Startup Balkans

Ecosystem support for women entrepreneurs

In the last two years, a number of programs tailor-made for female founders in Albania grow. What are these programs about, and how are they boosting female entrepreneurship in the country?

Female founders have faced many difficulties in the past months—from struggling to keep their businesses running to taking extensive care of their families. Luckily, the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Albania was ready to help and provide comprehensive support for women entrepreneurs.

Different research and studies are pointing to the same conclusion: even if COVID-19 has had a heavier health impact on men, the economic impact is much more substantial on women, especially women entrepreneurs. Faced with an entirely new set of challenges, female founders had to be resourceful and agile to keep their businesses active.

In such circumstances where they need to take extensive care of their businesses, families, and their personal well-being, it is safe to say that women entrepreneurs need all the help and support they can get.

In the past couple of years, the Albanian entrepreneurial ecosystem has been growing rapidly and is becoming more mature. One of the signs of maturity is the specialized support it provides to specific groups. Different ecosystem actors recognized the need for support, and they rapidly organized programs aimed at providing support to female founders.

Some key initiatives are:

  • Women Founders Accelerator—designed to help female founders learn and explore how to scale their businesses. The program was organized by Women Founders Network Albania and Spring Activator with support from the EU for Innovation project.
  • Academy for Women Entrepreneurs—targeted aspiring women founders in the idea stage of business development. The lead organizer was Destil.
  • Investment Readiness Program for Female Founders—regional program for scaling startups that helped founders prepare for the investment process. The program organizers were Preduzimanje and Women Founders Network Albania, with the support of Efino and Swiss EP.

The most active support providers for female founders are WFNA and Destil and the two organizations worked together closely. They even organized joint informal networking and peer support events, such as brunches, community gatherings, and mentoring sessions to keep the dialogue flowing. The latest installment was “Entrepreneurship Meets Creatives,” where 25 ladies from the creative industry met with women entrepreneurs to exchange ideas, challenges, and opportunities.

Image credit: Women Founders Network Albania

One of the main protagonists of the programs and initiator of the activities mentioned above was Swiss EP Program Officer and WFNA co-founder Blendina Cara.

It is known that women founders worldwide lack equal access to industry tools and resources compared to men. That gap is more extensive, especially in countries like Albania where patriarchy is sound and very much alive. But, during my work with entrepreneurs, I noticed that when it comes to women founders in Albania, their biggest put down was loneliness and the lack of belonging. This is where Women Founders Network Albania was born—from the need to establish a tribe, a safe network, where women founders can get to know like-minded women and share their challenges, support each other, grow and cheer each other on. The peer support formula was so successful that now WFNA is a community led by these entrepreneurs themselves. They are confident, they keep growing and learning, and they never forget to give back to the up-and-coming women founders. The future is bright, and in collaboration with Destil, Women Founders Network Albania will keep bringing women founders together each month in informal gatherings and other structured supporting events.

Blendina Cara, co-founder of WFNA

Even if the world is slowly getting used to a “new normality,” the role of women seems to remain the same: to be a pillar of family and a mastermind of business. Both tasks are very challenging and require an immense amount of energy and dedication. Luckily for women entrepreneurs in Albania, there is help and support for them in their efforts to found, sustain, and develop their businesses.

Enxhi Dyrmishi