ScaleUp Kosovo – ecosystem building in the footsteps of Brad Feld
ScaleUp Kosovo is an organization driven by participating founders who want to make a difference and jumpstart a new form of startup supporting organizations in Kosovo. This is the story about the first year of their operations.
In July 2019, remembering Brad Feld's fundamental principle, "the startup community has to be led by entrepreneurs," Swiss EP initiated an open discussion with seven successful startups in Kosovo. This is how ScaleUp Kosovo was born.
In 2012, investor and startup founder Brad Feld published his book on ecosystem development. According to Feld, it takes only a small group of entrepreneurs (leaders) with long-term commitment to get an ecosystem started. Feld warns against other stakeholders, so-called 'feeders,' such as the government trying to lead the ecosystem instead of entrepreneurs. For all their good intentions, feeders often do not have a long-term commitment. They might try to lead rather than support or impose the wrong incentives on the ecosystem. In Kosovo, where the government is financially weak, international donor agencies became the primary feeders. Feld's advice was overlooked.
As a result, the Kosovo ecosystem is still relatively immature, involving few actors and a few programs. The focus of such programs is limited to idea-stage startups, often as part of self-employment projects. For startup founders with growth ambitions, help was nowhere to be found, which in turn inhibited them from scaling, generating more revenue, and employing more people.
In July 2019, remembering Brad Feld's fundamental principle, "the startup community has to be led by entrepreneurs," Swiss EP initiated an open discussion with seven successful startups in Kosovo. This group included Skins Agency, Labbox and Kutia, and Frakton. The objective was to design a new way of bringing value to a community of startups with growth aspirations in a way that was driven by the participating founders themselves. At the gathering hosted by Celik Nimani, founder of Frakton, ScaleUP Kosovo was born.
In year one of Swiss EP's operations in Kosovo, ScaleUP Kosovo members had access to workshops. They benefited from 1-on-1 mentoring sessions with several Swiss EP experts, such as Yehuda Binder on IP protection, Howard Kingston on digital marketing and Fil Guijarro on sales.
"When the challenge to establish and grow a company beyond Kosovo borders hits you, you see the lack of experts that can help. I am highly impressed with the tailor-made expert access approach that Swiss EP developed for ScaleUP Kosovo", Arta Shehu, founder of Labbox confirms.
Collaboration and giving back are guiding principles of the ScaleUP Kosovo community. Members host each incoming Swiss EP expert, organizing their meeting schedules, logistics, and even social gatherings. This commitment to collaboration leads to higher levels of engagement among members.
Giving back is a core characteristic of a true entrepreneur and a well-functioning ecosystem. Several ScaleUP Kosovo founders are now active mentors, supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs in Kosovo. This is the case for Celik Nimani, who is mentoring startups in the VentureUP incubation program.
During its first year in operation, ScaleUP Kosovo grew from seven to fourteen members. It's noteworthy that some ScaleUP Kosovo members, such as Frakton, Kutia, and Skins Agency, all expanded their teams in 2020, which is particularly significant given the COVID-19 pandemic.
ScaleUP Kosovo members are now reflecting on outcomes in year 1, discussing strategic development options, and exploring ways to institutionalize the community, broaden and deepen its portfolio of services, and bring value to a broader audience of startups in Kosovo.