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Junior Achievement Albania: Educating Young Entrepreneurs

JuniorUp program run by Junior Achievements Albania is one of the most extensive entrepreneurial programs in the country. With the help of 9 different Swiss EP experts, JAA is helping young Albanians start their entrepreneurial journeys.

Junior Achievement of Albania (JAA) has been helping young Albanians prepare for employment and entrepreneurship. This time, with the JuniorUp (JUP) program, they are taking the support to another level.

Junior Achievements Albania is a non-profit organization with a goal to help young people prepare for their future life as employees or entrepreneurs. JAA was founded in 2012, in Tirana, as a strategic investment of the Albanian American Development Foundation and is a part of the Junior Achievement Young Enterprise Europe and Junior Achievement Worldwide.

For the past ten years, JAA has been running different programs with elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and universities to make students financially literate and more entrepreneurial. Over the past decade, the organization has developed 15 accredited training modules on entrepreneurial competencies for pre-university students, trained and accredited 7000 pre-university teachers, reached over 250,000 students, and involved over 300 business mentors and volunteers in their activities. Nobody has done more for boosting the entrepreneurial spirit among youth in Albania than JAA.

Having cemented its position as the premier entrepreneurial skills builder within the formal education system, JAA recently turned its attention to the startup ecosystem in Albania, with the aim to develop a sustainable and successful incubation program for their alumni. In the second half of 2021, the JuniorUp program was born. Blerina Guga, Chief Executive Officer of JAA explains the origin of the Junior Up program:

The Junior Up program was designed over the legacy and contribution of JAA in pre-university education in Albania and is the fruit of our 10-year journey of running a mini-acceleration program for students. Built on such a foundation, JUP aims to help talented JAA alumni bridge formal education in entrepreneurship, support them in creating their own startups, and encourage the implementation of innovative business ideas in the Albanian ecosystem.

To be able to support participants on their journey of building their MVP, JuniorUp is designed to be quite extensive. It lasts for an entire year and follows teams through setting up their startups and taking initial steps in the market.

JUP is the only program in Albania targeting young founders from 18 to 26 years of age. Tailored to the needs of young entrepreneurs, the high intensity of their daily lives, and their eagerness to learn and exchange, the program is designed to accompany the young founders throughout the process, pushing on the 1-on-1 mentoring and young founders' community building. Furthermore, JUP is unique in its support scheme: new skills are provided to program attendees through a carefully-designed and monitored intervention in the MVP stage, as well as after the injection of funds.

Besides being an excellent opportunity for young people to learn, JuniorUp is also a valuable prospect for the JAA team. The team is discovering the best mixture of practices from Europe (gained through their network and JA Europe Startup program), standard regional programs, and local exigencies. The program's piloting phase enables them to experiment and search for the best recipe. As Blerina said, experts provided by Swiss Entrepreneurship Program has had a vital role in this process:

Swiss EP experts have a crucial contribution to the learning curve of both program attendees and, for the most part, to JAA's program team. Our collaboration started early in 2019 when JAA dared to design and implement a program called "Roadmap to Silicon Valley," targeting tech-oriented Albanian startups and providing high-speed training and mentoring. That program was finalized with a DemoDay. 6 teams, out of 25 finalists, attended TechExpo Silicon Valley, the biggest expo for emerging tech startups in the thriving ecosystem of the Valley. The successful collaboration with the Swiss EP experts, the synergy created, and their precious feedback helped JAA design JUP, with the enormous certainty that Swiss EP experts ensured an excellent level of expertise. And time proved us correct.

So far, nine different Swiss EP experts have supported the JuniorUp program—Filip Stipančić, Kushtrim Xhakli, Christina Forster,Patrick Collins, Corbin Norman, Luka Sučić, Kamen Bankovski, Peter Bruner, and Ethan Mayers. Besides sharing their knowledge through workshops, these experts run one-on-one mentoring sessions with program attendees.

While JuniorUp is entering its final stage in fall 2022, there are still numerous challenges to overcome for the program to be fully sustainable. However, with the team’s determination and willingness to experiment and learn, we have no doubts that JAA is here to stay.