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Unexpected growth in a global crisis

While most businesses struggle to survive the COVID19 crisis, some startups from Kosovo have managed to grow. We are exploring how they did it and the Kosovo entrepreneurial ecosystem's role in their success.

The entrepreneurial ecosystem of Kosovo is the latest addition to the Swiss EP family. After working extensively with a few local Partner Oorganizations and communities, we have noticed some explicit progress in the past year.

When Swiss EP first started operating in Kosovo in the summer of 2019, we saw an emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem with huge potential:

  • The country's population is relatively young, with an average age of 29,1 and over 40% of the population is under 25 years old.
  • Formal and non-formal education offer a suitable supply of tech talent,
  • Connections to the diaspora are solid and fitting for enabling access to developed markets in Western Europe, and the USA, and
  • A few role model companies, such as Gjirafa, have emerged, contributing to the country's image as an upcoming tech destination.

Appearing as a new actor in the ecosystem, we wanted to build trust in the startup community early on. So, we kept working with old friends, such as Celik Nimani, CEO of startup Frakton, and Swiss EP expert alumni, to facilitate a community of scaling startups. This community, initially called ScaleUp Kosovo, quickly formed and included startups such as Labbox, Skins Agency, Kutia, and naturally Frakton.

Through internal group discussions and consensus inside the ScaleUp Kosovo group, startup needs were transformed into Swiss EP expert missions. With experts working with teams in Kosovo, things were going well. There was momentum among startups and ScaleUp Kosovo. Then COVID-19 hit, and everything changed almost overnight.

We all know how devastating the global pandemic was for most businesses all over the world when governments shut down economies. However, it seemed that this did not influence some startups in Kosovo. It appeared that some companies were running their businesses as usual or even faster than before. These companies even grew in size—they overcame challenges and obstacles and seized market opportunities with both hands.

It was no surprise to see the statistics and numbers at the end of 2020. The total growth percent of the scaling startups (from the network we support) is 23%. The group's champion is Kutia — with 82% growth in staff. It strengthened its team and increased business volume. Arianit Fazliu, CEO of Kutia, said that the necessity of growth comes naturally for them:

We are in a transition period where we are trying to create a better setup of functioning and create processes that will help us have sustainable growth. We have started the expansion and growth of the company, as we predict an increased demand for our services. Expanding partners' network inside and outside the country helps us make this growth natural and sustainable.

Arianit Fazliu, CEO of Kutia

Kutia was not alone in this feat. Frakton grew by 12%, Labbox 25%, LinkPlus IT 17%, and Zombiesoup by 30%—to name a few. Their success in times of trouble is inspiring in itself. Still, it reflects the grit and commitment of some of the Kosovo startup founders and their teams. At the same time, it bodes well for the development of the startup community in Kosovo.

The success of these founders, as Kosovo champions of entrepreneurship, was recognized internationally as well:

  • Frakton was listed 17th, as one of the Rising stars among fastest-growing tech companies in Central Europe, according to Deloitte's yearly report released in December 2020.
  • Gjirafa appeared in the same Deloitte report, ranked 11th among the fastest-growing companies in Central Europe.
  • Arta Shehu, the founder of Labbox, emerged as one of the seven innovative women from Central Europe.
  • Arta Istrefi-Jahja joined the Swiss EP team and continued our efforts to support and empower local entrepreneurs and build a strong and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Looking back at 2020, we can conclude that it was not so bad after all for Kosovo's startup community—at least for the entrepreneurs with global growth ambitions. We are looking forward to seeing and supporting new developments in this young and thriving startup community.