A lifelong devotee to research and innovation, Katarina Urošević has spent the better part of her professional work designing and implementing strategies and policy instruments that would enable companies like HTEC to grow — or even make them possible in the first place.
With well over a decade of experience in the public sector, by joining HTEC as the Chief of Staff she makes her first leap to the “other side”. Recently we caught up with her to discuss her professional journey, her motivation for coming aboard HTEC, and the specific nature of her work in the company.
“I have a rather geeky background, considering what I am doing now”, Katarina notices with a smile. Upon completing the vaunted Mathematical High School in Belgrade, she studied physics at Princeton. The opportunity to study abroad, especially at such a prestigious and academically stimulating institution, was a deeply rewarding experience and a wonderful part of her life, she says. However, it was also the time she began to reconsider her professional prospects.
“During my studies at Princeton, my interest in a scientific career in physics had gradually begun to wane. On the other hand, seeing how recruiters were pursuing physics graduates for a variety of professions, I stuck with my studies as I realized that they opened up a diverse set of opportunities.”
After a brief spell as a biophysics research associate in Canada, Katarina returned to Serbia with the intention of working either in science policy or in science journalism and promotion. She eventually landed in the office of the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of science.
“I was fortunate enough to enter the government at a very exciting and eventful time when significant reforms were being implemented in Serbia’s science sector. In the several years I spent there, we accomplished a lot, such as creating the first science strategy and establishing the Innovation Fund, the first institution in Serbia providing financial support for innovative startups. I worked with the World Bank and other international financial institutions on providing additional funding for science and innovation, and collaborated with international experts on establishing policies based on good practices from other countries.“
Once her government term had ended, Katarina had moved on to the institution she had helped establish. At the Innovation Fund, she was in charge of startup financing programs, working with both the international organizations supporting the Fund, but also directly with the start-ups supporting them from the application stage to project implementation.
“It was very exciting to work there at the time because the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem was not nearly as developed as it is today, and the Innovation Fund played a major role in that development. Having been a part of its inception, and later its operations, I do have a sense of ownership and pride when I look at how far we’ve come. The fund lives to this day, operating under the same principles and values on which it was created. It had only gotten bigger over the years and continues to play an important part in making Serbia a thriving tech and innovation hub.”
Her work at the Innovation Fund was followed by an engagement with the OECD in Paris, where she acted as a project manager and policy analyst in the Global Relations Secretariat, focusing on the Southeast Europe region. She was primarily engaged in the development of innovation and science policies in several economies of the Western Balkans.
“Altogether, that’s about 12 years of experience in science and technology innovation policy design and implementation. This last word, “implementation”, is particularly important to me because we can all know what the ideal actions are in theory, but in reality, you are always faced with unique challenges. The ability to objectively assess the circumstances in front of you and implement the optimal amount of good practices while taking into account the limitations of a system is crucial, and it is gained only through hands-on experience. The very fulfilling aspect of such work is that it is very important, investing in R&D in the right way is proven to support economic growth. Being part of even an incremental step towards improving the science and innovation environment in a country represents a source of great professional satisfaction.”
Witnessing the growth
Through her work in the public sector, Katarina had crossed paths with HTEC founders long before her involvement with the company.
“I met the HTEC founders more than a decade ago, back when they were sitting in a small office at the Business and Technology Incubator of the Faculty of Technical Sciences in Belgrade, a classic university spin-off incubator. At the time, I was working in the Ministry of Science and I was doing everything in my power to support such initiatives. We collaborated well from the start, primarily because they were not the typical startup founders concerned only with their own interests and challenges, but they were able to see the broader picture and understand that they are a part of something bigger, that we were building a community.”
Over the years, Katarina had followed HTEC’s growth with what she describes as a mixture of joy and incredulity.
“I would meet the founders every once in a while, and on every one of those occasions, you could feel their excitement for everything that was happening in and around the company. That energy and excitement are a big part of my decision to join HTEC.”
Katarina jokingly notices how, after more than a decade of dedication to creating an environment for innovative companies to thrive, it was time to finally join one. While she admits that her transition to HTEC may not make a lot of sense at a first glance, considering her previous experience, she sees a natural fit for her expertise in the organization.
“My previous experience has been working on large-scale projects and leading complex processes with a multitude of stakeholders that have different approaches to the same issue, and yet all have to be aligned around a solution. For an organization that’s operating in a highly complex sphere and growing at such an accelerated pace, I believe that such a skill set is relevant and beneficial.”
Joining HTEC as the Chief of Staff, Katarina takes on a very fluid and multifaceted role meant to help ensure stability and optimal performance through the ongoing expansion process.
“My activities in the company can be split into three main strains of work. The first is organizational support for the company’s leadership, through defining metrics and workstreams, as well as designing and implementing reporting procedures for all business areas. The second is portfolio management — overviewing the portfolio and providing support for the core business of our organization by working on optimizing and defining processes for the engineering and delivery segment, as well as its collaboration with other business areas of the company. Finally, I am in charge of coordinating horizontal activities that cut across the company, where all business areas have a certain role to play.”
The word that Katarina often uses when describing her role in HTEC is “optimization”. She believes that this area is the key to overcoming the challenges of rapid expansion.
“HTEC has quickly transformed from a startup company to a 600 engineer-strong tech service provider with plans to grow even quicker, and we are all well aware that this has to be accompanied by constant optimization of company processes that will enable not only the growth of the company but ensure that the high quality of our services and the unique value we provide for our partners remain unchanged.”
Katarina says that her relatively short time in HTEC was enough to assess the degree of challenges in front of the organization, but also to provide excitement for the platform that it has.
“I am fascinated by HTEC’s organizational culture that not only enables the continued growth of all team members but also encourages them to actively participate in its definition and evolution. The company’s overall strategy is multifold growth, but what I am most excited about is the sheer number of people that will be able to partake in this growth, further improve the company culture and infuse it into our work with our clients. The other thing that is really exciting about HTEC is how intensely and deeply we are involved with research and technology development. Teams are truly excited about the technologies they work on, which in turn leads to great outputs. In the future, I believe we can be even more involved in the "R" in "R&D" by partnering more with universities and research institutes to leverage our knowledge towards societally relevant research.”
Just like Katarina, we are all excited to see what the future brings, with full confidence that her contributions will help steer us forward.