BUSINESS DREAM IN SISAK
The Croatian diaspora often feels a strong connection to its roots, and the entrepreneurial spirit within them wants to initiate a business story. Matt Darko Sertić, a native of Sisak who achieved business success in Silicon Valley and replicated it in his hometown, demonstrated that it is possible.
In a visionary way, he shared his path to success and revealed that in California in the mid-80s, he founded the company Applied Ceramics, dedicated to chip manufacturing technology. “That area is constantly changing, evolving, with new goals, no standing still, and no copying. We returned to Sisak to employ people; it was somewhat natural, we wanted to bring technologies from the USA here, new markets that we already had, and we succeeded,” said Sertić.
The company now operates on two continents – in America and Europe, with people from Sisak, Petrinja, and surrounding areas working in Sisak. “Mostly these are young people who recognized that they can start a family here and that there is a future here. We now have more than 150 children of our employees, that’s our next generation in Applied Ceramics,” said Sertić.
Not content with just one company, he also founded the KulIN – culinary institute, educating chefs in culinary arts, pastry, winemaking, and brewing. “We have already trained more than 700 chefs, and last year we got the world champion in pastry, Maša Salopek. She’s from Međimurje, working in Slovenia, and was declared the best pastry chef in the world. It’s satisfying because we see that we’re doing well,” said Sertić.
He emphasized that all these businesses are not just copy-paste but introduce new things. Sertić also bought a hotel in Jablanac, where culinary courses are held, and they have a place “for the little Sisak residents of our employees to spend school holidays and see that the sea is salty.”
In an inspirational speech, he stated that Sisak is a divinely ordained place for production, as is Slavonski Brod, because these places have infrastructure. “Like people who are industrially civilized, who know why they need to come to work at 6:30 and what product quality is. This is the advantage of Sisak because it has people of stone, of rock, who are here to do everything needed,” said Sertić.
Because of this, they didn’t stop but also founded the PISAK entrepreneurial incubator, the first private incubator of its kind in Croatia, currently hosting more than 50 entrepreneurs.
The fourth wheel they set in motion in Sisak is the Sunseco company, originally from California, for which they also decided to replicate production in Sisak. Their goal, Sertić said, is to ensure that each kilowatt of someone’s production becomes cheaper every year, just as Applied Ceramics aims for every kilobyte to be cheaper each year. “We don’t even know how much a kilobyte costs anymore, we want the same for a kilowatt,” said Sertić.
Their four wheels move in one direction, each diverse and having its area, and when combined, it becomes about digital and energy transition, the application of the food industry, all rounded up with an incubator where one can start and succeed. “I know that we immigrants are interested in where and how and what will happen with our children. I can only say that my three children came to Croatia and live in Sisak,” said Sertić.
Then Matt Darko Sertić bought the former building of the „Željezara Sisak“, renovating the ruin. “He came with a vision, and in the building of the former black metallurgy, he decided to open a culinary institute, not in Dubrovnik or Split, but in Sisak. Like Noah’s ark, we built a story in the middle of the industrial zone,” she said.
They turned the weaknesses of their micro-location into their strength. Alongside the culinary institute and Applied Ceramics, they also opened the PISAK entrepreneurial incubator, a pilot project with the first 16 offices. It took two years to fill them, and with around 50 entrepreneurs in their incubator, they are especially proud of female entrepreneurs who emerged from their living rooms and now employ 40 workers. Beyond walls, she said the incubator offers invisible services of networking, connecting, mutual support. “The main motto of PISAK is that knowledge is the only factor that multiplies by sharing. Here, it is given. There is a much higher survival rate for small entrepreneurs in such an atmosphere,” emphasized Krunoslava Kosina Milutinović.
They attracted knowledge, and alongside them in the same building are Algebra and the Faculty of Organization and Informatics from Varaždin, which moved into the PISAK building along with their students.
She particularly mentioned the earthquake on December 29, 2020, when the building was damaged. It took only a month to renovate everything with their own funds and put it back into operation. “A month after the earthquake, entrepreneurs were returning to PISAK because during that time, retaining each job meant the exodus of one less family,” she said. She emphasized that owner Matt Sertić could have transferred the technology somewhere else at that time but chose to stay in Sisak.
“Today, everything is beautiful again thanks to vision and entrepreneurs. Many small people in many small places in the world, let’s make many small steps. If we can’t change the world, we can change Croatia and Banovina,” she concluded.