Super excited I get, when I’m on a mission to discover a new startup community. Especially when it comes to the Balkan countries. There is something special about this region that always surprises me and travelling to these countries is always an adventure. Even though I’m born and raised on these grounds, somehow I’ve been traveling and discovering other parts of Europe, so now it’s time to learn more about the startup community in Albania.
Through the SECO Entrepreneurship Programme, supported by the Government of Switzerland and implemented by Swisscontact, together with J.E. Austin, I had the opportunity to visit and explore Tirana, the capital of Albania, for the first time. I wasn’t really sure what to expect in terms of their startup community, so I let the planning of ‘my meet-ups’ to my dear colleague Vasken (StartUp Fauna) who is an active actor in this community.
So, first thing’s first, we were headed to check out the newly opened co-working / accelerator Oficina that is offering 730 sqm of creative space and vibrant working environment in the heart of Tirana. Over there I had the pleasure to meet the Business Development Manager – Erkens Gjini.
Since it is a brand new accelerator, it launched only two months ago, I was interested to learn more about what will they offer on the market and how Erkens got involved in this story. Erkens explained:
“In 1999 I left Albania and migrated to Canada. You can say that I got really hooked in the ‘dot.com’ boom and everything that was happening in that period was very new to me and very challenging. With a couple of friends we wanted to drop out of college and pursuit our idea, to develop it in a real business. We borrowed money from family and friends, bought the servers we needed, set it all up in the basement, but then the electricity bills for the servers started to kill our enthusiasm. No one of us had a secure income back then. So even if we tried, I can say that we successfully failed, but the ‘startup bug’ was kept hidden in my system. So I was forced to go back to school, I continued with the courses in the entrepreneurial managements department, so I was always surrounded with like minded people and ideas were always floating around. In this whole process, I’ve learned a lot and in the meantime I was developing business plans and business models on a freelance basis. Somehow I knew, that when the day would come for me to come back to Tirana, that I would definitely like to work in this field and help the startup community develop further.
Even though I had a secure job, when I saw the open position for this project that is initiated and supported by the Open Society Foundation of Albania and Harry T Fultz Institute, instantly I wanted to get involved. Luckily I was selected and with my partner Andi Gjokutaj, we started from scratch and created a new business model for Oficina, that will function on the market.
Oficina is a strategic initiative focused on supporting Albania’s transition to a knowledge-based economy. Its mission is to invest in, incubate, and help develop a new-technology industry in Albania. We launched in early May, with an open call for startups. In meantime we are working on enlarging our poll of mentors from PWC for legal advice, to international mentors in different areas through SECO Entrepreneurship Programme. We work hard to make sure that after the summer we will provide high quality program to our selected startups” – Says Erkens.
Is it hard to build something from scratch, in your hometown, where you haven’t lived for years. And what would you give as an advice to anyone interested in collaborating with you or joining your acceleration program?
“From how I remember Tirana, the city has changed a lot and in a very positive way. It has grown into a very vibrant city with lots of opportunities, especially for young people. To start something like this was challenging, but we are very focused and always hustling in building new partnerships, hunting for funds that will serve as seed money for the startups and in the same time, trying to prove ourselves, build a brand, raise awareness and produce success stories that will bring credibility, not only to Oficina, but to our community as well.
To anyone that is interested in partnering with us, our doors are always open and we are mostly focused on offering these services: Business advisory and support services, coaching, information and training, mentoring as well as networking, PR… For the young enthusiasts I would warmly recommend: Do not let your idea stay hidden in the closet. When passionate about something, always pursue it! Do not be afraid to fail… or succeed!” – said Erkens.
Such a pleasure to meet someone so passionate about making a change in his hometown. When in Tirana, make sure you stop by and check out Oficina.
I wish the team a successful first batch of startups.
Who’s next from this community? Subscribe and stay tuned, since the next #StartUpSelfie is coming very very soon.