July 19, 2018

Kosovo: transition to a technological hub

By Dr. Bernard Nikaj, Head of Mission of Kosovo to the EU, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

On 17th of February Kosovo celebrated its tenth anniversary of independence. This makes Kosovo the youngest state in Europe, but as I will argue in this article, it is also the most dynamic newcomer to the European family.

It is safe to bet that when anybody thinks of Kosovo today in Europe, the images of war, suffering, massive exodus as well as international intervention to build a state come to mind. Beyond these images, what has actually happened in Kosovo in the last ten years could be described as full undertaking in state building.

Today, Kosovo is recognized by 117 UN member states, it is part of more than 50 international organizations and is working steadily towards its future in the European Union. Kosovo is continuously growing presence in the international community as an equal member. Whenever our young people are given the opportunity to shine, they consistently do so. Should you need proof of this, just look at the recent competitions in Judo, from Olympics to latest Mediterranean Games, and you will notice a real dominance of Kosovo judokas in both female and male competitions.

Beyond the story developing in the public eye, there is another side of Kosovo developing quietly but not less importantly, that of an up and coming European technological cluster. Building on its young population, strong integration in the international community through its diaspora, great knowledge of foreign languages and existing connectivity infrastructure, Kosovo is taking an important role in the region in the field of technology. But what can Kosovo offer?

I will start by noting that more than 50% of Kosovo’s citizens are under the age of 30. While it might be considered a challenge for most countries, in Kosovo this is the cornerstone of its technological boom. When you combine youth with more than 80% internet penetration in the country, we get an ecosystem that is conducive of development. To boost the entrepreneurial and innovative skills in the country various Innovation Centers and Entrepreneurship support groups have been created. In 2010 Norwegian Embassy in Kosovo agreed to fund and support the establishment of Innovation Center Kosovo (ICK). ICK, besides offering office space at very low rates, offers the whole package of services one would expect from an accelerator/incubator in the ICT industry.

Trainings in starting a business, coaching on business plans, technical sessions on specific technologies and assistance and support with finding funding were only some of the services offered at ICK. Furthermore, the whole idea of the ICK was and is to create a community of enthusiasts and businesses that could help each other and learn from each other to turn their ideas into successful businesses. But ICK went one step further. Building on the opportunities offered by the Internet, ICK started leveraging international ecosystem of opportunities.

Soon Prishtina came to host a number of Startup Weekends, Startup Yards, NASA App Challenge and many other events bringing the opportunity to young Kosovars to leverage the rising importance of ICTs in the world economy. More than fifty new businesses have come to use and grow out of ICK. Most of these businesses employ between two and twenty-five youngsters working on things from mobile app development to applications supporting organization critical functions. Moreover, most of these companies are becoming trusted partners to global companies working in the area of ICT. Startups coming out of ICK have implemented project for companies all around Europe, USA and other regional markets.

Besides ICK, Kosovo hosts the first Ballkans maker’s space in the form of Bonevet which enables youngsters from all ages to learn the basics of electronics and robotics. Moreover, Bonevet provides the link between local private initiative and diaspora funding and experience, both a very important element of Kosovo’s development.

Building on these assets Kosovo has managed to increase the export of services, especially in the field of IT, by more than fifty percent each year.

Kosovo, as any other country, has its share of challenges and obstacles on its way forward. However, we strongly believe that our biggest assets, in this age of artificial intelligence and information technology, is our youth. We look forward in harnessing this resource and working together will all partners to make our common future bright.

 

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