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.