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The Rise of Co-Working Spaces in Albania

The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Albania got a tremendous boost with the opening of 3 new co-working spaces. This is the story about Innospace, Destil, and Coolab and their collaboration in making entrepreneurs and communities feel at home.

Co-working spaces are nothing new to Albania, but for one reason or another, previous initiatives never became active hubs in the ecosystem. What changed in 2019?

The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Albania has been slow in the making. For years the ecosystem consisted of a few organizations hosting on-off events and activities, organizing the occasional donor-funded idea-stage entrepreneurship program. Adding a high turn-over of organizations to the mix, and you will have an ecosystem incapable of supplying adequate services to entrepreneurs.

The negative trend began to change in 2019 thanks to the efforts of three co-working spaces established in Tirana Innospace, Destil and Coolab. Co-working spaces are nothing new to Albania, but for one reason or another, previous initiatives never became active hubs in the ecosystem.

What changed in 2019?

First of all, Innospace, Destil, and Coolab are all privately owned with experienced founders. They have clear missions, visions, and long-term strategies to succeed. All the founders have experience working with entrepreneurial communities, have high confidence, and have some contact with Swiss EP. Sonila Abdalli of Destil has worked with 19 Swiss EP experts on topics such as branding, pricing and promotion. The same is true for the team at Innospace, who have collaborated with Keith Ippel, Roland Simon, and Kushtrim Xhakli.

Arlind Haxhijaj, manager of Coolab, was a staff member of Swiss EP Albania until 2019. Working closely with different experts gave him access to a learning and inspirational people such as Tristan Pollock, Neil Cocker and Maris Prii. One of them was Ryan Chatterton, an experienced co-working space manager from the USA, who spent several months in Albania as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence. In conversations with Ryan, Arlind began to explore possible future business models for Coolab before deciding to start the co-working space

Ryan's number one advice is for co-working space managers is to focus on community-building. Working with a specific community helps promote the co-working space while also bringing value to tenants through both space and services. In the words of Innospace management:

"We now understand the importance of community. We are building a community where people feel at home. They feel they are part of an organization that shares the same values."

Innospace, Destil, and Coolab are becoming essential destinations for startup and corporate activities in Albania. They are finding their specific niches in the market.

Innospace is more homey and cozy, Coolab more industrial and tech-oriented, while Destil is targeting creative industry professionals. And they collaborate to enable their members to access a broader community, global networks, and resources.

In the early Spring of 2020, EIR Ryan Chatterton returned to Tirana and hosted an online co-working management program (due to COVID-19). He has worked with managers of Destil, Innospace, and Coolab. Ryan pointed out good international practices by using examples of experienced co-working space managers in Denmark, the USA, and Bulgaria.

Albanian managers had the opportunity to address numerous questions. Some of them were how to deal with non-paying members, what are the most efficient management and marketing tools, and what platforms are best for small and large co-working spaces. The program led to new partnerships that benefit the managers of Innospace, Destil, and Coolab tremendously as they move forward.

Finally, the startup ecosystem in Tirana has reached a key milestone: it feels like a community. Swiss EP is looking forward to continuing its support to the co-working spaces as they grow and impact an increasing number of Albania entrepreneurs.