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The Western Balkans Angel Academy

Western Balkans Angel Academy is a specialized program aiming to establish a functional private investment system's educational background. We worked with both investors and startups to start talking about investing.

Swiss EP has been present in the Western Balkan countries for almost six years now. Working in different countries, we identified the lack of private investment as one of the key challenges for startups in the region. Public money (grants) is often available, but not private capital. When we saw an opportunity to change this and support a program (the Western Balkan Angel Academy) that addressed this challenge head-on, we did it with our full capacities.

The Western Balkan Angel Academy is a program specifically crafted for future angel investors from the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Serbia). Efino, a company, investor, and investment education provider based in Switzerland, ran the program with Swiss EP support.

After extensive preparation, Efino experts Brigitte Baumann, Clara Alonso, and Maria Carolina Romero were ready to start in early autumn 2020. Our team gathered a closed group of 24 attendees—a mix of entrepreneurs, regional investors, and PO managers with the aspiration to invest private capital in regional startups. They became the academy's first cohort.

We were surprised to see the high interest of potential investors from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the program. We received a much higher number of applications than we could accept. Finally, our group counted six investors from the country, which is the highest number, compared to the other countries.

The program encompassed all stages of the investment process, divided into eight webinars, three hands-on learning sessions, and three specialized due diligence workshops. Most of the participants were very active during the program, forming strong professional and personal connections.

The country with the most diverse future angel investors was North Macedonia. The fact that different entrepreneurial system actors took part in the program shows us that the Macedonian ecosystem is maturing and becoming more comprehensive.

Some of the most active participants were from Kosovo. Inputs and insights we received from them were quite valuable for the entire group and our understanding of the Kosovo entrepreneurial ecosystem's complexity.

Even if the number of participating women was lower than men, the ladies were among the most active participants. A female investor from Albania already made her first investment and expressed a willingness to keep working with the WB Angel Group.

Besides educating prospective angel investors, the Western Balkans Angel Academy had another dimension: the education of startups. To have a functional investment startup ecosystem, you need to raise the knowledge of both investors and entrepreneurs. As Maria Carolina said:

In every country, I see an equation: on one side, it’s the investors' education. On the other, it’s the entrepreneur's investment readiness. When we have both sides speaking the same language, we can have operative investments. And that’s the point when we can see how the marketplace will act and what will be demanded and offered.

Maria Carolina Romero, Partner at Efino and Expert Coach

With a desire to set the foundation for a functional startup investment system, Efino organized an Investment Readiness Bootcamp for startups, again with our support. The Efino team selected 10 out of 16 startup applicants from all five countries to join the program. The startups went through three stand-alone sessions:

  1. Overall investment basics, where they learned how the investment cycle works and what they need to prepare to be eligible for investment.
  2. Investment readiness and due diligence, where startups prepared a detailed documentation for the process.
  3. Pitching, where they finally encountered investors.

It is interesting to mention that most of the startups were coming from Serbia - 6 out of 10 selected teams. Two teams out of six made it to the final pitching session with investors. These numbers are showing the high quality of startups coming from this country.

The Western Balkan Angel Academy was an excellent learning experience for us which yielded valuable lessons:

  • Gathering people with similar interests helps in encouraging them to work together. Participants of the Western Balkan Angel Academy's investors program made a compatible community. We will keep on supporting them as a community of angels moving forward.
  • The Investment Readiness Bootcamp for startups drew much attention in all five Western Balkan countries. Startups realized the need to lift their game to be ready for the investment rally, and we should be there to help them on that challenging journey. Accelerators learned to put more emphasis on investment readiness in their programs.
  • The feedback of the Efino team was very positive. The ladies were thrilled to see how tech-savvy Western Balkan's investors and startups are and how willing they are to start a conversation. What they spotted as a challenge is the lack of scale-ups. All our local ecosystems should elaborate on new methods and instruments to support scale-ups.

These lessons played an essential part in defining our path and mission in the future. We will continue to work with different actors in all five Western Balkan ecosystems to empower, encourage, and inspire them to work together in resolving the challenge of private investment.

It's only when more startups have access to private and smart money that the Western Balkans' entrepreneurial ecosystems will move to the next level. We like to think that we contributed to this positive development, if just a little bit, with our Angel Academy.