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VentureUP – A successful re-start for Kosovo’s only university incubator

University incubators have a key role to play in boosting the entrepreneurial spirit among students. VentureUP successfully completes its second cohort and injects new startup talent into the local ecosystem in Kosovo.

Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe. About half the population is under 25 years of age. With the right education and motivation this should provide an enormous pool of talent for Kosovo startups to draw from.

This was the motivation behind the VentureUP incubation program, which was started in 2019 by the University of Prishtina using EU funds.

Universities have a key role to play in a healthy ecosystem, as they identify entrepreneurial talent among students and prepare them for starting their own companies. The VentureUP program aims to fill a significant business support gap in the Kosovo ecosystem and, being first, it was met with high expectations by all stakeholders. Unfortunately, the long-awaited program hit hurdles right from the start.

Mentor Rexhepi took over the position of Executive Director of the VentureUP incubator in early February 2020. The situation was far from promising. In the months prior, VentureUP’s entire core management team had resigned and the program curricula and material provided by an international support organization was not handed over. To make things worse, VentureUP’s primary funder, the EU, informed Mentor that he could not contact anybody for support due to budget constraints. This was the plate Mentor was served as he sat down to talk to the Swiss EP team, during his second week on the job.

“This meeting changed everything for the better. From day 1, Swiss EP showed their unreserved readiness to support us for the incubation program by providing us with whatever was necessary: trainers, material, etc.”

recalls Mentor.

Swiss EP quickly agreed with Keith Ippel and his team at Spring Activator to run an intensive capacity-building program in incubation management for Mentor and his newly hired program manager, Arta Istrefi Jahja. In parallel, a call went out for cohort two of the VentureUP incubation program. They received 54 applicants, out of whom 16 teams were accepted to the program.

"The foundation of a great incubator program is the people who run it, and Mentor and Arta have demonstrated their experience and passion from day 1."

says Luan Tolosa, Program Manager at Spring Activator, and Swiss EP expert.

“In February, we did not have even the minimal conditions to continue with the program. Thanks to Swiss EP we were able to get the second cohort incubation program up and running on time, and everything is going as planned despite the operational complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

reflects Mentor.

The demo day of the program is now set for July 22, 2020. 14 teams are graduating from the program, having completed 12 weeks of webinars and mentoring by Swiss EP experts, and Mentor is now in a position to reflect on what comes next for VentureUP. The EU is satisfied with the results and has promised a no-cost extension, which means VentureUP will host a third cohort of its incubation program in the autumn of 2020.

Moreover, Mentor and Arta are completing a strategic planning journey with the advice of the Spring Activator team, with the aim of exploring different business models and ways to ensure the long-term sustainability of VentureUP.

“None of the progress mentioned above would be possible without direct support from Swiss EP. It’s as simple as that!”

reiterates Mentor.

We look forward to working with the VentureUP team.