interview

She Starts Up: Anisa Lloja – Culturalyst

Anisa Lloja and her sister stand behind Albanian Creative Industries Incubator (ACII) and Culturalyst [Kultura-list], which is a shared digital infrastructure for cultural communities. This is a follow-up of the work started in 2014 with Nji Mar, Nji Mrapsht, the first handmade concept-store in Albania, supported by a network of +200 artisans from all over the country. 

Anisa’s background is in architecture and heritage, while her entrepreneurial journey started driven by a desire to build a home for the many beautiful contemporary handicrafts made locally. Participation in entrepreneurship related programs, such as the U.S. Department of State – Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative and Salzburg Global Seminar – Young Cultural Innovators, helped her define and identify the values of her work as an entrepreneur, shaping her path. 

EU4I: Can you tell a little about your background and the company? 

Anisa: My entrepreneurial journey started in 2014, when together with my sister we founded Nji Mar, Nji Mrapsht. I had no prior experience in the private sector, so every day I was learning something new. Due to this work, we had the chance of taking part in different programs supporting my growth as an entrepreneur. What we gained in knowledge we wanted to share with the community we had created – which we thought to be the most valuable result of our work. This desire shaped my contribution to the project, helping plan the program of talks as a curricula to the ACII, while also serving as a bridge between our local community and our international partners who developed the digital infrastructure. 

EU4I: How did the idea come to you for the company? 

Anisa: ACII is to us a continuation of the innovative work done through Nji Mar, Nji Mrapsht – the first and only handmade concept-store in Albania. Our work started in 2014 with 3 artisans, and in 6 years we counted +230 collaborations: +90% of them women, +90% of them under 35 years old, focused on promoting local artisanship, heritage, and design; building an artisanship ecosystem; raising awareness towards responsible purchases through recycled materials, etc. The insights gained through this experience, the gaps identified, pushed us towards thinking of a solution. While we had understood what was needed, we were looking for ways to develop the infrastructure. The alternative proposed by the team of Culturalyst seemed appropriate to us, so we proposed a collaboration. This is how ACII was started. 

EU4I: What do you think are key successes in this initiative/ company? 

Anisa: First of all, implementing something of this kind is a success on its own, as the creative sector is still struggling to be taken seriously. Secondly, we are most proud of the content we have developed, which had and audience of +250 attendees and is accessible to all and supports those engaged in the sector to gain basic knowledge on entrepreneurship – something that is missing in official curricula. We are happy of the online community we created space for, counting more than 160 members. 

Lastly, our success lies in the reviews and comments we’ve gathered from our community members, the benefit they have gained. 

EU4I: How did you hear about EU for Innovation? What intervention of EU for Innovation did you benefit from?  

Anisa: I can’t recall precisely, probably an email announcement or through social media.  ACII benefitted from the ISO support of the EU for Innovation program in 2020. 

EU4I: What is your stand, has EU for Innovation activities contributed to your personal and company’s improvement? Or even wider to the innovation and start-up ecosystem in Albania?  

Anisa: In our case, the support helped us re-shape our selves after the pandemic into a format we appreciated to be the most appropriate next step for the benefit of our community. From a business supporting small-scale makers, we had the chance to finally take the shape of an incubator. At the same time, the support we got helped us, although not without trouble, to collaborate with our international partners. What we have appreciated of the program is the large variety of fields covered through the start-ups or ISOs covered. 

EU4I: Do you envision further continuation/ strengthening of cooperation between ACII/ Culturalyst & EU for Innovation programme? In what format? Do you have any idea/ recommendation for improvement and future cooperation?  

Anisa: We are in the talks of continuing and expanding our initiative.  As the EU for innovation was presented as a limited time initiative, we did not envision further collaborations with it. However, we hope this experience has prepared us for other support from EU initiatives. 

EU4I: Tell us a bit more about your plans for the future, in regard to the ACII initiative? 

Anisa: As the support from EU for Innovation helped us shape our very first year, we had to be as broad and inclusive as possible. Now we are looking into the opportunities of expanding in specific areas or in specific sub-sectors of the creative industries sector, while increasing our pool of collaborators. 

EU4I: What should be done to improve the visibility of EU for Innovation and its beneficiaries (such as ACII’s) success stories? 

Anisa: It often feels like the local entrepreneurship sector ends up running around in circles. There is a whole part of the world that does not know what an elevator pitch is, but that still does business and/or benefits from it. Not only EU for Innovation, but the whole sector could benefit from opening-up. 

EU4I:  What would you like to share with readers/ to encourage them in starting their own entrepreneurial journey? 

Anisa: We’d like more people to know that there is no one specific model of entrepreneur that we should fit in, or adapt to – everyone can build something and take charge of it, big or small, if they want to. 

EU4I: Would you like to share any favourite inspirational/ motivational quote? 

Anisa: There are two quotes that have helped me in different moments: “Better done than perfect.” & “You either win or learn.”

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