Category Archives: Innovation

From Prishtina to London: Visar Statovci’s First Office Was In A Hallway

Creativity works in mysterious ways. It can be found in the most conventional of places, but also in the most unusual of places. Visar Statovci, born and raised in Prishtina, was merely 13 years old when he first became interested in the field of design. It’s news to none that, because of the war, the 90s in Kosovo were not particularly friendly towards the creative world. Visar built a dream that was far bigger than his reality permitted, but one that paid off in the end.

A co-founder of Waster Creative, Visar Statovci is our persona of the day, and his story is one filled with dreams, risks, and success.

Growing up in Prishtina, Visar was first introduced to design through his older brother Arber. Only a year after he moved to London in 1998, Visar landed his first job as a junior designer for Perception DM, a local design company. He attributes his initial success to friends who guided him. Through the new experience, he expanded his skills by working in the digital field, which he hadn’t done before. For a short while, Visar worked as a freelance designer leading different projects and further exploring the field of design. It was during this time that he took his talents back to Kosova and worked as a designer and consultant for Ipko.net for over a year. 

He later returned to London and attended Chelsea College of Art and Design while simultaneously working for New Media Maze, a digital creative agency specializing in the entertainment sector. From there, Visar and two friends joined forces to build their own company, which they named Waste Creative.

This company is an offspring of hard work and dedication from three young men with big dreams. The company’s first office was the hallway of their flat in Camden Town, but that did not pose a problem. They had made a good impression on New Media Maze which led the company to begin deferring to the powerful trio for help with different projects. Waste Creative became their overflow agency.  Soon after this, more and more brands started approaching Waste, attracted by the quality of the work they were doing, and the speed with which they took it to market.

The next challenge for Visar and his team was to work on something they had not explored before—the gaming industry. One of their first projects included collaborating with the gaming industry giant, Sega, who continue to be one of their clients 12 years later. Waste Creative was able to transition from a small makeshift office in the hallways of a converted church to a large office in Clerkenwell, the design and creative hub of London, attracting many world-renowned companies such as Supercell, Sega, British Gas, Camelot, Warner Brothers etc.

So, what drives their success? Visar claims that learning and growing together as a team is the key to moving and growing. He is a firm believer in his team who are not only capable but also positive and dedicated. His team is also his greatest joy and proudest accomplishment. It’s these long-lasting relationships with their clients and the team bonding that have given Visar and Waste Creative the strength and skill to compete with the giants of the industry and have made them a household name.

While Visar continues pursuing his business dreams, Kosova, as he knew it almost two decades ago, has changed a lot. The positive energy and the talent of the youth of Kosova give Visar hope that the country’s future is bright.  In fact, there are a number of talented young Kosovans now working at Waste Creative.

However, he wishes that the local government would do more to put that energy to good use and establish institutional support for foreign investments.

“If we want to help Kosova, we need to do our bit and contribute to the countries and communities we live in… we need to try to become influential in our individual fields and use any opportunity to showcase what we have to offer to the world as people and as a country”, he explains.

Visar believes that the world needs to hear more success stories coming from Kosovo, as it is, according to him, the best way to create a positive image in the world. Moving forward, Visar thinks communities abroad should be more structured and engage in PR strategies that combat negative press about the country. 

Diaspora Flet Conference

Diaspora: Partners Towards Better Futures

“Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.”
― Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

 

I start with this quote as it resonates well with what it feels like being someone that left Kosovo 26 years ago. Upon reflection on the years behind me, I have experienced a lot of change and gone through a number of identity transformational eras. You learn to live with the process of being in between, either straddling between two cultures or lifting yourself up from between two stools.

So, this journey has taken me to the doors of Germin. They found me on Google and their offer to be part of ‘something bigger’ grabbed my attention. They speak my ‘language’ and they listen very carefully to my critical remarks. Strangely, they don’t want money out of me or a ‘freebie’ service. They want to give voice to all diaspora members, and it’s not all about politics or investments but more about us, the ‘inbetweeners’, who juggle their identity between the concepts ‘foreignness’ and being of ‘jasht-ness’.

What do I mean?

‘Foreignness’ is the struggle to be accepted in the lands that continuously reject you, whether through immigration policies or socio-economic exclusion. It is about moving forward, working hard and creating ‘owned’ opportunities, while developing a resilience that comes from the burden of ‘foreignness’. Besides the goal to survive and support families back home, our children need to grow, to succeed and return to their homeland and to make it better for all! Dreams are handed over to our children, along with the burden of being already-born-and-torn between the ‘foreignness’ and ‘jasht-ness’.

‘Jashtness’ is about me, the activist, the changemaker and dream chaser – I go back and I push hard for positive change, regardless of the ongoing discriminatory comments (‘shatzis’ or ‘darlingat’) or sometimes consuming a very expensive ‘fli’ because of my ‘richness’. I give back, despite being frustrated by the investments and freebies I’m expected to give, blackmailed by the guilt of having left my country behind. It is about me, the mother of my immigrant children, who are sometimes laughed at because of their immigrant traceable accents. It is about my kids, the less-famous immigrant children, with their diplomas and dreams to make their homelands better, for themselves and their parents.

So, Germin becomes the essential middle-ground, the enabler, the negotiator, the voice of all. Germin understand the traceable-accents of the inbetweeners and provide us with a voice through ‘Diaspora Flet’. This is the very first organisation that allows me to shine my own beacon, for my own dreams. It removes my ‘jashtness’ and my ‘foreignness’ and bring me into the state of being ‘Kosovare’ – the state I long to be.

More importantly, it protects my children, it welcomes them and offers them inclusiveness. It offers them opportunities to shine their own beacons and to create their own dreams through the ‘Diaspora School’.

Germin is a community run by the power of the ‘in-between’ forces, tackling barriers and creating opportunities for connections, for integration of diaspora journeys and for joining dreams of greater value creation.

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Indira Kartallozi is the director at Kaleidoscope Futures and founder of Migrant Entrepreneurs International. Indira’s expertise ranges from sustainability, social enterprise, human rights and leadership. Indira’s work in sustainability has taken her to various countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Previously, she was President of the judging panel for the Social Enterprise Reporting Awards (The SERAs), an initiative of CSR Nigeria. Indira is also engaged in various positions supporting the work of ‘Impacto’, a Malaysian social enterprise, Women for Peace and Participation (WPP), a non-profit organization promoting social and political inclusion of women, GERMIN and ‘Mentoring Our Future’. 

Switzerland is home to hundreds of thousands of Albanians from Kosovo who fled the country during the 90s. Many of them left at an early age, and they have grown up to become vital members of the Swiss society. Such is the story of Besar Rexhepaj from Mrasor, Rahovec. Besar, left Kosovo at the age of seven and today, at the age of 27, has already made a name for himself within the business realm. Besar is proof that hard work and commitment to community service are imperative to the creative process and economic growth.

Besar, who has a natural affinity for business, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from the University of Applied Sciences in Thun. He spent his initial years as a young professional working for a Swiss education company. Later, he founded innobus GmbH, a business consultancy. As part of this company, Besar advises small and medium enterprises on founding and management, putting his education to good use. However, innobus GmbH is not the only thing that keeps Besar busy.

This past year Besar co-founded Lority, a leading network that specializes on ethnic entrepreneurship in the German-speaking areas of Europe. Lority is his baby. He has big plans for the company and what we see now, is just the beginning. Lority’s marketing efforts focus on developing and strengthening business communities from culturally diverse backgrounds. They offer customized marketing and communication services for for-profit organizations. Lority believes in diversity of ethnicity, lifestyles and mentalities, and in collective support. Their goal is to help individual organizations. They do so by encouraging and fostering business relationships across communities by combining their forces together towards a greater good: both individual and collective economic advantage.

Group of friends at the park holding hands and rise up to the sky.Besar is an ambitious businessman. Nevertheless, his determination to support ethnic communities is also personal and is inspired by his own background. With Lority, he plans to pursue multiple projects, a few of which will be focused on supporting Albanian entrepreneurs abroad and in Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Moreover, they aim to bring together successful Albanian professionals from different sectors in order to improve economic cooperation through networking. In his own words, Besar thinks that, “There is a great potential in Kosovo. This has to be exploited much more. The talented young people must be encouraged. It is a task of the environment that the young talented people in Kosovo be more encouraged.”

The fourth Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) Kosovo 2016, organized by Innovation Center Kosovo (ICK), was held from 14 to 20 November. Germin organized a Google Hangout within the GEW with Indira Kartallozi and Ruzhdi Morina moderated by Liza Gashi, programme director of Germin.These Google Hangouts to generate dialogue and promote reflection on important issues among the diaspora community.

Based in Cambridge, UK, Kartallozi is the founder and director of Chrysalis Family Futures – a social enterprise that stands for protection and empowerment of human and socio-economic rights of vulnerable and marginalised families and children. She is also the founder of the Migrant Entrepreneurs Network, an organization that connects migrant entrepreneurs and promotes their role in global economic and social development. Kartallozi states that she finds support in people who are visionaries, as they are people with good intentions who aim to enhance development, by not being part of any initiative that would impair the state.

Ruzhdi Morina, a graduate student of Business Administration in Austria, is currently working on his thesis “A business model based in democratic principles”. The purpose of his research is not just focused on stable enterprises, but it also aims to show that opening a business is not easy. The most developed states invest in enterprises and start-up businesses, because they are a strong feature for economic development and generate new working places.

Kartallozi’s advice to the young enthusiasts wanting to start a business is to be patient. Initially, it requires lots of energy and time and the results are seen later. As for starting a successful enterprise in Kosovo, she states that the key is good teamwork. Above all, Kartallozi believes that it is crucial to think about what that start-up will bring to the society. On the other hand, Morina points out to the importance of collectivity and individuality, transparency, free ideas, invitation, collaboration, the right of free choice, and love and spirituality. According to him, they help build a solid enterprise that will develop and be a space where each member feels like a part of the team and, thus, is motivated to work.

Kosovo Celebrates Global Entrepreneurship Week

For the fourth year,  the Innovation Centre Kosovo is hosting the Global Entrepreneurship Week – a week full of activities, celebration and excitement revolving around Entrepreneurship in Kosovo. This week  of November is globally dedicated to  emerging and established  entrepreneurs, innovators and job creators who launch startups that make  new ideas come to life and contribute to  their country’s economic growth .

Kosovo, as a young  country, is undergoing  a major economic transition. Therefore, events such as GEW, which bring together innovators and changemakers are a crucial aspect of Kosovo’s development. Similar to previous years, this year’s GEW brings together self-starters, investors and businesspeople  so they can  explore new concepts and solutions, develop networks and establish new startups. Considering the competitive market structure of Kosovo, a week full of activities supporting and exploring the potential of young Kosovars represents a window of new opportunities.

Today  GEW kicked off with a forum on Kosovo Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. The opening features two  panel session with successful figures who discussed and commented on the trends of “Entrepreneurship,  Education & Access to Finance.”  The forum was  held at the Swiss Diamond Hotel, under the patronage of the US Ambassador to Kosovo, Mr. Greg Delawie. Mr. Delawie has already delivered a message regarding the Global Entrepreneurship week. He highlights:  “Thanks to you, every day great ideas are becoming reality, translating in investment, jobs and economic development for Kosovo.” He further states that, after all, the most successful entrepreneurs don’t just create ideas or start businesses…they solve real-world problems.

This November, GEW Kosovo 2016 will focus on  five themes. The themes are: GEW Women, GEW Youth, GEW Investors, GEW Cities, GEW Scale-ups.

Over thirty-five partners have already confirmed their contribution to GEW, and each of them will share their expertise and commitment on several events based on their field of interest. The events will be scattered all over Kosovo, such as in Prishtine, Ferizaj, Gjakove, Istog, Mitrovice, etc. These successful firms and organizations have already shared their activity list scheduled for the next week.

Through these highlighted themes, GEW Kosovo organizers promise to achieve an entrepreneur-friendly environment where people will be able to get involved and work through opportunities based on their enthusiastic choices. During the event, participants will be able to connect and network with potential collaborators, mentors and even investors.

We are very excited to be part of the world’s largest entrepreneurship campaign, which aims to promote startup opportunities and business aspirations through creative local activities, fused with international enthusiastic energy. 

So what are you waiting for?  Mark your calendars, and get ready for GEW Kosovo 2016! 

Gjakova Makerspace Summer Camp 2015

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an entry about summer courses at AUK for university level members of the Diaspora. It’s a great way to get the Diaspora engaged during their stay, reconnecting with Kosovo by meeting and working with peers. This is why I’m happy to see that Bonevet, a makerspace in Gjakova, has taken the same approach and is offering Arduino and LittleBits summer courses for the younger members of the Diaspora:

LittleBits
01-14 July
Age: 8-12

Arduino
01-14 July
Age: 13-18

Application forms and further details can be found at Bonevet’s website. The makerspace can also be contacted by email.

Meet Prishtina Developers (PrDev), a start-up founded in 2013 by determined and aspiring young Kosovars aiming to develop more apps for everyday users. Recently, PrDev launched a new game on Android called “Ngjyrat” (eng. Colors) based on the Stroop Effect, which speeds up with every point you score; making the game very competitive and allowing the user to compare scores with players worldwide.

Aiming to develop Mobile and Web apps for businesses and everyday users, PrDev works based on the motto “It’s all about the User.” Currently, the team consists of three people: Drilon Reçica, a mobile application developer (Android, iOS), Kastriot Çunaku, a graphic designer and web developer, and Amra Sezairi, an Android App Developer. Their main areas of expertise are WEB, Mobile App Design and Development, Graphical Design, and Branding.

When asked about the inspiration behind the creation of the newest app “Ngjyrat,” Reçica explained for KosovoDiaspora.org that the idea came spontaneously; “while working in our office we were kind of bored and thought why not develop our own game, so that we can have some fun when there is free time.” Moreover, he talked about the language choice of the game, – Albanian- stating that they wanted to design and develop a game that “every Albanian whether they know a foreign language or not may be able to play this game.”

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In addition to the timed bar that gives the “Correct / Incorrect” options, the user is also presented with the game achievements that one gets after scoring certain amounts of points which are based on everyday funny jokes, and topics that young people are faced with everyday. Therefore, PrDev promises that if you download the game you will certainly have fun.

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While, this app is a great way to spend time doing something fun according to PrDev, it could also be a great way to learn and improve your Albanian skills, especially for the foreign audience and young diaspora members.

Last year, I wrote about a “co-working open experimentation space established exclusively for technological, educational, cultural and scientific purpose” called Prishtina Hackerspace (source). The work space has since had a positive impact on its community; engaging the local youth into experimenting and learning with technology while contributing towards building a stronger tech scene in Kosovo.

Prishtina Hackerspace will soon celebrate its first anniversary and in an effort to keep the initiative up an running for years to come they have launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign called “Let’s build a Hackerspace in KOSOVO”:

At the time of writing they’ve collected $12,483 in pledges of their $15,000 goal. With 24 days left in the campaign, they still need to raise $2,517 in pledges.  So there’s still time to back this project and ensure that Kosovo still has its very own Hackerspace.

Supporting this initiative also means that the community will continue to enjoy engaging in tech related events that the Hackerspace helps facilitate. Events like Wiki Women Camp, where participants collaborate with the Girls Coding Kosova community to learn how to create and edit Wikipedia articles:

Wiki Women Camp

Wiki Women Camp with Girls Coding Kosova (GCK)

There’s “Beer and Code,” an informal gathering where speakers present tech related projects and engage participants into brainstorming and sharing ideas:

Beer and Code

Beer and Code

There was also the “OMADA” e-learning training with Girls Coding Kosova where participants followed a series of classes that taught them how to build websites and phone apps:

OMADA E-Learning

OMADA E-Learning with Girls Coding Kosova (GCK)

Be sure to check out the Kickstarter Campaign for an in depth description of all of their activities and remember that every little bit counts!

 

Gjakova is historically known the home of fine craftsmen and builders whose quality of work have developed the city’s reputation as a textile, carpentry, and metalwork hot spot. Excitingly, since February this year, a new kind craftsmanship has emerged and it is spearheading the city into the digital age.

A makerspace is a “physical location where people gather to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build.” The idea is to create a “collaborative studio space for creative endeavors” where “informal combination of lab, shop, and conference room form a compelling argument for learning through hands-on exploration” (source).

Children as young as 9 years old can build prototype circuits with LittleBits.

Children as young as 9 years old can build prototype circuits with LittleBits.

Bonevet is Kosovo’s first makerspace and what better place than Gjakova for it to feel right at home among makers? The non-profit center aims to “nurture a vibrant community of idea and resource sharing among its makers, which will foster character building traits like grit, creativity, open-mindedness, social responsibility and most importantly team work” (source).

Building robots with Arduino

Building robots in Bonevet with Arduino.

Bonevet’s activities primarily revolve around technological experimentation where participants can make use of various professionally maintained manufacturing tools. This enables them to work on projects that involve metal machining, electronics, robotics, automation, 3D printing, computer-aided design, programming, Arduino, LittleBits, and much more.

They’ve already accomplished many interesting creations thanks to a training program that engaged students between the age of 9 and 12 with LittleBits and those between the age of 13 to 17 with Arduino:

Lately, they’ve started working with AutoCAD workstations to create 3D models and designs, as well as using 3D printers and experimenting with CNC Machines. Access to these tools is a great resource for the community as it enables students to further develop their inner-craftsmanship and invent prototypes of great potential for future digital product developments.

Young participants of Bonevet's LittleBits workshop and the electric guitar they built.

Young participants of Bonevet’s LittleBits workshop and the electric guitar they built.

Vllaznim Xhiha, a former member of the Diaspora, is the founder of the idea. Through “Unë e du Kosovën”  Foundation, he invested on the acquisition, renovation, and furnishing of Bonevet makerspace. It’s an initiative he continuously dedicates himself to and that others can support via donations.

Bonevet is already shaping the next generation of made in Kosovo digital craftsmanship and, who knows, maybe it will be known as the birthplace of a future Kosovo Silicon Valley.