Wait for fortuitous circumstances, or be well-prepared?
In his work, Aleš Baran brings together different continents, spheres and projects. He links corporations up with start-ups, companies with possible grant projects, experienced workers with students. His companies, surprisingly enough, are not based in Prague or Brno, although he spends a lot of time in both cities, as he remains loyal to his home town of Přerov.
Aleš, your first company was named Serendipity. The term “serendipity” has also been described as one of the ten expressions in English most difficult to translate into another language, and is loosely translated into Czech as “fortuitous circumstances”. How many times have you experienced fortuitous circumstances? And what about your clients?
I’m grateful for every “fortuitous circumstance”. Besides my wife and family, who are fortuitous indeed for me, in my professional life I see fortuitous circumstances in the establishment of co-operation with Martin and Miriam Margala from Massachusetts University (author’s note – you’ll find an interview with Martin Margala of Massachusetts University in the Ambassadors without a Diplomatic Passport section). I share the same values as the Margalas, and also the energy and vision to kick-start co-operation between the Czech Republic and the USA in the field of science, research and innovation. Getting to know them has allowed me to meet other fascinating people and given me opportunities for which I am extremely grateful. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak about international projects within the Czech and Slovak Leaders magazine.
Your motto is: Don’t share your plans, instead show results. What results are you proud of?
In 2017, Serendipity prepared the “IT, Languages and Polytechnic Education in the Town of Přerov Accelerator” project, which offers young people in and around Přerov the most cutting edge facilities for informal education and meaningful use of leisure time, especially in afternoons and at weekends, i.e. at times when schools are closed. I am proud that this project has received full marks in an anonymous assessment.
Another Serendipity project is ENAGO. This time, this isn’t a foreign word, but rather an acronym for European North American Grant Office. There is still little awareness within the Czech Republic of the opportunity for funding through European Union and North America joint grants. Why is that the case?
Four years ago, I took part in Kenneth Hoffman’s seminar, “Fundraising from the USA and Opportunities for Czech Charities” at the American embassy. The host posed a key question there: Why do so few non-profit organisations in the Czech Republic apply for grants from the USA when the option is there? Two years later, I came up with the ENAGO project idea in response to this question. I endeavour to accelerate and facilitate the process of establishing contacts, placements and study visits, and thus initiate the implementation of more projects between the USA, Canada and the Czech Republic. In order to successfully exploit grants from the USA and Canada, not only is a perfect knowledge of the English language important, but also the presence of a local representative in North America who is familiar with local conditions. The Margalas I have already mentioned play an important role, because they are familiar with both the European and American perspective.
In terms of joint grants, here you can’t just rely on fortuitous circumstances, but you need to be perfectly prepared. What is fundamental to success?
The actual process of applying itself, regardless of the outcome, can be considered key for the reputation of the institution applying for a grant. It is important to realise that even these projects help boost the Czech Republic’s visibility on the North American continent. Applications for these grants require not just innovative, but also commercially viable ideas, convincing references, partnerships with local institutions, stamina and will, and last but not least a lot of effort. As of yet, we have not acquired any grants from the USA or Canada. We have, however, acquired a valuable partner and supporter. This is Ms Kristal M Johnson of FundJoy from the USA, with whom we plan to contact leading American foundations to offer them the CSR Index project. This is a kind-of LinkedIn focused on the social responsibility of citizens, corporations, municipalities and nonprofit organisations with the option of setting up your own social responsibility index with a number of other functions leading to improved global sustainable development.
You are also a member of the expert council of the Science Research Innovation Fair, which is taking place in May 2018 in Brno. What makes this fair unique?
The Science Research Innovation international fair offers a unique opportunity to provide a space for discussion and presentation from researchers, application companies, science, research and innovation supporters and young scientists at one site. It is a new platform for bringing together the science and research and application sectors. The fact that the number of fair participants, both in terms of exhibitors and participants, has doubled over the past two years demonstrates its continuously growing potential. No researcher who wants to commercialise the outcomes of his research should overlook it, and nor should any company which wants to exploit the latest scientific knowledge within its innovative products. Exhibitors are sending their registrations for the third year right now. Serendipity has decided to take on organisation of the accompanying Youth Startup Festival on 16 May 2018 which involves the presentation of up to 500 leading youth projects and start-ups from the Czech Republic and beyond. As such, I am a member of the expert council and am happy to be there. The fair’s motto speaks for itself: “Creating a great future together”.
We’re meeting up at the start of 2018. What are your plans for this year? And have you made any resolutions?
For 2018, we have decided to focus on the ENAGO, Accelerator and CSR Index projects. Future grant funding available will help guide us as to what further challenges may lay ahead for us. On the basis of the Czech Ministry of Labour’s published calls for funding proposals in December 2017, there may well be one original project we might initiate, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. In terms of personal resolutions, I want to spend more time with my family, improve my professional English, see myself more frequently in the gym mirror and find an investor for the already mentioned CSR Index project.
What is your final message for readers of Czech and Slovak Leaders?
I hope that all your readers will find fortuitous serendipity on their side many times in 2018, and that all instances of “unfortuitous serendipity” pass them by. We are donating two free tickets to the Youth Startup Festival as a gift for readers who tell us of the fortuitous serendipity they encountered when they began their business. The Czech Republic is commemorating 100 years since the establishment of Czechoslovakia. It was small and medium-sized companies which played a key in the past, and it will be my honour to support such entrepreneurs.
By Linda Štucbartová