by: Vasken Spiru and Ergest Nako
You want to be part of the startup scene and found in the lively and colourful beating heart of Albania? Then check out this guide about Tirana.
Founded in 1614 and proclaimed Albania’s capital in 1920, today, lively and colourful Tirana is the beating heart of Albania. The nation’s hopes and dreams coalesce into a vibrant whirl of traffic, brash consumerism: unfettered fun, triggering innovation and entrepreneurship can be found in Tirana. Having undergone a transformation of extraordinary proportions since it awoke from its communist slumber in the early 1990s, Tirana’s centre is now unrecognisable, with its buildings painted in primary colours, and public squares and pedestrianized streets a pleasure to wander.
Trendy Blloku buzzes with the well-heeled and flush hanging out in bars or zipping between boutiques, while the city’s grand boulevards are lined with fascinating relics of its Ottoman, Italian, Russian and East communist past architecture – from delicate minarets to loud socialist murals. Loud, crazy, colourful and dusty, balkanic– Tirana is never dull.
GPS Direction: Tirana
- Tirana and the whole country are located between West and East Europe. It is only 30 km away from the most important harbour of Albania (Italy 271 km in one night ferry) and less than 200 km by car from Greece (194 km Kapshtica), Kosovo (Morina 162 km), Montenegro (106 km Muriqan) and Macedonia (104 km Qafa e Thanës).
- Even though it is hard to pin down the exact number of students in Tirana, it is considered the main “bakery” of IT and Economics students, without even counting those from privately held universities. The unexplored field of startups has experienced a fast rise of interest in the last 3 years and the students are the most active in this direction. This mass of eager students is the perfect pool for future employees and co-founders.
- The population of Albania, the young one of Tirana and adjacent Durres is very good in foreign languages. English and also Italian are the most spoken foreign languages among the Albanian youth; but German, French, Greek and Spanish do not stay far behind.
- The population of Tirana has the highest purchasing power of Albania, but also the country is still among the cheapest labour markets of the region. This is also powered by the lowest tax system in the area.
Keep in mind:
- Although Albania is a beautiful country it holds a small population of around 3 million people. Also the purchase power outside main cities like Tirana, Durrës, Vlorë, Fier, Elbasan, Shkodër decreases drastically. Unless you are starting small and thinking global, “Albanian speaking local” (Albania & Kosovo), be aware of this fact.
- The costa of starting a business are very small. Just the registration at the One-Stop-Shop Business Registration Center (QKR) is only 1 EUR but keep in mind that companies (especially small ones) have to prepay the Tax based on expectations. Moreover the Bankruptcy procedures are still very long and time exhausting.
First Stop: Discover Tirana’s Startup Community
Being a startup means taking the risk of your idea and continuing to “make the world a better place”, Although Tirana is not Silicon Valley and startups have started show themselves just 3 years ago, the city still offers a reasonable number of events, meeting events and information points. As new appear, we will refresh this guide. The community is very energetic and it is guided by local players which have a great reputation in Tirana. Also, new players come up every day and this is the reason we strongly believe in a bright future for the startup and entrepreneurial community in Tirana.
Where you can find information about upcoming events:
- Protik: The Protik ICT Resource Center was established by the combined efforts and goals of the Government of Albania, USAID, Albanian-American Development Foundation (AADF), Microsoft, Cisco, and Albtelecom. Protik aims to become the Albanian ICT hub: a connection point for those seeking the latest and most innovative ideas, products, and services.
- Open Labs Open Labs organizes weekly activities that include workshops, projects, meetings and Oscal, the annual conference on open source technology. So far Open Labs has organized more than 60 events in Albania and abroad.
- GARAZH (The Garage) is a coming soon project brought up by the startup and innovation enthusiasts who are already contributing into building the startup ecosystem in Tirana. With the main objective to contribute, promote and shape the innovation in Albania, the organisation aims to become the one-stop for professionals, entrepreneurs, and startups by offering access to resources and knowledge.
- Business Mag: This business magazine is the first digital magazine product of Infoalbania.al with original business-oriented content.
- PCWorld, published for the first time in June 2008, is the Albanian Magazine for Information Technology and Communication, supported by ICTS media.
Regular events and meet-ups:
- TEDx Tirana is a local, independently organized TED event in Tirana that strives to create the unique experience found at TED. At its core, TEDxTirana’s fundamental goal is to foster and spread great ideas and meaningful work as well as to provide a platform where thinkers and fascinating, teacher and females will be inspired and will inspire others.
- Startup Grind Tirana, part of Startup Grind is a local startup community designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs. They aim to build a connected network of vibrant startup communities to help fuel innovation, economic growth and prosperity at the local level. Each month they welcome an amazing speaker (local or international) who shares his story with our community and tells us what worked, what didn’t, and what he’ll do differently the next time. Speakers talk about the rough times and the celebrations. It’s an amazing opportunity to learn from the best, network with other members of the startup community, and improve your chances of entrepreneurial success.
- ETIK is an education provider of choice for career commencement and professional development to local ICT communities. They endeavors to be a professional, community spirited and progressive training body delivering weekly (every sunday) training services to everyone interested in ICT, especially to students.
Yearly or major events, festivals, conferences:
- Startup Weekend is part of t a global network of passionate leaders and entrepreneurs on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, teams and communities. Come to share ideas, form teams, and launch startups, all in the space of 54 hours. Moreover the event organizers offer stimulation prices for the best startups to further continue developing their idea. This events are organized by a strong local supporting community of volunteers.
- Hello Tomorrow Tirana is a local community built by Tirana Ambassador and local community members, with the mission to help building a better future for Europe. This yearly event, as part of the hello tomorrow challenges, gathers the best local startups or projects to help shape the future.
- Startup Live offers a unique 2.5 day workshop format where talents from various backgrounds come together for one weekend, form teams, and develop early business concepts. Every team receives valuable feedback and support from experienced mentors and has the chance to pitch their business idea in front of a panel of judges. The best projects from every event further qualify for advanced mentoring workshops to make them investment-ready.
- OSCAL (Open Source Conference Albania) is the first annual conference in Albania organized to promote software freedom, open source software, free culture and open knowledge, a global movement that originally started more than 25 years ago. The Conference takes place during spring in Tirana and will gather free libre open source technology users, developers, academics, governmental agencies and people who share the idea that software should be free and open for the local community and governments to develop and customize to its needs; that knowledge is a communal property and free and open to everyone.
- ITC Awards is a yearly event where individual or startups get recognized for their achievement during the previous year. The event is held during April and May.
- DOiT (Design Overview in Tirana) is an established annual event about visual communications in traditional and non-traditional media. The 1st and only, international event in Albania dedicated to Advertising, Design and New Media. DOiT started, and keeps going, with a clear vision to create a strong creative community, to change the creative field in the country and to enhance the development of it by educating, inspiring, motivating and feeding the creativity in Albania.
- Innovation week – organized by the Minister of Innovation and Public Administration is a week full of events in the field of Innovation, ICT and Entrepreneurship. This week is scheduled in the first week of May. During it, startups, enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and big companies organize events or take part in the other events, including high tech fairs.
And this is not all; other small events are organized by private initiatives like the “Innovate your way out” held by a Professor of Innovation in the University of Tirana, a 3 month training-by-doing innovation incubator that ends with a challenge between the projects.
Second Stop: Park At A Co-Working Space
Coworking has proven to be one of the best ways to get connected in a new community. In Tirana the term is relatively new and limited to only a few places that offer such services like the Talent Garden and Tirana Business Park, where you might find a business partner, or access to events. The first coworking space in Tirana was launched in 2015
- Talent Garden Tirana (TAG) is the first campus in Albania that can host up to 48 members. The campus offers one closed meeting/event room, one open event room, a terrace to be used to relax to have meetings amongst members and events, a game area, a kitchen as well as extra services needed for the entrepreneur. Day by day they are growing this network in which all the members can freely move and work from different places.
- Tirana Business Park is a new-state-of-the-art business park, Lindner‘s Pioneering Concept for business parks fusing the best European Business Environment with a green concept. IT offer freelancer, startups, SME and Enterprise coworking space and dedicated office.
- Innovation Hub, a coming soon project by Minister of Innovation and Public Administration with the goal to create the first hub for startups.
Third Stop: Tank Your Finances
With a culture in family-driven or self-financed business, investment capital has not been part the way business is done in Albania. During these 5 years we have seen some foundations or embassies, which have started helping local project and startups to grow.
- Yunus Social Business helps create social businesses around the world through setting up incubator funds and helping people in developing and emerging countries to become successful entrepreneurs through financial support but most importantly through training, coaching and mentoring as well as access to local and global networks.
- Protik Center is a local non-for profit organization with mission to catalyse the development of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector in Albania. Protik aims to become the Albanian ICT hub: a connection point for those seeking the latest and most innovative ideas, products, and services.
Grants and subventions:
- Yunus Social Business: In 2013, YSB Albania funded and supported the launch of 3 social businesses with more than $260,000 in financing, with a further $34,000 mobilized from YSB’s co-financers.
- Vodafone Foundation aims to allocate grants to local organizations, including nonprofit organizations and other civil society institutions in order to respond to community needs. Vodafone Albania Foundation also delivers donations in kind that are generated by the benefits and development of mobile communication technology.
- USAID offers some supporting grants and subventions to different categories of businesses from time to time. USAID’s programs in Albania strengthen democratic institutions, promote civil society, reduce corruption, promote gender equality and, at the same time, create a more favourable environment for inclusive economic growth – all necessary to move Albania forward more quickly towards greater democracy while meeting criteria that are essential to achieving its European aspirations.
- GIZ has been working in Albania on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) since the development cooperation between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Albania. GIZ is focused on financing project mainly in the following areas: sustainable economic development, water sector reform as well as agricultural and rural development.
- Embassies like the Embassy of United State in Tirana, the Embassy of the Netherlands in Albania, the Embassy of Israel or the Embassy of Switzerland offer grants and financial support for startups and local project in specific area of interest.
- AIDA (Albanian Investment Development Agency): AIDA’s main objectives are attracting foreign investment, increasing the competitiveness of the Albanian economy through the support for small and medium sized enterprises, as well as innovation. AIDA offers foreign and domestic investors some comprehensive support for their investment projects. Their staff assists not only with market analysis, potential sectors for investment, but also with advice on finding suitable properties and locations (greenfield and brownfield), as well as helping to identify new and existing projects to collaborate.
- StartUs provides profiles of Angel Investors based around Europe.
Fourth Stop: Seek further advice
- GARAZH, a coming soon project will provide to professionals, student, entrepreneurs and startups access to qualitative information, mentorship and resources.
- digjitale.com is a very helpful site when it comes to information about the region in English.
- Ministry of Innovation and Public Administration can help students, entrepreneurs and startup with resources throw their project in the sector of innovation.