“In fact, the Diaspora remains the brain of Kosovo, especially on the new emerging technologies”
While Kosovo is only lighting its 10th birthday candle this year, a large part of its population is not much older: The median age of Kosovars is just under 30 years.
“Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe and possesses a great potential for anyone that would like to start a business, especially in tech. Youngsters are motivated, skilled, multilingual and eager to learn”, believes Uranik Begu, Executive Director of the Innovation Centre Kosovo (ICK), when I ask him about what makes Kosovo attractive for startups.
ICK was founded as a business incubator 2012, and since then has evolved as a key hub of a growing network that now includes partnerships with Techstars, Kauffman Foundation, NASA Space Apps, European Youth Award, Startup Weekend, Startup Grind and FuckUP Nights. Other doors that entrepreneurial can knock on include the brand-new Gjirafa Lab, the accelerator of the successful Kosovan startup Gjirafa, a kind of Albanian-language Google that has secured more than 2 Million EUR in investor funding already.
While big names are entering the startup scene, it is just catching up – emblematic of its overall economy struggling to transition from its traditional roots in agriculture and raw material. And while Pristina is now dotted with business incubators, coding schools, hacker- and maker spaces, many find it still difficult to find opportunities in the country: The unemployment rate of those under 24 is more than 50%. Adding in a blood-stained war that was less than 20 years ago, one is not surprising that Kosovo counts a large and active diaspora in the world.
“In fact, the Diaspora remains the brain of Kosovo, especially on the new emerging technologies”, says Uranik Begu and points out that its importance goes far beyond the 759 million euros of remittances collected from the Kosovars abroad in 2017. The personal connections to especially to other Balkan states, the EU and the US bring in business ideas, help with opening international markets and link to global companies and investors.
One such example is Albanian-American Bleron Baraliu, born and raised in Kosovo, who quit his career at Wall Street to launch a series of startups in Pristina and Tirana.
“Our young people are intelligent, creative, motivated, and a terrific bunch to collaborate with”, he says in a recent interview. And while he is sharing the all-prevalent fear of brain drain of talent, he remains “convinced that the potential per capita in tech (in Kosovo) is far greater than what I have seen in Germany or Ireland, or even US.”
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