Over 20 Exciting Years with Business Innovation Programs (BIP)

On the morning the 2nd of May 1996 at 09.00 am the first meeting between Jon Steinar Østfold and Bjørn Reite took place at the regional agency for development in Sarpsborg Norway. Jon had returned to Norway after several years abroad working for VingCard (hotel card lock manufacturer with head office in Moss).

At this point there were more than 12.000 Bosnian refugees in Norway and discussion was about how to use their knowledge in order to increase export and import together with local Norwegian companies.  Jon Steiner kept saying that in export the most important thing is to find the right people to cooperate with, they have be reliable, know the culture and the language.

Based on this discussion the “Ostfold model” was established in 1996, aiming to support Bosnian refugees to work in Norwegian companies and by doing that strengthen the company’s ability to do business in the Balkans. In addition to that, Bosnian refugees in Norway were given knowledge of how to start businesses and the first practical material for startups was made in Bosnian language.

This idea was presented to the Norwegian Refugee Council, and together “the Ostfold model” and NRC started the first business centre in the city of Sanski Most, Bosnia in 1997.

The center was manned with trained Bosnians returning from Norway, trained in Sarpsborg, and became an immediate success.  More than 200 local entrepreneurs attended the Business Start-up training in Sanski Most the first year, and a small credit line was established. 52 started a real business and 29 entrepreneurs were given loans up to 2000 Euro. A year later BIP made a survey and 27 of the companies that got loans had survived and created 198 workplaces. All these companies were working in production.

Norwegian visit to Business Centre in Sanski Most

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NORAD were at this time interested in business development as a part of aid and cooperation in development projects, and “the Ostfold model” was supported and the programs were expanded.

In 1998 we got the first Credit Line in place in Sanski Most and meetings were held between Norwegian and Bosnian companies.

Subsequently, in January 1999, Business innovation Programs (BIP) was established as a nonprofit foundation, with head office in Moss Norway.

1996 The “Ostfold model”

Business innovation Programs (BIP) was established as a non profit foundation in Moss Norway in January 1999. However, already in May 1996 the first projects were made aiming to give Bosnian refugees in Norway knowledge of how to start business and to make the first practical material for startups in Bosnian language.

This was called the ”Ostfold modell” and was a project managed by the local agency for small business development in Sarpsborg (Ostfold Bedriftrådgiving AS). A school for business training was set up for refugees from Balkan and the first Business Start-up center was established in Sanski Most in Bosnia & Hercegovina (BiH) in 1997 together with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

Norwegian newspaper cutting

1997 Starting in Bosnia and Hercegovina

The center was manned with trained Bosnians returning from Norway, trained at the BIP school in Sarpsborg, and became an immediate success. More than 200 local entrepreneurs attended the Business Start-up training in Sanski Most the first year, and a small credit line was established. 52 started a real businne and 29 entrepreneurs were given loans up to 2000 Euro. On year later BIP made a survey and 27 of the companies that got loans had survived and created 198 workplaces. All these companies were working in production.

Sanski Most

1998 Startup Program in Eastern Slavonia (Croatia, Osijek and Vukovar)

In 1998 Ministry of Foreign affairs invited BIP to establish a Business Start-up Program in Easten Slavonia (Vokuvar –Osijec area) after more than 2000 serbian refugees had come to Norway. Based on the experience from Sanski Most, BIP established a business start-up program in the region together with Center for Entrepreneurship in Osijec. A credit line was implemented and more than 200 loans were given to local entrepreneurs. In 2007, 198 of these loans were payed back and the money was returned to Norway.

Local trainers were trained as consultants and could soon take over the start-up Programs and run it locally.

In this period some new programs were made:

  • Student entrepreneurship program in secondary schools
  • Testing a Growth program for existing businesses inspired from the Norwegian FRAM-program for SMEs.  

The programs in Croatia were handed over to local partners in 2006.


1999-2011 Expanding the work in the Balkans

In the period from 1999 until 2011, the programs expanded in the Balkans. In Eastern Slavonia in Croatia the programs grew in size and the working methodology spread to most of the countries in the Balkans.

  • 2001 Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Student Entrepreneurship Programs was introduced in 2001, and in 2005 more than 50 schools attended the program all over BiH. The program was approved by Ministries of Education in 2007. Business Start-up for adult entrepreneurs expanded in BIH from 2008. In 2009 the Growth Program for established businesses was introduced in Herzegovina. The programs were handed over to local partners in 2016.
  • 2003 Serbia: The BIP Student Enterprise program started in central Serbia (Beograd and Kragujevac area). The Startup program was introduced in 2004 and a specific program targeting young entrepreneurs was implemented together with the Ministry of Finance in 2008. The same year the Growth Programs was started and lasted for two years in the area around Kragujevac. The programs were handed over to local partners in 2011.  
  • 2004 Kosovo: Startup and Student Entrepreneurship Program were established together with Assembly of Norwegian Municipalities (KS) and local partners. The programs were handed over to local partners in 2011.
  • 2008 Montenegro: Student Enterprise Program was started. In 2007 the first international summer camp for Student Enterprises was established. At the Summer Camp the best student enterprises from all over Balkans and from Østfold County in Norway participated. The last summer camp was held in 2014. In spring 2016 more than 17.800 students had participated in the Student Enterprise Program in the Balkans.  
Student Enterprise Summer Camp Sutomore 2014
Growth Program, Seminar for Business from BiH 2014

2002 Moving to other areas

After the success working with refugees from Eastern Slavonia, BIP was asked by UDI (Norwegian immigration authorities) to make a program for other refugees coming to Norway. Some of the refugees wanted to establish their own business in Norway or when returning home. Refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Somalia participated in trainings for making business plans. Many returned to their home countries, now with concrete business plans for the future, and some even bought second hand equipment and machines in Norway for starting businesses in their homeland. Others with resident permit started their business in Norway or were know motivated and skilled to find jobs in existing companies.

UDI training for Iraqis in Bergen 2005

2006 Iraq

UDI financed BIPs first business center in Northern Iraq with the aim of supporting returnees from Norway. This approach seemed to work according to expectations and the program was strengthened in 2008 through the IRRINI program. The Business trainings were also needed and wanted by local entrepreneurs in Iraq, and a new project was therefore established in 2011. This new program was made in close cooperation with The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry for Youth and Sport in Iraq.

New bakery in the old part of Erbil, 2007

2011-2016 Iraq

The program for starting new businesses in Iraq developed to be a full scale Iraqi business development program. The program is financed the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and operated from the Norwegian Embassy in Amman. By December 2015 the program has following key figures:

  • 220 certified startup trainers located all over Iraq
  • 36 mentor trainers supporting the startup teams 
  • A female entrepreneurs program implemented from 2014
  •  So far more than 17.000 participants have attended the trainings and more than 1.600 new companies have been started.
  • The Ministry of Labour has established a loan program for Iraqi Startups, a certificate from the BIP training is needed for applying.
  • The Startup training has also been tested in refugee camps in Iraq with great success. Both refugees from Syria and Internally displaced Iraqies (IDPs).  

In spring 2016 the program is under further development in close cooperation with The Minister of Foreign Affairs in Norway and Iraqi Ministries.

Certification Ceremony for Trainers. Dymania, Iraq, November 2013.

The BIP Business Development Project in Iraq provides excellent results

The Iraqi Ministry of Labour has for several years and with great dedication supported and actively participated in the programs that Business Innovation Programs (BIP) has been implementing in Iraq. The Iraqi NGO Alola is responsible for “The Women Entrepreneurship Program” where women develop and start their own business.

Business Innovation Programs (BIP) has until 2015 mainly assisted with the training of trainers and implementation of courses for starting new businesses. In 2015 and 2016 BIPs role expanded also to include consulting and training of regional coordinators to follow up existing businesses. A test of the BIP concept was also conducted in refugee camps with great success.

Results presented in the table below are based on reports from local partners. For 2016 the results are four to six times higher than the aims of the project.

Ministry of Youth & Sport Women Entrepreneur Ministry of Labour Refugee camps (test) Sum
Certified trainers 114 14 (10) 73 5 new (refugees) 218
Participants 2012 1,554   980   2,534
Participants 2013 2,181   1,979   4,160
Participants 2014 1,005   5,251   6,206
Participants 2015 - 693 3,987 139 4,819
Participants 2016 (as of June) - 569 5,834 60 6,463
Sum participants 4,740 1,262 18,031 199 24,232
Businesses established 2012 17   70   87
Businesses established 2013 22   267   289
Businesses established 2014 28   411   439
Businesses established 2015 - 148 645   793
Businesses established 2016 - 109 786   895
Sum businesses established 67 257 2,179 2,503

By June 2016, Business Innovation Programs had achieved having more than 220 certified Entrepreneur Trainers all over Iraq. This has been possible due to a close and active cooperation with Iraqi Ministries and other local partners. The costs for trainers and Start-Up Trainings are close to 100% financed by our Iraqi partners. The Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs has also established a credit line for new businesses. To be able to apply for funding from this credit line, all applicants need to have attended the BIP Start-Up course.

From 2012 until June 2016 the above projects have resulted in the establishment of more than 2,500 new companies and nearly 25,000 people have attended the Business Innovation Programs Start-Up Trainings.