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Swiss EP

Uplift – Albania’s first accelerator generates immediate investments

Thanks to Uplift Albania, the Albanian ecosystem finally includes a proper accelerator boosting startup performance and facilitating investments.

Until now there has been no proper acceleration program offering financial rewards and/or investments in Albania. While the ecosystem has included numerous self-employment and entrepreneurship 101 programs over the years, in those cases when financial instruments were made available to participants, these were always in the form of grants rather than investments. Uplift.al changed all this.

Uplift is an early-stage accelerator program implemented by local organization ICTS Media, in collaboration with SOVVA, and funded by SlovakAid. Uplift’s program consists of a 4-months acceleration program, including a €3 000 cash prize for the best team, workshops, networking sessions, dedicated business coaching and 1-on-1 mentoring.

Swiss EP was called upon at a very early stage to advise on program design and implementation.

“We had a big vision for Uplift Albania and being a pilot in a virgin ecosystem we were aware the risk was high and that we'd be short of different resources. We needed support”, recalls Kushtrim Shala, founder of Uplift.al.

During their first meeting, Swiss EP expert Keith Ippel; advised Kushtrim on the switch in management style required as they transformed from hosting IT training courses to running a startup accelerator. To drive home his point, Keith asked Kushtrim if he had children. Somewhat surprised by the personal question, Kushtrim confirmed he is a father of two.

“Well,” continued Keith, “now you have 8 more,” referring to the number of startups in the cohort.“ Startups, like children, are fragile creatures, and need comprehensive care and guidance.”

Kushtrim appears to have taken this advice to heart. He and his team adopted a very inclusive and caring approach to managing the program and supporting the startup teams.

“The Swiss Entrepreneurship Program is a true partner that made our journey enjoyable and full of lessons, which resulted in an unexpected success. Apart from offering strong moral support, Swiss EP provided us with international workshop trainers, access to a pool of knowledge and expertise, and further facilitated schedules. It eased the load for our team and gave us the means to achieve the very mission and ambition we were after.”, explains Kushtrim.

The acceleration program was implemented between September and December 2019, with a Demo Day in January 2020.

Swiss EP experts and team members contributed in sales (Francesco Cracolici), design thinking (Jewell Sparks) and fundraising (Igor Madzov). Each expert hosted a workshop followed by Q&A sessions and mentoring sessions with the startup founders.

Uplift.al’s appearance as the country’s first accelerator is a great leap forward for the ecosystem in Albania. And its impact is already being felt.

Thanks to Uplift.al, three new startups were successful in raising private funds. As an outcome of the acceleration program, the founders of IAvokat changed their business model and went on to raise €15,000 from angel investors. PleXusVr raised €50,000, also from angel investors. Meanwhile, IPERVOX, who won the €3,000 prize from Uplift, managed to raise €110,000 from Italian Venture Fund LVenture Group.

The fact that Uplift.al created competitive startups that attracted the attention of investors is historical. Until now, Dentem was the only Albanian startup to secure investment but it was never linked to an accelerator.

“Thanks to partners like Swiss EP, we now believe the next cohorts will be even more powerful and the ecosystem even richer”, highlights Kushtrim.

The interest for Uplift’s next cohort in the acceleration program will certainly increase dramatically as a result of three of its startups securing investments. This will also certainly inspire more tech talent in Albania to explore entrepreneurship and start companies.

For a long time, the Albanian ecosystem has been searching for role models of success, and with Uplift.al it appears to have found a winner! We look forward to what comes next.