About ten days ago, the second annual conference of the recently founded Association of Croatian American Professionals was held in Chicago. This association consists of entrepreneurs, physicians, lawyers, scientists and even fighter pilots of the American army. They all share a Croatian ancestry and a desire for a better connection and cooperation.
The Radisson Blue Aqua Hotel in Chicago hosted over 250 attendees. The conference was opened by Marko Zoretić – the President of the Association, who emphasized the importance of being well connected to your homeland and the potential cooperation yet to be realized. Maria Sentić – the President of the Chicago branch of the Association, which hosted the conference – expressed her joy at the large number of attendees which has almost doubled compared to last year. The Croatian Ambassador in Washington, Joško Paro, again pointed out the importance of the Croatian diaspora and the fact that the Association brings together the fourth generation of Croatian emigrants. The duty of the envoy of the President of the Republic of Croatia – Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović – was carried out by Davorin Štetner, the president of the Croatian Business Angles Network (CRANE). In his welcome speech, Štetner stressed that Croatia is in need of the knowledge of the diaspora which operates in favourable entrepreneurial surroundings which should also be formed in Croatia. He expressed his hope that, in the near future, he will be able to proudly call the emigrants to invest in their homeland, referring to the positive example set by Ireland. “It was sad to listen to numerous examples last year of Croatian emigrants who invested large amounts of money into their homeland and then came back, having lost everything due to our bureaucracy, rules which are often changed, laws and a poor business climate. Another great barrier is the fact that there are no treaties about avoiding double taxation between Croatia and the USA which is causing numerous problems for entrepreneurs on both sides. Croatia is taking small steps in the right direction and I hope that we will soon be able to call you to invest together and develop our cooperation.” Štetner pointed out among other things.
During the opening of the conference, the attendees were also played a video of President Grabar-Kitarović, who sent them a message of support and expressed her desire for the concrete steps in the development of the Association to continue.
There were as many as seven panel discussions as well as numerous lectures and keynote speeches at the conference. The attendees, who filled up the conference hall completely, paid close attention to the thematic panel discussions such as the “Building your own business” panel which was moderated by Nikola Meteš, the secretary of the Association. Other participants of the panel were Mark Begich – entrepreneur and former US Senator, Alan Koncarevic – head of strategic alliances at the University of Chicago, Davorin Štetner – entrepreneur and President of the Croatian Business Angels Network, Tomislav Car –CEO and founder of the Infinum company and the entrepreneur Ante Lučić.
One of the keynote speeches was given by Dave Diehl – winner of two Super Bowls as a member of the New York Giants, investor and commentator on FOX. He expressed his pride at having Croatian ancestry and talked about persistence and dedication to a goal. Dave’s statements about his pride at having Croatian ancestry were met with an ovation from the audience and he left the stage to rapturous applause.
Sports was a major theme at the panel called “Game on”. Participants of this panel were Zoran Planinić – former member of the Croatia national basketball team and former NBA player in the Brooklyn Nets, Korie Hlede – former member of the Croatia national basketball team and former WNBA player, John Jurkovic – former NFL player and commentator for ESPN, Ante Lončar –Vice President of the Illinois National Soccer League, Matija Abičić – representative of the Croatian World Games and Sanja Jurković Budimir – licensed sports agent and moderator of the panel.
The successful Croatian start up-s Nanodiy, Unique Travel Set and Covideo introduced themselves to the attendees and demonstrated outstanding Croatian creativity which spurred a great interest in the attendees.
The conference was followed by a gala dinner with over 500 guests. Special greetings came from Cardinal Blase Cupich, the Archbishop of Chicago, who pointed out in his inspirational speech the importance of having faith, being proud of your ancestry and having the optimism we all need. The attendees were also briefly addressed by Zdravka Bušić – State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Sanja Laković – Chicago Consul, Siniša Grgić – Los Angeles Consul and the envoy of the President of the Republic of Croatia, Davorin Štetner.
The Association of Croatian American Professionals has, in its two years of activity, become one of the leading associations of emigrants. All of the attendees have paid special attention to the fact about the 70% of young people which shows the immense potential of our community. As a gesture of support, the conference was attended by the prominent scientist Ivan Đikić, the leadership of the Croatian Fraternal Union, Croatian Parliament Representative Željko Glasnović, Assistant Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Joseph Petrusic and many prominent members who are entrepreneurs and professionals, all of whom share a love towards Croatia. The next conference will be held at the end of next year in Silicon Valley.
Photos by Madison Vlasic: