Entrepreneurial Careers In Kosovo: Challenges, Trends And Growth

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To an engineer with a strong record in delivering control system engineering to global customers, ‘trying it out in Kosovo,’ is a challenging yet a worthy investment. Find out what opportunites this country offers for entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts.

A friend I recently saw said to me “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” and no, he wasn’t referring to New York City. He was talking about Prishtina, Kosovo, where he recently moved back from London.

His strong track record in the Automation Industry and his great relationship with his former employer in the US and England among other countries, made it easier for my friend Genc Berisha to start his own company in Prishtina. The latter also minimized the risk for him to succeed at a startup in the field of Industrial Automation, specializing in Engineering Consulting, Control System Engineering and Integration, Control Panel Fabrication, Training, Maintenance and Support. While Kosovo may or may not be ready for these specialized fields, Genc plans to capitalize on his links with foreign clients, his former employer, and the local distributor in Slovenia, to carve out a new market in Kosovo.

To Genc, an engineer with a strong record in delivering control system engineering to global customers, it made a lot of sense to ‘try it out in Kosovo.’ So, he moved back (Genc and his family had fled during Kosovo conflict in 1999) and started E&A Engineering only six months ago. The firm offers industrial automation system integration and engineering services for a wide range of industries mainly in the Western Balkans region and beyond.

Before he decided to establish E&A Engineering, Genc knew that one of the risks associated with starting his own business is detachment from the corporate world, and a range of mandatory and useful trainings that were provided by his former employer. He is still confident, however, that he will have access to those trainings for as long as he is willing to invest in them with his time and financial resources.

Local Markets & Industrial Automation

For the time being, Genc is still busy with his clients in the Western world, but he hopes to turn to local markets very soon. His interests extend to a range of industries and economic activities including water and wastewater treatment, power generation, mining, minerals and cement, chemical industry, oil and gas, food and beverage, household and personal care, pharmaceuticals, automotive, refining and textile.

Genc senses that there is a great potential in these and other industries for the local public and private sector, and as he explains there is strong evidence that the great potential in new industrial projects in both sectors will be surfacing out in the near future.

The old technology combined with inadequate maintenance in the 1990s and 2000s has made it an urgent need for rehabilitation or replacement of the technology and infrastructure, thus new investments are essential in this sector. In the public sector particularly, there is a common feature in the Balkans region in which the infrastructure (energy and water) and social enterprises in many industries have an old Easter Block install base technology. Furthermore, as Kosovo undergoes the lengthy process of institutional stabilization and European Integration, the economic development is steadily increasing and there is a need for diversification in Kosovo’s economy to have larger shares in the private sector and have a more sustainable economic growth. That said, there will be plenty of new opportunities for investments in this sector as well.

Moreover, Genc has already seen a need from local private companies for his services due to his extensive technical experience in industrial automation field and is looking to identify new prospective clients to increase the customer base. Very soon Genc’s company will be needing a lot of help from entry level engineers, who will have the opportunity to specialize in areas that are new to Kosovo, and learn firsthand from Genc’s expertise and experience. New E&A Engineering employees will also have an opportunity to get international exposure that they could only hope for in any other medium available for engineers in Kosovo.

New Markets To Open Up Due To Emerging Development

The prevailing economic view that developing nations continue to rely on economic development strategies with low-skilled labor — while industrialized nations specialize in knowledge-based industries — is gradually losing its appeal. Although Western countries benefit from a set of advantages, like an educated workforce, easy access to technology and credit, stable macroeconomic conditions, many developing nations are rapidly catching up by adapting new technologies, investing in infrastructure, and expanding education.

As a result, the wholesale entry of 2.5 billion people from India and China into the global markets, has created countless opportunities. As companies and capital have gone global, whole new markets have opened up throughout the developing and emerging markets. One such example of new markets is obviously outsourcing, where hundreds of thousands of companies have outsourced their products from knowledge-based services such as manufacturing, design, automation, education, and engineering services.

Keeping this in mind, in recent years Kosovo has made some significant strides in improving its business climate. The newly independent country [Kosovo declared its independence in 2008] was one of the most improved economies in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index Report for 2013, rising 19 spots from the year before. However, the latest annual Index of Economic Freedom – a joint project between the Wall Street Journal and the conservative US based think tank, the Heritage Foundation, portrays a weak business environment in Kosovo where “Continued progress is hindered by weak institutional capacity, and the government has yet to show a sustained commitment to economic freedom.” The report adds that “Corruption is still prevalent and undermines the already restricted business environment. […] Remnants of the centrally planned economy still linger in a government bureaucracy that makes business formation costly and onerous.”

As such, legally, it is relatively easy to set up a business in Kosovo, but in reality it remains a more complicated affair. That said, countries such as Kosovo are beset with various problems that pose challenges to investors like Genc, who know that the private sector market in Kosovo is surely not an easy one to tap. As exhilarating as it can be to start your own business, especially when you are coming back to your home country and you have a special emotional connection to it, building up your business and expanding it locally remains always a great challenge.

The hope is that the new deal with the European Union, known as Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), will give Kosovo increased access to the European markets and capital. The agreement is also expected to encourage Kosovo’s government to speed up reforms in areas of the rule of law, organized crime, and corruption. For investors, this will mean fewer risks in opening new businesses and committing their capital to Kosovo with Europe’s youngest, Western-oriented, and multilingual population, many of whom have worked or studied abroad.

The Exciting New Jobs In Prishtina We Never Knew Existed

Improving employment prospects for Kosovars remains to be the single most important socio-economic development challenge in Kosovo. Unfortunately, Kosovo’s macroeconomic and business environment still lacks the necessary fundamentals for job creation as well as for enabling existing firms to grow and new firms to emerge and succeed or fail quickly at low cost.

This trend was recently documented in the World Bank report “Back to Work: Growing with Jobs in Europe and Central Asia,” which concludes that only a small fraction of high-growth firms, largely young, account for most of the new jobs created in the region. Furthermore, entrepreneurship levels remain low, especially among late reformers, compared to other middle-income regions and the OECD.
In addition, the Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation report “Career guidance: Development Trends in Kosovo,” (2013) reveals further challenges that Kosovo labor markets face. The report concluded that “the career guidance system in Kosovo is the least developed when compared to those of its neighbors in the Western Balkans.” To improve the prospects of employment, therefore, Kosovo ought to attempt and wipe out the mindset of ‘receiving a University degree and waiting in line for a job’ at the Government Institution or an international agency, because jobs in the private sector are not “secure enough” [a mindset inherited from the socialist Yugoslavia].

That said, it is only recently, that the youth is being talked to about starting their own business and creating their own jobs, and not waiting for someone to give the job to them. Jobs like the ones, that my friend Genc has embarked on creating, are on no Prishtina University graduate’s list – because they still don’t exist on the market. But that doesn’t mean they are less safe or will be paid less – that only makes them more exciting.

Although a lot remains to be done for Kosovo to translate entrepreneurship potential into successful creation of new businesses that can accelerate job creation, the country is witnessing a new trend of ‘taking things into your own hands,’ and a new wave of entrepreneurs born in the 80s and 90s have started creating jobs that Kosovo’s youth never knew existed.

This generation is not afraid to think big, and take action to offer qualitative and creative services that will best serve the European clients from Kosovo. And, although they may not be aware yet, Prishtina University graduate students, equipped with an engineering degree, entrepreneurship trainings and experience will eventually have an opportunity to create their own job, and and help in creating other jobs for their fellow Kosovar colleagues.

Entrepreneurial Careers In Kosovo: Challenges, Trends And Growth / E&A Engeneering


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