Interested in launching your startup in Eastern Europe? You’ll be surprised about the perks of Kosovo’s most energetic city Prishtina.
GPS Direction: Prishtina
The young Europeans of Kosovo don’t get visa-free traveling or tons of investment funds, but they continue to push forward and put Prishtina on the startup spotlight as one of the new destinations in Eastern Europe. Many youngsters are unprepared for the labour market because of Kosovo’s fragile educational system. The gaps are filled by companies through private training programs. On the other hand people tend to be quite tech-savvy, learn things on their own and get new experiences through freelancing, outsourcing etc. This is happening because of their strong English and German skills, a working culture similar to Western Europe and the US, and an average age of 25 for half of the population.
Advantages of starting a startup in Prishtina:
- Prishtina is located in the middle of the Balkans, close to the main capitals of the region and just a few hours away from other European capitals such as Berlin,London or Amsterdam.
- You will find a huge pool for young talents, employees and co-founders here – over 50% of the population is aged around 25 with 50,000 university students in the year 2014 and a few thousands more spread in private universities.
- The taxation system is very suitable for startups with 10% profit tax and zero VAT for outsourcing services. Low taxation is applied to employees and other business-related activities as well. No initial capital or registration tax is required for new startups.
- Almost everyone speaks English or German, making it a perfect destination for different types of product or service developments.
What you should have in mind:
- Although the country is new and attracts a lot of foreign attention, the unemployment rate is above 40% and the purchasing power is not even close to the levels of Western European countries. Selling a product in Kosovo might be quite challenging because of that.
- Finding the right professionals is sometimes a challenge on its own. Local companies go for training and investing internally when they cannot find the right resources on the market.
- The market doesn’t offer any solid investment solutions for your business. There are some organizations (mentioned below), but they are mostly donor-funded. Only recently are some private investors beginning to move forward on their own.
First Stop: Discover Prishtina’s Startup Community
The startup community in Kosovo is young and vibrant with some local players slowly moving towards the global startup scene. One of the fastest ways to get connected with the locals is through startup events and conferences. Some of them include:
- Digjitale.com is the main source for startups in Kosovo and the region, and they also have an events calendar that they update constantly with events.
- Prishtina Designers and Developers, Albanian Developers and Kosovo PHP are some of the most tech-oriented groups where a lot of information is shared.
- Innovation Centre Kosovo, IPKO Foundation and Prishtina Hackerspace all serve as hubs for most of the startup events.
- Some of the most popular networking events in the city include Barcamp Prishtinaand Beer & Code Prishtina
- TEDxPrishtina is an independently organised TED Event rapidly developing the community of Prishtina. A lot of events and talks are organized around startups, experiences and development.
Big Events and Competitions
- Dokutech is an outstanding tech conference at the well-known International Film Festival Dokufest in Prizren, Kosovo, gathering speakers on talks about open knowledge, space exploration, investments, hacking, security and more.
- Wikiacademy is a yearly event organized to further develop the online content on different topics about Kosovo.
- Startup Weekend Prishtina is part of a global network of passionate leaders and entrepreneurs on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, teams and communities. Come share ideas, form teams, and launch startups, all in the space of 54 hours.
- KosICT is a regional IT conference gathering IT professionals and more corporate people to share their experiences and knowledge.
- REDO Designers Conference is a conference gathering local designers who give different speeches about design, workshops, ideas, etc.
- Software Freedom Kosova is the largest open source conference in the Balkans, gathering over 500 participants every year to talk about open source and free software.
- Appcamp Kosovo is an annual event organised to develop different kinds of apps for Kosovo.
Second Stop: Park At A Coworking Space
Coworking has proven to be one of the best ways to get connected in a new community. In Kosovo the term is relatively new and limited to only a few places that offer such services like the Innovation Centre Kosovo, where you might find a business partner, some funding or access to events. Prishtina Hackerspace is another such coworking space, but geared towards a broader audience, including musicians.
Dit’e’Nat in Prishtina has also developed into a coworking space, thanks to the community and especially foreigners that come to the country and want to enjoy a nice and cozy place to work, grab a coffee and meet new people.
Some upcoming initiatives have been mentioned in different channels, but there’s nothing concrete to be mentioned here yet. We’ll keep you updated on this one.
Third Stop: Tank Your Finances
With a culture rooted in family driven businesses, investment capital has been absent from the region. Only in the last years have some foreign funded organisations started to offer grants and some sort of funding. Still the financial situation is far from what you can expect from a typical European venture fund. But overall, starting a business with limited resources has been improved greatly in the last three years through different programs and access to the regional investment funds, backed up by the European Investment Funds.
Incubators & Accelerators:
- Innovation Centre Kosovo offers a cool coworking space for selected startups. It is free initially and then offers paid rent, additional services and also some grants through the process. The Norwegian funded business incubator is a great place to start your new business and there are no equities taken from your business.
- MDA Foundation is a Swiss backed business incubator that offers basic services and some support, while some equities are taken from your business if you start here.
- CEED Acceleration Program is a new acceleration program offering a 3-6 month acceleration track with connections to communities, mentors, a good working environment, events and more.
- In the StartUs Ecosystem you can search for investment companies, incubators and accelerators all over Europe.
Grants and Subventions:
- USAID offers some supporting grants and subventions to different categories of businesses from time to time.
- GIZ is also offering grants and subventions to businesses in Kosovo, no matter if they are startups or already established.
- KIESA – Kosovo Investment and Enterprise Support Agency is a government agency working with public funding. The agency is offering small grants to small and medium sized businesses through different schemes, supported by the EU Office.
- Embassies, like the US Embassy or Norwegian Embassy, from different countries offer grants and subventions throughout the year as well. You must show real numbers in job creation and business expansion when applying for such programs.
Angel Investors and other Investment Opportunities:
- KOSBAN, being a part of EBAN, is a network of business angels from Kosovo and the region. It is supported by other foreign donor organisations to find and invest in startups aiming for expansion and product development.
- EYE Venture is a private investment and accelerator fund offering mentorship, investment and guidance in business development for local entrepreneurs.
- StartUs provides profiles of Angel Investors based around Europe.
Entrepreneurs and startup founders searching for solid funding solutions should check out regional investment funds and accelerators acting in Eastern Europe, as they are all open to startups from Kosovo as well and offer decent terms for equity and investments.
Fourth Stop: Seek Further Advice
- digjitale.com is a very helpful site when it comes to information about the region in English.
- Are you looking for more advice on how to register your business, to get access to funding, exporting, etc.? Go check out this section of ICK: the publications funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs offer a great help.
- Moreover, the national registration agency of Kosovo has many resources on business registration and also hosts a huge database of already existing businesses in the market. This can add great value to you if you are looking for partners. You can also find legal templates for contracts and agreements there.
In case you want to learn more about the taxation system in Kosovo head over to this site. You will find a valuable amount of information, a number of e-services and the possibility to pay taxes online as well.
Are you ready to kick off your startup in Prishtina?