USAID Administrator Visits Founding Members of Western Balkan Startup Alliance

USAID Administrator Visits Founding Members of Western Balkan Startup Alliance

On May 10 & 11 2023, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Samantha Power, visited two leading innovation centers in the Western Balkans – the Innovation Centre Kosovo and the ICT Hub Belgrade – as part of his efforts to foster regional cooperation and support the growth of the technology sector in the region.

First, the Head of USAID visited ICT Hub Belgrade, where she interacted with leading tech entrepreneurs and startup founders. She commended the impressive growth of the Serbian tech ecosystem in recent years and expressed her commitment to supporting its further development. She also acknowledged the potential of the tech sector to drive economic growth and job creation, especially in post-conflict regions such as the Balkans.

During her visit to the Innovation Centre Kosovo, the Head of USAID praised the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of the Kosovar youth and highlighted the importance of creating an enabling environment for startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to thrive. She also lauded the efforts of USAID in providing funding and technical assistance to support the growth of the technology sector in Kosovo.

Overall, the visit was a testament to the importance of regional cooperation and the potential of the technology sector to drive innovation, economic growth, and social development. The Head of USAID expressed her confidence in the potential of the Western Balkans to become a leading hub for technology and innovation, and pledged USAID’s continued support for its growth and development.

Task ‘N Go | Made in Western Balkans

Task 'N Go | Made in Western Balkans

TASK ‘N GO participates in Ecosystem Cafe Webinar

Starting a business is not easy, especially when you operate from a region that faces significant challenges in the global business landscape. The Balkans region is widely known for its unique culture and history, but it also poses a number of obstacles when it comes to developing and running a startup.

Recently, it was our pleasure to attend a panel discussion hosted by the Western Balkans Startup Alliance, which brought together CEOs and Co-Founders of startups from various Balkan countries to discuss their experiences and challenges they have faced along the way. During the discussion, we had the opportunity to showcase our product Task ‘N Go and speak with A2CNN moderator, Anxhelo Haruni about what we have been working on for the past two years.Together with two other teams from the Western Balkans, we talked about our journey as a startup from this region and shared our insights and current projects we are working on vwithin Task ‘N Go. It was also our pleasure to hear and learn from the other startups about their strategies for overcoming their own unique challenges in various fields.

What we highlighted as the biggest challenge that startups in the Western Balkans face, is limited access to funding. insufficient seed capital and an unstable business environment make investors hesitant to support startups, forcing them to bootstrap and rely solely on their revenue streams to survive.Another challenge is the absence of a supportive ecosystem. A supportive ecosystem is a vital element for any startup to succeed, but the region lacks the necessary resources and support for startups to set up and grow their businesses.

The panel not only provided valuable insights, but it also gave us the opportunity to establish relationships with the other startups. Through this panel discussion, we were able to share our journey and mission with like-minded entrepreneurs from the region.

We express our gratitude towards the Western Balkans Startup Alliance and moderator Anxhelo Harruni, for putting together such a panel. The pleasant atmosphere created an environment for learning and networking, and we look forward to future events like this, providing further opportunities for us to connect, learn and grow our businesses.

Learn more about the company and their ambitious plan at https://taskngo.me. 

European Innovation Academy Porto, Portugal JULY 16 – AUGUST 4, 2023

European Innovation Academy Porto, Portugal JULY 16 - AUGUST 4, 2023

Call for young professionals, students and recent graduates from the Western Balkans!

Do you want to start a new, innovative project/business and learn about the most recent developments in entrepreneurship?

Are you a national of the Western Balkans and currently residing there?

Do you have a good level of English?

Are you 18 to 25?

We are looking for you!

Start your career journey with one of the world’s leading entrepreneurship summer programs for students –  European Innovation Academy (EIA) in Porto, Portugal, from July 16 to August 4, 2023. Find out more about the program here.

OSCE

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) offers 30 full-paid scholarships to students, young professionals, and start-uppers from the Western Balkans. Selected finalists will be immersed in a multicultural ecosystem with professionals and mentors from the world’s top institutions, including business leaders from the US, Europe, and Asia, that will help talents emerge and make a difference.

This initiative is an integral component of the engagement of the Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities (OCEEA) in the field of human capital development, in line with the OSCE mandate and commitments.

For further information, please contact the closest OSCE Field Operation or the local branch office of RYCO or send an email to YDEAS@osce.org.

APPLY HERE

FAQ

Applications are open from April 18 to May 7, 2023 (23:59 CET). 

The scholarship covers the tuition fee of 1699 EUR (including the 15-day program, mentorship, speaker sessions, tools, networking events, 6 ECTS, etc.), traveling, and accommodation costs. Female candidates are encouraged to apply –  50% of places are reserved for them.

To apply, candidates must fill in the EIA registration form and submit their CV and a video pitch of their business idea of not more than 3 minutes in English. Preference will be accorded to ideas for socially and environmentally impactful businesses, particularly in the field of employment/training, sustainable transport, sustainable tourism, waste management, energy, sustainable agriculture, and pollution reduction.

The OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organization. The OSCE works for stability, peace, and democracy for more than a billion people, through political dialogue about shared values and through practical work that makes a lasting difference. You can read more about OSCE HERE.

The Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), established on 4 July 2016, is an independently functioning institutional mechanism, aiming to promote the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation between the youth in the Western Balkans’ region through youth exchange programs. You can read more about RYCO HERE.

Support startups growing internationally

Support startups growing internationally

Support Startups Growing Internationally

In recent years, startup companies started to expand and be noted in other markets besides Western Balkans. Some of them have been recognized as unicorns and stood as an inspiration to other entrepreneurs. However, many startups struggle to achieve the scale and growth they need to succeed within their own borders.

One of the key challenges facing startups in the Western Balkans is the limited size of the domestic market. With a population of around 18 million people, the region is relatively small compared to more mature markets, such as the US and Europe.  To overcome this challenge, many Western Balkan startups are looking to expand into international markets. This can provide them with access to larger and more diverse customer bases, as well as new opportunities for growth and development. However, expanding into international markets is not without its challenges, and requires careful planning and execution.

One of the key challenges facing Western Balkan startups when it comes to market expansion is the lack of experience and knowledge of foreign markets. Unlike more established companies, startups may not have the resources or expertise to navigate the complexities of international markets, such as differing regulations and cultural differences. As a result, they may need to seek out external support and guidance to succeed.

Another challenge is the lack of access to networks and connections in foreign markets. Unlike more mature markets, where startups can tap into established networks of investors, customers, and partners, the western Balkans may not have the same level of access. This can make it difficult for startups to establish relationships and partnerships in foreign markets and can hinder their ability to expand. Members of the Western Balkans Startup Council proposed the following solutions to this problem in the document Policy recommendations: Building a notion on the idea of reciprocity (hubs); providing support for a soft landing; having projects cover the costs of a participant’s international travel.

There are many opportunities for Western Balkan startups to grow and succeed internationally. By leveraging their strengths, such as their innovative technologies and entrepreneurial spirit, and seeking out support and guidance from incubators/accelerators, startups in the region can expand into new markets and drive their own growth and development.

Facilitate the engagement of corporates in innovation processes

Facilitate the Engagement of Corporates in Innovation Processes

In recent years, Western Balkans as a region has witnessed significant progress in terms of economic development and technological improvement. This growth has been visible across the region. This growth has been fostered in part by the private sector, as companies in the region have attempted to adapt to the changing global market. Nevertheless, Western Balkans Startup Council sees the potential for WB start-up ecosystems to boost huge and conventional economic sectors including manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, energy, and public infrastructure and services.

One of the key drivers of corporate innovation in the Western Balkans has been the growth of the tech sector. In particular, the region has seen an increase in the development of software and IT services, as well as the emergence of new startups and other ecosystem actors.

Another factor contributing to corporate innovation in the Western Balkans has been the increasing globalisation of the economy. As the region has become more integrated with the global market, companies have had to adapt to new technologies and business models to remain competitive. Young entrepreneurs can provide established companies with the agility and innovation corporate needs to remain competitive and succeed.

The Western Balkans has also seen the growth of government initiatives and programs aimed at supporting innovation. For example, several economies in the region have established innovation agencies or other organizations that provide funding and support for startups and other innovative companies. This support has helped to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship and has contributed to the growth of the tech sector in the region. It has also led to the adoption of new approaches to innovation, such as open innovation and collaboration of incubators/accelerators with corporations, to stay ahead of the curve. The same programs for supporting startup growth should include representatives from the corporate sector. Corporate representatives may give technical and regulatory mentorship to start-ups and support their integration into the corporate environment.

Members of the Western Balkans Startup Council in the Policy recommendation paper proposed actions for this section:

  1. Mapping Corporations and SMEs

Mapping the corporates, who have the greatest need and are predisposed to support us / whom can we lean on first to create examples of success.

  1. Presenting conceptual thinking to a select few CEOs and seeking their active support in structuring the concept
  2. Creating awareness for corporate benefits of an engagement (CSR / Productivity, New Markets, Overall Competitiveness, Attractiveness as a modern employer)
  3. Committing initial CEO support to assist your organisations within their peer communities (and thus helping engage their peers)
  4. Devising the program structure, from light to full engagement

Overall, over the past few years, the Western Balkans economies have made great progress in spreading awareness and increasing the engagement of the corporates in the entrepreneurial ecosystems. In the upcoming years, there will be more innovative startups in the region that will address global needs and a stronger ecosystem to follow up on their growth.

Western Balkan Startup Alliance Visits the Netherlands

Western Balkan Startup Alliance visits the Netherlands

From 7-9 March a delegation of 14 organizations from the Western Balkan had the opportunity to visit the Netherlands. They were invited by GIZ to enter into a dialogue with representatives of the startup ecosystems in Amsterdam and The Hague. Within this ecosystem discovery visit, the lessons learned by the Dutch ecosystem were shared from city, regional and national point of view focusing on the 4 common startup ecosystem challenges: access to technology, talent, capital and markets.

The Netherlands Ecosystem

About fifteen years ago the Netherlands became very aware of the fact that it was not meeting its business potential. Regional and national initiatives were competing and reinventing ways to support tech companies to grow. However, on many levels these initiatives were lacking the historic Dutch collaborative approach. This resulted in the inability of startups to reach their growth potential.The fragmented approach was counterproductive. A radical change was required, identifying opportunities, amplifying growth by collaboration and institutionalizing this approach with policy and funding. In 2015 this resulted in TechLeap (formerly known as Startup Delta) a public-private partnership that collaborates with the Netherlands’ primary innovation hubs to speed up innovation, attract startups, corporates, and investors to the Netherlands, and serve as an advocate for the startup community to policy makers.

Now, almost a decade later The Netherlands benefits from a favorable startup business climate. The countries’ thriving startup ecosystem has produced several successful startups, including Adyen, Booking.com, and TomTom. These companies have helped to put the Netherlands on the map as a hub for innovation and technology,and have attracted significant investment from both domestic and international investors.

PROGRAM

 

Day one

The first day the delegation visited The Next Web (TNW). This private organization in the ecosystem (in 2019 purchased by Financial Times) explained their activities, role, and collaborations. Also a representative from Startup Amsterdam and several corporate partners like KPMG explained how different private and municipal organizations collaborate.

After a tour of the TNW-facilities and a lunch, the delegation proceeded to Science Park Amsterdam where the  university incubator program ACE and co-working location Startup Village was visited. One of their startups in the program explained their experience and benefits from the entrepreneurs’ perspective.

The day really reflected how events, co-working spaces and public -private collaboration and universities are driving the Amsterdam ecosystem.

 

Day two

The next day we traveled to The Hague, the political and administrative capital of the Netherlands. The Hague started to develop its ecosystem later then Amsterdam and has a different focus.  The Hague Tech and ImpactCity hosted the delegation at their premises. Organizations like ImpactCityYoung Digitals, and Futurepreneurs WorldStartupFactory explained how they’re not pursuing the unicorn status, but are impact driven. The Dutch Government (Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO)) explained how they create a favorable framework for startups through taxes, subsidized international activities and work/residence permits for talent, startups and entrepreneurs.

Day Three

The last day of the visit a very valuable session was offered by Innoleaps and Startup Boothcamp.  In depth information was exchanged on how successful accelerator programs are effectively functioning, including scouting, selection, program set up, valuation and financing. After lunch Dealroom gave a presentation on the importance of data.

We concluded the day with a debriefing session and social activity to digest all inspiring information, meetings and people the group connected with during this short but productive visit.

Joining the visit: Innovation Centre Kosovo Business & Innovation Center Business Accelerator UKIM (BAU) Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center Tehnopolis Makerspace Innovation Center Prizren ICT Hub INTERA Technology Park Startup Macedonia Oficina Digital Serbia Initiative Foundation for Sustainable Economic development Preda Plus Albiz Foundation Prime Blue ESG Institute GIZ

Visit hosted by: Handelsroute.nl

Support startups growing internationally

In recent years, startup companies started to expand and be noted in other markets besides Western Balkans. Some of them have been recognized as unicorns and stood as an inspiration to other entrepreneurs. However, many startups struggle to achieve the scale and growth they need to succeed within their own borders.

One of the key challenges facing startups in the Western Balkans is the limited size of the domestic market. With a population of around 18 million people, the region is relatively small compared to more mature markets, such as the US and Europe.  To overcome this challenge, many Western Balkan startups are looking to expand into international markets. This can provide them with access to larger and more diverse customer bases, as well as new opportunities for growth and development. However, expanding into international markets is not without its challenges, and requires careful planning and execution.

One of the key challenges facing Western Balkan startups when it comes to market expansion is the lack of experience and knowledge of foreign markets. Unlike more established companies, startups may not have the resources or expertise to navigate the complexities of international markets, such as differing regulations and cultural differences. As a result, they may need to seek out external support and guidance to succeed.

Another challenge is the lack of access to networks and connections in foreign markets. Unlike more mature markets, where startups can tap into established networks of investors, customers, and partners, the western Balkans may not have the same level of access. This can make it difficult for startups to establish relationships and partnerships in foreign markets and can hinder their ability to expand. Members of the Western Balkans Startup Council proposed the following solutions to this problem in the document Policy recommendations: Building a notion on the idea of reciprocity (hubs); providing support for a soft landing; having projects cover the costs of a participant’s international travel.

There are many opportunities for Western Balkan startups to grow and succeed internationally. By leveraging their strengths, such as their innovative technologies and entrepreneurial spirit, and seeking out support and guidance from incubators/accelerators, startups in the region can expand into new markets and drive their own growth and development.

Enable early-stage funding access to startups

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Policy recommendations from the Western Balkans Startup Council address key challenges, offer guidance and suggest actions all connected to funding early-stage startups.

One of the most significant challenges for Western Balkan start-ups is the scarcity of seed capital. For many start-ups, getting the initial funding they need to develop and launch their product could be a significant challenge. This could be a severe barrier to growth, preventing some startups from getting off the ground.

Another challenge that Western Balkan start-ups face is a lack of assistance and mentoring. In comparison to more developed start-up ecosystems, the region lacks a strong network of experienced entrepreneurs who can give direction and assistance to young startup entrepreneurs. Without proper guidance, it can be challenging for new entrepreneurs to navigate the early phases of their growth and gain access to the resources they need to expand and prosper.

Nevertheless, there are many possibilities accessible for Western Balkan entrepreneurs seeking early-stage funding. One alternative is to seek grants or other types of funding assistance from government agencies and other groups.

Start-up founders seek out angel investors and venture capital firms to provide alternative funding. Countries in the Western Balkans are becoming a hotspot for a growing number of investors ready to invest their capital and expertise in emerging ventures. Additionally, there is an increasing number of incubators and accelerators in the region with a set of support programs and activities to provide funding and guidance to entrepreneurs which is a great source of funding for new enterprises. Crowdfunding is an option for additional funding for Western Balkan startups to showcase the startup’s product to a great audience of possible investors.

Furthermore, members of the Western Balkans Startup Council in the Policy recommendation paper proposed actions for this section:

  1. Prioritise Business angel activities.  Additional actions include:

·     Quality Angel Groups Supported by Government Funding Programs

·      Pre-Seed Grant Funding Through Angel Groups

·      Sidecar Fund to Amplify Angel Investment

  1. Introduction of tax benefits for companies or investor investment into start-ups, innovation, and R&D
  2. Co-investment fund
  3. Convertible loan
  4. Continuous support of the programs for start-ups. Additional actions include:

·    Use a funding program to support two quality Seed Accelerators

·    Funding Requirements and Structure

In conclusion, the Western Balkans faces significant challenges when it comes to early-stage funding for start-ups. However, there are also signs of progress, and with continued support from the government, investors, and other stakeholders, we can expect to see more growth and development in the start-up ecosystem in the future.

Advocate for Policy Change

Advocate for Policy Change

The Western Balkans region advances over the years in terms of economic development and technological progression. North Macedonia and Serbia have been particularly successful in this regard. This development has been helped along in part by the expansion of the startup sector, which has seen a rise in the number of innovative companies that seek to innovate and disrupt more established industries.

However, despite this progress, the region still faces many challenges when it comes to fostering innovation and supporting the growth of startups. One of the key challenges is the lack of a supportive policy environment, which can make it difficult for startups to access the resources and support they need to succeed.

Policy advocacy refers to the process of influencing public policy to support innovation and the growth of start-ups. There are several key areas where policy advocacy can make a difference in terms of supporting innovation and start-ups in the Western Balkans. Governments may best keep up with market changes and demands by collaborating via expert working groups and ecosystem associations.

Additionally, policymakers can create a more conducive environment for innovation by providing tax incentives for investors, as well as supporting the development of incubators and accelerators to run start-up programs. Some economies in Western Balkans provide access to affordable capital and other resources for start-ups, as well as promote collaboration and networking within the start-up community.

Furthermore, policy advocacy can play a crucial role in raising awareness of the potential of innovation and start-ups to drive economic growth and development in the region. By highlighting the successes and potential of the start-up sector, policymakers can help to build support for policies that will enable innovation and entrepreneurship to thrive. Many good examples came from the top governments that put innovation and entrepreneurship on the high priority of their agenda.

Members of the Western Balkans Start-up Council in the Policy recommendation paper proposed actions for this section:

  1. Working groups with field experts
  2. Education of policymakers on start-ups
  3. Comparative analysis
  4. Donor engagement
  5. Regional association of startup-related organisations

In conclusion, policy advocacy is an important tool for supporting innovation and start-ups in the Western Balkans. By working together with policymakers, investors, and other stakeholders, the region can create a more supportive environment for innovation and drive economic growth and development.

The way forward for a regional entrepreneurship ecosystem

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