She Starts Up: Aneida Bajraktari Bicja – Balkans Capital

When mapping the entrepreneurial eco-system of Albania, one would for sure come across Start-up Grind Tirana – a global start-up community designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs, or Start-up Weekend Tirana – one of the world’ s greatest educational movements for entrepreneurs. We are proud to state that Aneida Bajraktari Bicja, entrepreneur/ 40under40/ advisor/ YTILI Fellow, was behind both initiatives, in the role of director and lead organizer, respectively. Additionally, Aneida is the co-founder and managing partner of Balkans Capital, a financial consulting company based in Tirana, helping companies unleash the transformative power of their finances.

It does not end here: intrinsic of an entrepreneur is the continuous drive to look for solutions and opportunities. Another initiative of Balkan Capital is Balkans Finance Lab, which aims to support innovative ideas that advance the finance field and provide capacity building for the whole community, from kids and teenagers to students and young professionals.  Read below about the inspiring entrepreneurial journey of Aneida:

EU4I: Aneida, thank you for accepting the invitation to be part of “She Starts Up” campaign by EU for Innovation! When talking about the start-up ecosystem in Albania, we can proudly state that your name does not go unnoticed.  Can you tell us something about you, your background and how it links to what you do in the field of entrepreneurship?

Aneida: I studied finance and law in Albania. Currently, I am doing an MBA at the University of East London.

In 2012, I was part of the 1st edition of Start-up Weekend in Tirana. Start-up Weekend is a 54-hour long event, executed over a weekend, where everyone gathers to pitch their innovative business idea for the chance to earn an investment. This experience impacted me substantially, it affected my mind-set and inspired me to take my first steps towards entrepreneurship. My first company did literally kick-start during that event: it was an online platform connecting fashion and technology. The initiative failed 1 year later, because of the lack of support, networking, experience, and knowledge on how to run the business, yet many lessons were learned during this short entrepreneurial journey. The business I currently run, “Balkans Capital”, started as a side-job at the time. It relates to my background as the service the company offers is financial and legal consultancy. As Start-up Weekend “changed” my life, I felt compelled to give back to the community by organising start-up events.

EU4I: You are one of the co-founders and CEO of a business such as Balkans Capital – Financial Services. How did the idea to establish the company emerge and evolve with time?

Aneida: As mentioned earlier, the seeds of the company were planted while I was working as a Finance Manager. After realizing that the founders of the company didn’t consider “finances” as an essential tool for evidence-based decision making related to their businesses, I ultimately considered the shift in perception & mindset as an area that needed empowerment and an innovative upgrade. Financial knowledge is one of the most important key points when you set your goals for your business, so it’s crucial to understand and professionally own the expertise to perform in the best way possible, in this sector. With this vision in mind, I was able to build “Balkans Capital”. I must also say that the Albanian market has been rapidly growing and welcoming digitalization in each sector/ field of operation.  Recognizing and embracing innovation by adapting it in your business model and services, has become a necessity for one to succeed and not be left behind. We frequently implement and use the latest innovative financial and accounting software, which facilitates the work process and deliver a more efficient service to our clients. In that perspective, we believe it’s crucial to make managers realize and use “finance” for better decisions related to the business.

EU4I: What do you think are the key factors for success in such an initiative, that aims at, as you put it: “to provide financial advisory and helping businesses unleash the transformative power of their finances”?

Aneida: As I mentioned just previously, during our market research, we identified how entrepreneurs or managers didn’t consider finance as one of the most important tools, when it came to decision making in business. This encouraged me to create the expert team ready to advise and consult businesses and make them aware of the importance of finance and accounting in their path to success. At Balkans Capital, we aim to help businesses and non-profit organisations, that decide to outsource financial tasks. The purpose is to not only carry out the tasks and fulfil the responsibility, but highlight the importance of finance and how the financial performance can be crucial for the achievement of an objective/ goal.

Directly responding to your question, I would say that one of the key successes in a business, is the good balance and combination of the team with the vision. In Balkans Capital, these are the key elements that lead us to better opportunities: of course, the professional background and knowledge is truly important, but the technical skills can always be learned, while having the right team, and the team spirit, is crucial for your business. It is also essential that the members share the same values, believe in the same vision that the business itself upholds. If these elements all come together, the business can be easily operational and on the right path to success. I am very proud of the fantastic team that works together to reach a common goal!

EU4I: Can you tell us and the readers a bit more about the cooperation between Balkans Capital and EU for Innovation? There are initiatives of EU for Innovation, such as Tirana Inc.- The multi-university affiliated incubator, that benefited from your expertise as a mentor and financial advisor, but maybe you would like to talk about other initiatives that you also benefited from?

Aneida: Balkans Capital is always willing to support new initiatives, especially the young generation that want to step into entrepreneurship. We were part of Tirana Inc, a fantastic initiative, and supported young students with advisory services on how to open a business and all the legal or financial aspects associated to it. On the other hand, EU for Innovation has financially supported one of the start-up activities, that we organise: Start-up Grind Tirana. Start-up Grind Tirana hosts monthly start-up events to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs. We invite successful entrepreneurs, that share their entrepreneurial journey with our community.

EU4I: To your perception, have EU for Innovation activities contributed to the development and promotion of the innovation and start-up ecosystem in Albania? What else should be done more, and in which direction? (ex. access to finance, etc.)

Aneida: Absolutely yes! I strongly believe that the activities developed and promoted by EU for Innovation have strongly impacted the ecosystem in Albania. Being at their early steps, start-ups require a lot of help and visibility at this stage, so they can concretize their ideas into impact. EU for Innovation has offered this help through their activities and programmes, such as this one that I am being interviewed for, that I am sure will promote and offer visibility to a lot of Albanian women entrepreneurs and showcase their innovative and ground-breaking mindset.

One of the biggest challenges start-ups face in their early phase is the access to finance. There are no VC funds in Albania; it is also practically impossible for a newly established start-up to get a loan at the bank, due to the lack of financial records/ history. I think there is a lot that can be done in this direction, even though EU for Innovation has contributed a lot in this regard through the “Challenge Fund” programme.

EU4I: Do you envision further continuation/ strengthening of cooperation between Balkans Capital & EU for Innovation programme? How? Any ideas/ recommendations for improvement and future cooperation?

Aneida:  I strongly believe so! I think that a “productive ecosystem” in Albania means good cooperation with other organisations and entrepreneurs who share similar attitudes and values and believe in the fruitful outcomes of these collaborations!

EU4I: We see you as a successful young female Entrepreneur listed on “40under40”, you are a great financial advisor, a YTILI Fellow, also someone who regularly and enthusiastically participates  in activities and promotes the innovation and start-up ecosystem, ex. via Start-up Grind. Could you mention a few highlights in your career path, and maybe disclose any hints of your future professional engagement?

Aneida: Start-up Grind is a “stage” where we, innovation enthusiasts, gather as a community and welcome successful entrepreneurs, eager to learn from their experience on the entrepreneurial journey. I, myself, was inspired to start my journey in an event gathering entrepreneurs and innovative people. Being the Director of  Start-up Grind Tirana Chapter allows me to create a great impact towards everyone that joins our community by showcasing a real and honest journey of our guests and by creating an organic networking environment in our events. I will continue organising start-up events, as an effort to inspire and encourage others to consider entrepreneurship as a career path.

As for “Balkans Capital”, since last year, we started expanding our services in the US market and are currently considering Europe as a potential market as well. These partnerships were achieved under the vision of making “Balkans Capital” a Finance Outsourcing Hub in the Balkans, which provides numerous new job positions for newly graduates in these respective fields, with competitive salaries and also addresses the issue of many young people leaving Albania for better opportunities.

EU4I: To your view, what should be done to further promote success stories of girls/ women entrepreneurs (beneficiaries of EU for Innovation, and not only)? Any recommendations?

Aneida: I think it’s important to promote the success stories of girls/ women entrepreneurs as often and frequently as possible. The ecosystem has been welcoming more women entrepreneurs than the previous years, but I still believe that there is a lot still to be done, especially when it comes to “access to finance” and investments. There is still a barrier between girls/ women entrepreneurs acquiring investments as opposed to the opposite gender. In this direction, it’s important that the government creates legal incentives for individuals and organisations to invest in female founders/ women-owned companies. I do not think entrepreneurship should have a gender, but statistics prove that women owned businesses generate more revenue and have a better return on investment.

Throughout my journey, I have met inspiring women with ground-breaking business ideas, that weren’t able to acquire the investments that would have made them kick-start. I hope that these success stories, promoted by EU for Innovation, will raise awareness and create visibility for all the amazing and hardworking women entrepreneurs and empower the ecosystem we are part of even more. My aim is to promote as many ‘womenpreneurs’ in Start-up Grind Tirana as a fantastic model for young women, that have dreams and want to make them a reality by starting their businesses.

EU4I:  Is there any note you would like to share with readers encouraging them to start their own innovation/ entrepreneurial journey?

Aneida: Now, is the best time to start! It’s the best time it has ever been, because the resources that can help you to start right now are limitless. Besides, in the last years, with the advancement of technology and innovation, the ecosystem in Albania has been very productive, nurturing and able to offer numerous local and international opportunities for everyone that has a spark with entrepreneurship, opportunities shaped as events, hackathons, demo day, workshops, conferences and more. A school does not have four walls only, invest in yourselves as knowledge is the only thing that no one can carry along.  Don’t be afraid to fail, ask for help, follow your vision, and get started!

EU4I: Any favourite inspirational/ motivational quote you usually refer to?

Aneida: My favourite quote, which emphasises the power of mindset is: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”.

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