Founders Network Kosovo: Establishing a Network of Trust
Founders Network Kosovo started as a small group of 3 people. Today it's a thriving community with over 20 member companies. Swiss EP has invested experience and knowledge to encourage this exhilarating group to build a network of trust.
Founders Network Kosovo is an informal group of entrepreneurs forming a thrilling community. With the help and facilitation of Swiss EP, this group is on to something quite exciting.
In his book "The Startup Community Way" Brad Feld points out the importance of trust within the community, especially among entrepreneurs: a startup community is organized through networks of trust and functions through relationships which allow the exchange of ideas, talent, capital, and know-how to occur seamlessly.
As followers and supporters of Feld's work, we at the Swiss EP team strive to incorporate and apply his recommendations and advice into our work, especially when working with startup founders and entrepreneurs. Such an approach helped us support startup communities in a meaningful way and provide additional value for their members.
However, this task hasn't always been easy, especially in a young and emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem like Kosovo. After a few unsuccessful attempts to support different founders who would form a community and gather a group of peers, we realized that the main issue that prevents people from joining a community is the lack of trust. Entrepreneurs too often see each other as competitors and are reluctant to start a relationship or even a conversation with one another.
Knowing that a community and a network of peers are necessary for the Kosovo entrepreneurial ecosystem to develop further, we explored how to take on a more active role. Our Ecosystem Facilitator in Kosovo, Arta Istrefi-Jahja, stepped up to lead this effort. As a trustworthy person with an impeccable reputation, Arta was perfect for the job. Founders could trust her, and they knew that her only goal was to help them improve their businesses.
To make the process seamless, Arta invited a few of the founders who actively participated in Swiss EP-supported activities to initial group meetings at one of Pristina's cafes, giving them time and space to get to know each other and start a discussion. The next step was to bring them together with visiting Swiss EP experts in joint learning exercises, workshops or meetups. Finally, once the initial trust was established, entrepreneurs started to feel the benefit of the group and were eventually ready to make "house visits" and start meeting in members' office spaces.
We knew the group became a propper community when members started inviting people from their close networks to join. Gradually, something that began with only three entrepreneurs in November 2020 expanded, and now includes 20 companies.
The group is not formalized (informality and flexibility are key to success) and works as a community of peers who meet each other once a month. Besides regular monthly meetups, they have had ad hoc meetings with policy makers (including the Prime Minister's Office), workshops, and one-on-one mentoring sessions with international experts.
With plenty of different experts, Swiss EP was able to create additional value for the group. So, besides facilitating, we were also educating and advising the entrepreneurs with the support of our experts. Some STEs who worked with the group were Ethan Mayers, Kushtrim Xhakli, Patricia Soares, Corbin Norman, Albion Calaj, Kamen Bankovski, Patrick Collins, and many others. As Leart Zogjani, founder of Skins Agency and a community member said, experts helped tremendously:
Swiss EP experts have been highly influential to my company and me. As some provided introductions that turned into important business deals, others helped out in the long run with mentoring and advice. In particular, Keith Ippel has mentored me throughout 2021 and helped double my company's revenue. Also, Scott Rafer introduced me to new clients in the US, with whom we have built a long-lasting relationship.
Without any pretensions, the group called itself Founders Network Kosovo (FNK). They still need facilitation, so Arta is helping them organize joint activities. But, moving forward, they will start to co-facilitate the group. Now that they have established a network of trust, anything is possible. Leart is optimistic:
As a next step, FNK should work on strengthening its activities and playing a more significant role for its members. With this, the network can solidify a stronger value proposition for newcomers and attract a higher number of businesses. In return, its impact should become industry-wide.