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How to Discover and Support Scaling Startups in Albania?

In startup ecosystems in Albania, early-stage startups are well supported. However, the question remains: where can startups that survived the early stages of development find support?

Support for early-stage startups in Albania is well-provided. The space is quite crowded at the moment so the funnel of new startups should be positive. But, what happens next?

Since Swiss EP has been active in Albania (for the past eight years), we have met and supported most organizations working with startups. Even if these organizations (communities and teams) are all different, they have one thing in common: the startups they support are mainly in the early stages of development.

On the other hand, in an emerging startup ecosystem, such as Albania, it is logical to pay more attention to raising awareness about entrepreneurship and teaching the first steps in the startup world to founders. However, if you repeat the same process year after year, you will end up with a group of "graduates" who want more. So, we couldn't help but wonder, what happens once the teams and companies grow past the idea phase? Where could they find support next?

Valer Pinderi, an entrepreneur from Tirana and the founder of Aladini had a similar question. As someone who runs a few successful businesses and constantly gives back to the startup community, he decided to go one step further and initiate the institutionalization of the Albanian E-Commerce Association (AECA). AECA's main task is to improve the overall e-commerce environment in the country. To be able to do that, Valer and his team are constantly helping their members (startups included) to scale their businesses. He shares his motivation:

I want to be the example that people will try to copy—if I'm successful, many others will try to be successful. If I'm seen as a leader, I can set an example for others, who can also be mentors to those who don't understand this approach.

To be able to address the needs of scaling companies, AECA reached out to our team and our pool of experts. Two other startup ecosystem actors - InnoSpace Tirana (growing coworking space and community of founders) and Women Founders Network Albania (community of women entrepreneurs) shared similar challenges—urging the need for supporting scaling startups.

But why is it essential to support such startups? And why can't they find suitable support on their own? The answer is quite simple—they are facing an entirely new set of challenges for the first time, and no one around them can advise or tell them how to bridge these gaps. Such companies are rapidly growing in revenue, number of employees and/or market share.

Scaling startups are vital for the local economy for several reasons:

  • They are opening new workplaces and employing a highly qualified workforce creating an attractive work environment and top-notch work opportunities.
  • They have a high potential to develop a successful business that can create a spillover effect and serve as role models (some might be unicorns someday) to others in the local startup ecosystem.
  • Founders and team members of such companies are often engaged in the startup community as mentors and investors, and they tend to "give back" in some way.

So, knowing all the above, we decided to take action when we noticed ongoing challenges for scaling startups in Albania. We knew Albania was ready for a Founders Retreat. Founders Retreat is a concept that the Swiss EP team has already applied together with the leading ecosystem actors in Kosovo and North Macedonia. A pool of established organizations that support a number of scaling startups joined forces to organize a weekend retreat, where founders get to spend time with one another, Swiss EP experts, and our team. The weekend of learning, sharing, and networking is a joint investment—organizations are investing their time, networks, reputation and organizational skills, entrepreneurs are securing accommodation and investing time, while Swiss EP is contributing with international experts, team members and some event costs.

In Albania, we agreed to do it at the beginning of May with AECA, InnoSpace Tirana, and WFNA in the seaside town of Durres. A secluded place with astonishing nature secures positive collective experiences and the opportunity for bonding and learning non-comparable to the one the entrepreneurs would have at home in bussy Tirana.

After extensive preparation, the event attracted 10 startup founders with proven traction, revenue, and high potential to scale their businesses. Six of them were entirely new to us, with little to no exposure in the local ecosystem. Coming from different industries, they share a passion for business, hard work, and desire to succeed globally from their home country. The fact that all of these companies combined employ 90 people reveals the potential they have in the future.

With the assistance of six Swiss EP experts, the retreat addressed the most urgent pain points facing these founders, such as product development, product launching, valuation, investment readiness, and go-to-market strategies. Our experts Maja Voje, Josipa Majic, Cosmina Popa, Rishi Chowdhury, Tim Berce, and Martin Bjergegaard spend the weekend with 10 founders hosting workshops, and 1-on-1 meetings.

With the Swiss EP team's facilitation and support, we created a unique event and quite a valuable experience for everyone. The synergy of the network and the desire to learn more from others and about each other created a very productive atmosphere.

As Henri Ndreca (one of the Founders Retreat participants) shared with his LinkedIn network, this event left a very significant mark on his business and the businesses of his peers:

I hope the sessions had the same impact on founders as on me, and I wish all of them a successful journey in their entrepreneurial endeavors.

General feedback from startup founders was very positive. They appreciated the networking opportunity and expertise brought by Swiss EP experts.

For our team, this was another proof that scaling startups exist in Albania and that they require a tailored approach, targeted assistance, and specific expertise. With agility and a strong pool of experts, we can cater to their needs and help them move forward.

In still-emerging startup ecosystems such as Albania, there is an evident need to work with early-stage startups. Luckily, this space is quite crowded at the moment so the funnel of new startups should be positive. However, the question remains: what happens next? Where can startups who successfully survived the first stages of development find support? Hopefully, with the increased demand, the right solutions will appear over time also on the supply side.