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Continuous Support for Women Entrepreneurs in Kosovo

Swiss EP's continuous efforts in supporting women entrepreneurs in Kosovo resulted in tailor-made community support, the creation of an international network of female entrepreneurs, and the start of a new investment instrument in the country.

Kosovo officially became part of the Swiss Entrepreneurship Program in 2019. With a mission to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country, our team began exploring different ways and methods to facilitate local economic development. Four years later, we can say that working with women entrepreneurs is where the program has the most impact.

To understand why supporting women entrepreneurs in Kosovo is essential, let's look at the data: only 17.9% of women in the country are employed (as the OpenData Kosovo shows). Compared to 67.7% of working women in EU countries, we can see how much Kosovo lags regarding female employment. Statistics on the business owners are similar—according to Kosovo Business Registration Agency data, there are 96,995 active businesses (excluding public enterprises) as of March 2023. Out of these, 78.7% are owned by men, 18% are owned by women, 2.3% are co-owned by at least one woman, and for the other 1%, the owner's gender is unknown.

These numbers show that less than 20% of women are active in the labor market. However, according to our statistics (we do periodical data collection to track the startup ecosystem growth), among companies who are our beneficiaries, the situation is slightly different. 47% of all employees in companies Swiss EP supported are female.

To better describe the importance of our continuous support for women entrepreneurs in Kosovo and showcase efforts made so far, we have divided our actions into community support, tailor-made events, and angel investor education.

Community support

Due to limited institutional support for entrepreneurs and startups in Kosovo, Swiss EP mainly works with two founder communities. One of the communities that we have supported for over three years is Women Entrepreneurs Kosovo (WEK), an informal group of women founders.

WEK started operating as a modest community of three businesses in 2020 but rapidly grew to include 29 women-led companies. Besides periodic meetings, the community enables members to meet one another more closely, start collaborating, and create stronger bonds.

Even if the level of self-engagement is still low, the community is quite responsive. Usually, activities are co-facilitated by Swiss EP staff and community members. An excellent example of such collaboration was the Founders Retreats weekend organized in Brezovica, a ski resort on Shara mountain, in November 2022 and another Founders Retreat held in Vërmica near Prizren in October 2023. With WEK members as co-creators, Swiss EP supported a two-day events where entrepreneurs gathered with Swiss EP experts for learning, collaborating, and fruitful business discussion.

During the last Founders Retreat organized in October 2023, the group worked with several Swiss EP experts, including Kamen Bankovski, Rita Katona, Ethan Mayers, Andrej Persolja, Peter Bruner, and Tom Wesselman.

Tailor-made events for women founders

While periodical meetups with WEK are excellent opportunities to meet local peers, meeting other women founders is always good. In March 2023, Swiss EP organized a global event in Zurich - Women Entrepreneurs Week, where we gathered female founders from all the countries where the program is active.

More than 40 female founders from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Peru, Serbia, and Vietnam had the unique opportunity to spend an entire week together to share their knowledge, learn from Swiss EP experts and connect.

The Kosovo delegation counted five members: Ardijana Rexhaj (Kerkoj), Vjosa Shala Sahiti (Nerdy Creative), Blerinda Veliu (Botanic), Rina Hapçiu Mullaademi (Termini), and Valmira Rexhëbeqaj (REX Consulting Group) as menor-investor who supported the group of entrepreneurs. Such an event's primary value is creating a professional network of peers beyond the home country border and learning about overcoming common challenges and solutions they apply in their business.

Belinda agrees:

I loved the great opportunity to meet awesome, creative, and hard-working entrepreneurs, who I don't think I would have the chance to meet otherwise. The biggest takeaway from the week is the connection, inspiration, and persistence to continue working on our ideas.

Encouraging the formation of a specific investment instrument

An essential segment of every startup ecosystem is investment availability. Since this is a significant gap for all entrepreneurs in Kosovo (not only females), we have supported several initiatives on this topic. Once we discovered that a group of women was interested in forming the country's first Women Angel investor group, we gladly supported their efforts.

One of the leaders of this initiative is Valmira Rexhëbeqaj, founder of REX Consulting group, with extensive experience in the financial sector and government. Her previous experience helped her realize how essential early-stage funding is for women entrepreneurs:

In business, the challenges are the same for everyone, but only to some extent. Of course, it's always more difficult for women because of the stigma and all the traditional roles that still exist in our society. This is why, apart from having female founders, it is also equally important to have female investors. The perception that you might have as a female investor toward a female founder is entirely different because I think that we see the world slightly differently from men.

Besides Valmira, Melita Ymeraga, Teuta Rexhbeqaj, and Arta Limani joined, and the first Women Investor training in Kosovo started. In four subsequent training sessions led by Maria Carolina Romero from Efino, the group learned more about investment strategies, the due diligence process, company valuation, and deal terms.

Teuta greatly valued the support from Maria Carolina Romeiro. She said:

Although my background is in finance, I learned a lot from her. She was kind, well-structured, and highly informative. I am grateful to Arta and SwissEP for this opportunity.

Another Swiss EP expert who supported the group was Maaike Doyer. She helped the group understand how to invest, make investments, create an angel network, expand it, and include the diaspora in the project.

After working With Maaike, Valmira shared her excitement:

Maaike was super helpful in creating a more precise image for me regarding investing. It helped me realize that we need another, more advanced program for investing.

As their education is formally over, the Women investor group from Kosovo is continuing their journey, trying to learn as much as possible from the good practices in the region. One of their first stops was the Business Angel Summit in Sarajevo. Together with business angels from the entire region, they exchanged experiences, talked about challenges, and used the opportunity to meet Maria Carolina Romero and Maaike Doyer in person and have constructive discussions.

As Valmira noticed, we still have much to work on to improve Kosovo's overall startup ecosystem, especially to make it more supportive of women founders and investors. However, with continuous support, community spirit, and motivated individuals, we're making small but impactful steps in the right direction.