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VentureUP: From Struggling Incubator To Key Ecosystem Actor

VentureUP is the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center and the official Incubator of the University of Prishtina "Hasan Prishtina". We have followed their growth from a struggling incubator to a thriving organization for young Kosovar entrepreneurs.

We strongly believe that university-related organizations are a key ingredient of a healthy and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem. An excellent example is VentureUP, Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center, and the official Incubator of the University of Prishtina, "Hasan Prishtina."

We first encountered VentureUP back in early 2020. The team was about to start the second cohort of the VentureUP incubation program, but they faced serious obstacles related to program management. So, the new Executive Director Mentor Rexhepi and Incubation Manager Arta Istrefi-Jahja (yes, our Arta now) searched for a way to make the program happen.

Blown away by VentureUP’s passion for introducing entrepreneurship to students and willingness to succeed, the Swiss EP team decided to help. We supported VentureUP in organizing a program for the second cohort of startup teams from the University of Prishtina. At the same time, we sent Mentor and Arta through an intensive incubation manager training program. And it was a smashing success.

Two years later, we are in the same position—supporting the VentureUP team in organizing another incubation program for startups. But in very different conditions. It is no longer a fledgling team in search of support but an organization that donors gladly fund that delivers value to young entrepreneurs in Kosovo.

Looking back on the development of the organization, Mentor Rexhepi, executive director of VentureUP, shared his insights:

There were two main challenges VentureUP had to confront at the beginning of its functioning. First, notions of entrepreneurship and innovation were very novel among students in Kosovo, let alone concepts, frameworks, and tools designed for new entrepreneurs. At the same time, VentureUP was searching for a sustainable model to serve its community members best. Now, four years after its establishment, VentureUP has progressed in dealing with both challenges, and the answer is the same: a tailor-made incubation program. It serves the needs of our community, as well as our donors.

Mentor Rexhepi, Executive Director of VentureUP

And while the third cohort of startups in the incubation program is completing its education, VentureUp is running a few programs in parallel such as Green Hub, the School of Entrepreneurship, the EU Incubation Program and the Youth Incubation Program.

Mentor gladly speaks about his collaboration with our team.

The support received from SwissEP is multisegmented and at many levels: support for VentureUP staff for better administration and management of the organization, and most importantly, supporting VentureUP with professional trainers for its incubation programs.
SwissEP isn't a typical donor compared with other donors in Kosovo. For most, organizations have to adapt their objectives and activities to their requirements. For SwissEP, the opposite is true: it adapts to the organization's needs and goals.

Mentor Rexhepi, Executive Director of VentureUP

One of the Swiss EP experts who worked with VentureUP at the end of 2021 is Kamen Bankovski, Principal at Vitosha Venture Partners in Bulgaria.

VentureUP is a well-structured organization, which was a delight and pleasure to work with. With the support of SwissEP, organizations like this are instrumental to the ecosystem and the distribution of support, expertise, and a network of partners, advisors, and investors. This is especially important in startup ecosystems with insufficient early-stage capital and supportive investors. The role of VentureUP is critical in supporting the bottom-up growth of such communities, specifically in the incubation or acceleration stages of company development.

Kamen Bankovski, Principal at Vitosha Venture Partners

VentureUP has evolved into a community-driven organization that successfully fulfills market demand and creates a long-awaited plurality in the supply of services to startups in the Kosovo ecosystem. And they don't plan to stop here. They have big plans for the future, and we will gladly follow their lead.

We will continue supporting new entrepreneurs with innovative solutions. We want to help them transform their early-stage ideas into sustainable businesses by providing tailored technical assistance, financing, and connecting them with markets. Moreover, we want to see as many new startups scaling to regional and international markets by receiving tailored technical and financial support. In general, we want to strengthen the overall startup ecosystem in Kosovo and become more welcoming and attractive for new entrepreneurs.

Mentor Rexhepi, Executive Director of VentureUP