand for good quality gluten-free food. We feel pretty sure we can meet that demand and that’s why we’ll soon be opening a new factory and taking on some five new employees to produce gluten-free foods.”
Aneta says she is following the same formula for the company’s growth that her mother adopted when she first set up Biocosmos—starting out with a limited variety of simple products and gradually expanding the range.
“Once we’ve built up a strong gluten-free brand we’re hoping to take things a step further and expand into other markets in the region,” says Aneta. “That’s our key long-term challenge – breaking into new markets. And that will require major investment in brand promotion.“
The company’s strengths were recognized when Zivka was awarded the title of Best Female Entrepreneur in a 2015 ceremony organized to identify standout success stories from the Programme.
Over the past nine years, 25,000 people from all over the country have applied for the Self-Employment Programme and almost ten thousand have now undertaken the Programme’s 30-hour training workshop, receiving help to boost their entrepreneurial skills and counselling from experts to develop their business plans.
Working with the National Employment Service Agency and the 30 local Employment Centers, the programme identifies unemployed people with business talent and helps them turn their ideas into reality.
The types of new businesses created vary greatly, including firms providing legal and accountancy services, hairdressing salons, dental surgeries, cafes and restaurants, farms and even tattoo parlors!
A total of 7,721 new businesses have been created in the nine years since the Programme was launched, 35% of which are run by women entrepreneurs and 31% by young people. A remarkable 70% of the companies created through the Programme have remained active.
Many of the companies set up through the Self-Employment Programme have gone on to expand and every fifth active company has recruited new employees. Today, the top 100 companies created with the support of the Programme now employ over 700 people.