… and how to Build Albania into a Regional Leader in Innovation and Sustainability!
Ville Korpela is Managing Partner of Eagle Partners, a Tirana based corporate finance advisory firm. He is also Founding Partner of BoardRoom Investment Group, an Estonian based startup accelerator and business coaching firm with offices in Tallinn and Munich. Ville has visited Albania for the past year and through this article, he expresses his opinion regarding the country and the atmosphere of entrepreneurship and innovation.
I worked several years with the Russian capital market in various investment banking roles, mostly related to Mergers & Acquisitions and Venture Capital. What do I do in Albania? What happened quite simply was that I visited Albania and fell in love. Me and several my business partners were invited to Albania in July 2014 by a Fieri based construction company Bega-07 Shpk to look at investment opportunities. We recognized that Albania can be a huge investment opportunity, but that there is a lot of work to be done before a similar wave of foreign investment will come to Albania as happened in Croatia and Montenegro.
We set up Eagle Partners exactly a year ago to provide corporate finance, funding and business training services in Albania and to promote Albanian investment projects abroad.
Financial advisory services, especially corporate finance, together with venture capital investments, are not common services and financial instruments which the local market is familiar with in Albania. At the same time this provides us with a unique opportunity of being among the first companies offering these services, yet there is the fact that you will have to take your time to educate the market about what you do and to educate yourself about the specifics of the Albanian market to understand how to raise proper kind of funding structures for companies.
We held last September an investment event in Helsinki together with representatives of the Albanian Government. We also found our first clients and identified key areas in which we will focus in the future. These are innovation, sustainable development, tourism and energy. We spent a lot of time meeting with companies, informing them about what we do, preparing basic info material on various investment opportunities in Albania.
One of the major achievements on a macro level during our first year in Western Balkans, in which we took actively part, was the creation of the Nordic Chamber of Commerce in Albania and Kosovo. We believe the Chamber will become an active contributor to cementing ties between Albania and Kosovo and the Nordic countries.
On the challenges side I would say Albania is a rather typical frontier markets. Corruption, lack of transparency, large informal economy, lack of most modern financial structures and inexperience with dealing with foreign investors are all factors which make life challenging for foreign investors. However, these issues as I mentioned are common to all frontier markets and these are simply issues which need to be addressed and managed as part of a successful execution of any business strategy in the Balkans.
How to create a sustainable innovation ecosystem in Albania? This is probably my favorite topic. Innovation is a process which takes place in the present moment, it is facilitated through horizontal networks to which everyone with Internet connection and smartphone has access to. What we are witnessing is nothing but a total transformation how business is done. In the innovation economy it doesn’t matter where you are from or where you are based. It is ideas and connecting the right resources to add value to clients which matters.
Sustainability is also a large topic. I refer to sustainability when I talk about the fact that to create and communicate a success story in business you have to have goals which go beyond making profit to the shareholders. There needs to be some higher purpose that people can identify with, something that will make the world into a better place. I agree that many companies still think in the old fashioned way but even they will soon understand that their way doesn’t work in the new world in which we find ourselves today.
Innovation economy is still very much in the early stages of its development in Albania. However, what we are witnessing is miraculous, especially the speed with which the change is taking place. In the last three months alone, Tirana has seen the opening of the first startup co-working space, several startups have received or are in the process of securing investments from abroad, new innovation and startup events are being organized and people are anxious to learn and to do more.
If we want to attract investments in Albania, we need to change the perceptions of people about Albania. The story of Albania needs to be changed from “Country of the mafia, corruption and poverty” into “Amazing country of friendliness & tolerance, open space for growth and skilled young workforce”. Perception is reality. The best instrument for making this positive new vision into reality is by telling the stories of young Albanian entrepreneurs, building network and bridges across the globe and connecting the dots to allow Albania to retain her talents while building a growing and vibrant economy.
The companies I am involved with deal with brand consulting, future planning & vision workshops and business coaching, as well as providing funding and investment. We are open to provide our services to any organization in Albania who shares our vision for the future. We are especially excited about opportunities to work with Albanian startup companies, to connect them to our portfolio of Finnish, German and Estonian clients and to help them find ways to do business together.
I have a dream of Albania as a regional innovation center. One with great universities and graduate programs which attract students from all over Europe and internationally. An ecosystem of investment funds, university innovation centers and private startup networks, working together and staying connected to global innovation centers like Silicon Valley, Berlin, Tallinn and Shengzhen.
I dream of an Albania which has become the world’s leading ecotourism destination. Where people can stay in hotels, energy of which is generated from renewable sources, eat local bio food and enjoy the living and fascinating history from the Illyrian past to the Albanian present. I dream of an Albania which is retaining its best talents and also attracting talented people from all over the world. A country which provides equal opportunities for people regardless of their background, based on their merits and the work they do.
The best part is, this vision is not empty, something that could not be attained. All the main ingredients are in place. They are standards by which we can decide to live our lives starting today.
Do you want to share with us your experience in Albania? Send us an email at [email protected]
Cover photo by Arton Krasniqi