[Women’s Month 2023] Interview with Mirela Marović Omerzu of BIZkoshnica Coworking
Mirela Marović Omerzu is an economist and the founder of the company BIZkoshnica Coworking in Zagreb. BIZkoshnica is an inspiring coworking space and a creative hub for Croatian and foreign entrepreneurs, where they can work, brainstorm, cooperate, and develop innovations. They nurture the feeling of being at home and closeness between members.
As part of our Women’s Month campaign, female-owned businesses and women in leadership in Croatia were nominated for recognition by YOU – our audience. Our independent panel of Croatian professionals selected 4 extraordinary businesses to be interviewed and featured on expatincroatia.com. BIZkoshnica was selected as the winner in the Social Enterprise category, deservedly so.
I spoke with Mirela on February 15, 2023, during which we talked about…
- Where is Mirela from
- Learning from a father
- Entrepreneurial spirit
- Opening BIZkoshnica
- Naming the company
- BIZkosnica’s members
- Why is BIZkosnica special
- Running the EU project
- Challenges and creativity
- Government subsidies
- Tax office and reductions
- What she’d do differently
- Opening new locations
- Private vs. business life
- Advice to new entrepreneurs
- Final thoughts
Read the full interview below…
Interview with Mirela Marović Omerzu of BIZkoshnica Coworking
Mirela: Yes, yes, I was born near Zagreb. It’s a place called Rakov Potok – on the way to the seaside, 20 kilometers from Zagreb. I went to school in Zagreb. My second year of college, like it was too calm in Zagreb, and I decided to go abroad to study.
I went to Vienna and continued to study there. I was studying at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. I stayed for 10 years, I think.
Sara: Oh wow!
Mirela: Out of family reasons, I moved back to Croatia. Because my father had a family-owned company. He had some, let’s say, issues with employees.
He wanted me and my brother to help and work with him. I worked with him a few years, but family business, you know, that’s not good. These family relationships and doing business together, it was not so fine.
I decided to start something on my own, not be part of this family business. On the one hand, I have this entrepreneurial spirit, thanks to my dad and the environment where I grew up. But I wanted to be my own boss, and be responsible for myself.
Mirela: I learned a lot from him, observing what he is doing. He was, in many things, a pioneer in that time in Croatia. Entrepreneurship, some 40 years ago, was not a thing. I mean, very, very few people did. They had this obrt, or craft, but it was called something else.
He was one of those first real entrepreneurs. He had the idea and saw some opportunity on the market, and he did it. He was, let’s say, street-smart. On that way, I was also copying him, and seeing how he’s doing it. Me and my brother got a good education and had a good basis to make it on a bigger scale.
Mirela: It was early. Even in school, I got something, and I would sell it to my classmates. Also, I liked very much to organize things, maybe some field trips or some travels. I would get together a group of people and then organize everything.
At that time, I didn’t know that’s entrepreneurial but when I’m thinking now, I see, these were starts and then sparks.
I needed to have a corporate career. That was my wish. I’ve finished my studies, I wanted to have this consultancy career, I wanted to work in different industries, and somehow worked in a couple of them.
Then I saw, I would do that differently. I had these issues with bosses, with authorities. I didn’t like these working hours; I have to be in the office from nine in the morning to I don’t know when.
I wanted to go around and work but also to organize my time, how I want it. That’s only possible if you’re your boss and you’re responsible for your things. Now I see it, but that was intrinsic. From inside, it came somehow.
Sara: I understand. Honestly, I was the same. There were these little dolls I made from wire that I sold in my dad’s office when I was a kid. I was always looking for different projects. You opened up BIZkoshnica in 2012, right?
Mirela: It was actually 2015. At that time, there was Impact Hub in Zagreb. I think they opened it in 2013. We were, let’s say, the first coworking in Zagreb.
Sara: That’s a solid five years before the digital nomad trend really took off. When you opened, what inspired you, and did you foresee this boom of remote working in the future?
Mirela: Honestly, not really. What drove me was this – there are people like me, small entrepreneurs, who would like to work together, who needed a place to work, and to share resources, and get connections.
At that time, I was working from home. I was on my second maternity leave with my younger son. I was writing different EU proposals for EU projects for different clients. I needed to go out, to go somewhere to work. I was stressed all the time and with a small child. I really needed this – just to get some people and talk about anything else, besides “mom things”. That was how the idea came.
Let’s have a space where I can meet these, like-minded people. I also assumed if I have this need, there must be also people that have similar needs. Then I met Matija from the Croatian Freelancers Association. In 2014, they did big research on the needs of freelancers in Zagreb, mostly, and in Croatia. They were also thinking of opening a similar space.
That was the push. He told me, “We need something.” They had 2.000 members, and I thought if only 5% of the people come to my place, that’s going to be sustainable. That’s how this business idea was born.
Mirela: It was one coffee with this friend of mine. We were talking that it’s this atmosphere of business, busyness, like in košnica – like to be busy as a bee. We called these different packages “Busy bee”, “Super busy bee” but in Croatian.
For Croatians, it’s memorable. It was a really good name. Also, in the beginning, we had lots of this PR. Then when I met someone at some conference, when I was introducing myself, “I’m from BIZkoshnica” [they would say], “I know, I heard for BIZkoshnica.”
For me, it was like “Wow, how did you know about us?” The media was really interested in the concept of coworking. I didn’t have any money to offer PR and marketing, but we had pretty good PR coverage. Free, of course.
Mirela: I would say, 70% to 30% Croatians to foreigners. We are based on Ilica at British square, near to the main square. It’s a good location for foreigners because they mostly have AirBNBs around in the center. It is walkable.
We have many members who started to come to work with us because they needed this business address for their obrt or d.o.o. company, so we started this virtual office service. I was observing the need.
Plavi ured (Blue Office) is an organization in Zagreb helping young entrepreneurs. I went there to do a couple of seminars. In talking with people, I saw how there is this need they have. They’re mostly working from home, but they need a professional business address. So why don’t we offer them an address, but also a possibility to network with other entrepreneurs? This service helped us to exist during the pandemic.
Mirela: I would say our size. I like to say that we are like boutique coworking, that sounds so nice. We’re not too big, and we are really connected. All people that work in BIZkoshnica are somehow friends. We tend to grow this culture of a family – these close connections. That’s why we are different.
From the start, I wanted it like that. We have a space that is professional, and can have serious business meetings here, but also, it has this feeling of a home or living room. Speaking now of feedback that we get from our members, I really think that we succeeded in this. They will say, “It’s this vibe, it’s this coziness”. At the same time, it’s where you can also invite some serious clients or do big business.
Sara: It truly sounds like a beehive made up of a family of bees. I’ve been in coworking spaces, here and there. It can feel kind of isolating. You are around other people, but you’re not – you’re isolated in your own little pods. I think this community sounds really nice.
You are currently running the EU project which makes your coworking space the first socially entrepreneurial coworking space in Croatia. Can you tell us exactly what that means, what your goals for this project are, and what you’re most proud of regarding this project?
Mirela: When this call came out, it was before the pandemic. I thought “We have to apply for these funds because it’s in accordance with our socially entrepreneurial goals.” In developing this project, I was thinking, whom are we helping really? These people are starting their businesses from scratch. These are young people mostly or women who had different kinds of careers but are also thinking of starting something for themselves. Young people and female entrepreneurs are our target audience.
We are running different kinds of workshops, educations to really help entrepreneurs in different phases to work on their skills, and to develop their businesses, but also to check if their business or idea could also be a social enterprise.
Here in Croatia, it’s a concept that’s not so known or popular. Because of history, because people think it’s something like socialism, people are running away from that concept. There are so many possibilities. We need to promote the concept and talk about it more and educate people. This is our goal with this “Social Entrepreneurial Koshnica”.
We are planning to organize a social entrepreneurship podcast. We invite people or businesses that are doing good things for the community, for the environment. We are planning a couple of different networking events. Everything with this scope – to help others or to help people who don’t have many opportunities.
It’s great that we got project and funds, but also, when I think [about it], that’s what we try to do from the start of Koshnica. I’m now planning lots of things, how to develop it further when these funds will be finished.
What are the typical challenges that you encounter running a business like yours? Is there any specific policy rule or requirements that the government imposes that you feel like is hindering your ability to grow your business?
Mirela: When people decide to start something, I think that the government is not helping. We’re really, in Croatia, creative people. But then the government is doing everything to kill this creativity. You must obey all these different [rules]. If you’re a founder of a company, then you must pay your salary first. These things don’t motivate people. In the first one to three years, we need more flexibility to put this business on more stable ground.
In that start, we could get more support from the government, not like in any financial way, but maybe loosening these numerous silly rules could help. Now the atmosphere is much, much better than 10 years ago.
In general, entrepreneurs like it much better. It used to be only criminals were entrepreneurs. That’s for real, but now people are solving real problems. I would say entrepreneurs need more flexibility. That’s crucial.
Sara: I agree with you on paying yourself as the founder. When you first start a business, you don’t have any income. From the very beginning, you must pay yourself this high salary, and you start in debt. That’s not an easy place to begin a business. Is there anything that you feel the Croatian government is doing right for entrepreneurs?
Mirela: Yeah, there are these subsidies for the people who are starting their business, but they also in some way limit people who are taking those. They direct them: “You can use these funds for specific things.” Maybe the founder would use it better in some other way.
Some counties, like Zagreb, have different projects [for] supporting entrepreneurs. We need to encourage them to have more. Those are good.
Sara: You mentioned the government should allow more flexibility for companies, aside from the founder having to be paid, is there anything else that comes to mind that you wish they would change that would give more flexibility to business owners?
Mirela: Maybe some tax reductions or not being so strict. We are all aware we need to pay taxes, and we don’t have anything against them, but [don’t be] so rigid. I’m feeling it from my point of view, like small companies. Bigger companies have more space and freedom.
Maybe have different [policies] for micropreneurs, then small entrepreneurs. I’m sometimes crazy when I have to prepare all these documents for my accountant. I’m always with this fear, “Aaah, I am doing something wrong.”
I can tell you one story. We serve many companies that are registered here at our address. Once we got the call from the tax office, they want to visit us.
Sara: Oof, that’s not good.
Mirela: I said we’re not doing anything, we have contracts, everything is regular. They came, a guy and a girl, one was a bad guy, one was good. They sent similar invitations to our members. Some reacted like they were in fear. Then they came to that meeting, and it was nothing. It was just a random conversation. They saw that there are many new companies registered at this address, and they just wanted to meet them in person and to talk with them, [see] what they’re doing, maybe to give some advice.
From the side of the Ministry of Finance, they need to establish some connection or relationship with this small company. That was a really great example. Let’s start talking, and then we, as entrepreneurs, we can say “Aha, we don’t like this, but maybe we could…” and [the ministry] can change some things, so we are [not] on opposite sides. We should work together. In the end, we are paying their salaries.
Sara: You’re right. I do feel like the taxpayer – regardless of whether they’re an individual or business – there’s this adversary kind of relationship with the tax office. I feel like I’m constantly living in fear.
Mirela: They can always find something going on. Okay, but let’s please educate me or tell me what I’m doing wrong. I won’t do it next time.
Sara: You’ve had your business open for nearly a decade. When you look back on the last 8 years, do you feel like your business looks like you expected it would? Is there anything that you feel like you wish you would have done differently?
Mirela: Oh, when I imagined it, I thought that it didn’t happen like this, it was slow. It was nothing like a miracle. But it brought many other business opportunities that I haven’t expected. BIZkoshnica itself also changed me.
In the beginning, I had different goals and expectations, I was more into, “I want to grow something big.” Now? Now, not so much. I’m more into these quality relationships. It’s not that I don’t want to develop it further. We are now opening a second location in Zagreb that is going to be bigger than this one but with the same concept.
I’m always coming back to these two years of this pandemic, which helped me a lot to rethink the whole business. Before the beginning of 2020, the business went really well. We had bookings until October. I was kind of bored. I was not thinking a lot about this business, so I think it happened for a reason. After this pandemic, we started rethinking the whole strategy, mission, into this socially responsible way, a more sustainable way. That was a rather big transformation for me as a business owner.
Mirela: I would like to go outside of Zagreb. We’re also planning [our] next location is Opatija. It’s going to be the next step – coworking plus co-living space. We would like to offer this sense of community that we’re developing here – to connect to foreigners that are coming here and to offer coworking and accommodation. It’s one house with different rooms and small studios.
This was planned for this year, but things slowed a bit, so we’re hoping it’s going to be either autumn or 2024. That’s one of our big plans. Also, maybe through this podcast that we are also developing, BIZkoshnica [can] be some kind of hub for social enterprises – from Croatia, or maybe the region. We can promote them and connect with similar businesses from other countries since we are in this Erasmus Plus project for young people and have quite a big international network of organizations with whom we work.
That could be a great way to share these experiences with them. We really like small, small steps and small projects. But they have rather quite a big impact.
Sara: It sounds like you have a lot of things on the horizon. You mentioned you have a younger son. How do you manage that separation between your work life and your personal life? Do you feel you’ve had to make any big sacrifices to be an entrepreneur?
Mirela: Being an entrepreneur can help you better balance work and life. In my case, that’s not so divided. My kids often come here to BIZkoshnica. We are rather close. I also try to organize lots of things that schools also can use. So, it’s not so strictly divided.
My son is now at home, he has a little cold. I’m more flexible, I can go and spend time with him. If I had to work in some bank or somewhere I couldn’t go. So, I think being a woman entrepreneur gives you certain flexibility. That’s one of the things that I started this whole thing.
In choosing projects, I’m always thinking “Would that be something useful for my kids in the future?” I love when I see that they’re interested in this thing that I’m doing. We are doing one project for the mental health of young people. I see that kids are having serious mental issues.
I’m always thinking would that be something good for my family and for this smaller circle of people. That’s why I would say, “I spend lots of time working.”, but that’s also not work. If I should do only one thing for eight hours, I would get crazy. These different things I really liked.
Today, I had a really nice meeting with this girl that is going to facilitate this podcast. We had some brainstorming that fueled me. So, then I went home to give lunch to my son, I got back in the afternoon, and handled some workshops. I feel satisfied. That’s a good feeling.
Sara: It feeds your soul, it sounds like. Through this EU-funded program, you’re mentoring these young entrepreneurs. What is your biggest piece of advice to a young entrepreneur, or any person who is considering or dreaming about being an entrepreneur, but they’re just they’re a bit too intimidated? What would you say to inspire them to start exploring it?
Mirela: Stop overthinking and analyzing everything. They should start and take an action. That was the biggest lesson that I had because I was not always secure. You should really try. Maybe it won’t turn up the way that you imagined, but it will turn out in the right way that will bring you some other people or opportunities in your life.
Just remember, if you hadn’t started, what would happen? Nothing. You should go for it – even if you don’t have a clear thing. Just to be okay with it.
Sara: Taking action is great advice. If you don’t take an action, you never know how it’s gonna turn out. There are a lot of small actions to take before you get to that big one of opening up a company. Fear comes from the unknown. When you start exploring that idea and take those little actions, it’s no longer unknown to you, and you just get closer and closer to that idea. I think that advice is perfect.
Mirela: The unknown gives you answers often to the questions you really didn’t know that you had.
Mirela: Find joy in everything that you do – in small things, in one conversation, or in a sunny day. This is what can bring us forward – enjoying something that we often take for granted. Just observe and see that we often have everything that we want. It’s here, but we are sometimes not conscious of it. That’s something that is helping me, but I’m working on that every day.
Sara: We were lucky that we found the thing that we enjoy doing. That is such a privilege. I remind myself all the time how lucky I feel to have found that thing that brings me joy. It’s clear hearing you talk about your business and your journey that it brings you joy too, so congratulations on building such a magnificent project that’s not just a business, but also something that’s having a measurable impact on your community. It’s been such an honor to speak with you today. Thank you, Mirela.
View the full list of Women’s Month 2023 winners here. We will publish a new female entrepreneur interview every week during March. Stay tuned…
Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.