She Starts Up: Hygerta, Alba, Artemisa Pjeshka – DDA

For an innovation ecosystem to flourish, it is required that there is a support structure [incubation/acceleration programmes] available for start-ups in all stages of development. Tirana-Inc. – Incubator Programme adds to the landscape of start-ups ecosystem actors. Tirana Inc., a multi-university incubator that supports students and recent graduates, but also researchers with innovative ideas to commercialize their ideas and bring them to the market by offering mentoring, training, collaboration space and networking; was launched in 2021 with the support of EU4Innovation. The pilot programme supported 10 start-up teams among which also DDA (www.ddadiabeti.com).  DDA-Diabetic Digital Albanian App is an innovative digital service, belonging to the field of e-Health and Well-being. It consists of 3 sectoral components: (1) Technology, (2) Health and (3) Service, all being combined in a unique platform dedicated to all Albanian diabetics who have internet access, with special elements aimed at improving, informing, and facilitating the daily life of diabetics.

Probably, the interesting aspect of DDA is the co-founders, three sisters Hygerta, Alba, Artemisa Pjeshka. This interview will put the spotlight on them and their drive for advancing with DDA. Hygerta Pjeshka – CEO of DDA. Hygerta is an MBA graduate with so many new ideas that directly link to key causes and challenges. “As a diabetic myself I have faced a lot of problems and difficulties in my daily life, that’s why I want to support people that might be in similar conditions as me with DDA.” – said Hygerta. Alba Pjeshka – CMO of DDA. Alba is a young entrepreneur with professionals’ hard skills in IT, and soft skills such as creativity, leadership, and good adaptability in multicultural environments. Finally, Artemisa the CFO of DDA is a recent graduate in Finance and Accounting. She is a hardworking person, who loves to increase her knowledge and learn more about the community. “Doing my best to help others and improve the world we live in is one of my top priorities”, she says.

EU4I: Can you tell us something about yourself, your background, your story and maybe how it links to DDA? 

DDA_Hygerta: I have diabetes and I know that in our country it is very difficult to find the right information, the costs are very high and there is a lack of special treatment for diabetes. Diabetes for me is a challenge that requires continuous improvement and self-education. That is why we designed DDA, to help people with diabetes to deal with it in the easiest and healthiest way. Because only in this way we can help each-other and, everyone especially children can learn to live healthier with DDA.

EU4I: Three sisters: Hygerta, Alba, Artemisa are co-founders of DDA.  How did the idea to establish DDA emerge? 

DDA_Hygerta: We wanted to bring a change that children, adolescents, adults and all their family members to have a digital station, where they can address and seek solutions for various diabetic problems in real time, a platform which gives support and tips for a healthy lifestyle. On the one hand I wanted that DDA helped me and everyone like me to better manage diabetes. On the other hand, I wanted it to help the society by raising awareness on the prevention possibilities of diabetes but on how to support people dealing with his decease. This is how we came up with the idea of DDA.

EU4I: What is the current status of DDA?   Would you still say that is still a volunteering initiative, aiming at supporting people with diabetes, or have you developed a business model behind it?

DDA_Alba: DDA has started the testing phase at www.ddadiabeti.com and on Instagram and Facebook: @diabeti.gram. Now we want to build and influence an online community, where diabetics can find and give suggestions for the problems that they have. To be honest the business model is a little bit challenging since this is our first attempt to build and run a company in the market. We are working to further improve the DDA service so that other helpful and facilitating categories for better diabetes management will be added to the website. New surprise categories will be added in the future.

EU4I: DDA is one of 10 student start-ups that were incubated during the 1st – pilot Tirana Inc. incubation programme, thus you are among the very special first graduates -alumni. What could you tell us about this specific experience? Any impressions?

DDA_Alba: First graduates – alumni of Tirana Inc. 2021, wow it sounds nice! It brings back memories… The excitement of being selected by national and international experts, the moments of getting out of the building and the power to share with other people our idea…Latte Team with sleepless night of preparations, revisions, online and offline meetings. Finding the balance between the diploma thesis, final exams preparations, and the validation of DDA. Working with the DDA online visibility and the process of making the first protype. Getting to know our potential users and talking with experts, the endless Tirana-Shkodër trips. And the beautiful support from our family, our coach, our friends, and our mentors.

EU4I: Tirana Inc. is a university incubator supporting student start-up teams from a business idea towards market validation by providing mentoring, training, networking etc. Did it fulfil expectations? What is the aspect of this incubation programme experience that you appreciated and valued the most?

DDA_Alba: I think Tirana Inc. fulfilled our expectations. The most beautiful things from Tirana Inc. are:  One-on-one meetings with the best specialist coaches and mentors, the support given to us as young entrepreneurs, the unique way to learn and practice the Business Model Canvas, and the possibility to present and share our DDA in different networking events.

EU4I: Tirana Inc. is now a registered entity and will continue to provide support to students with a business idea, and not only. As alumni of this programme, is there any recommendation for improvement and future cooperation you could mention? 

DDA_Artemisa: Tirana Inc. was a fully fledges 3-month incubation programme that did offer a lot of diverse opportunities to the participants. I would suggest incorporating more success stories from growth and late-stage start-ups.

EU4I: Studies indicate that the success rate of student start-ups is relatively low (1-2 in 10 are successful). DDA has been one of those Tirana Inc. start-ups that has been very active participating in other programs or competitions, such as B4Students, Good Start-Up School. Can you tell us more about these experiences? 

DDA_Hygerta: Taking part in different competitions and programmes made the challenge of our startup journey more interesting. It helped us to improve and grow as well. This thanks to the support of super entrepreneurial programs that believed in us, in DDA, in our mission and vision of using technology to improve the health in the society, and that helped us to learn more in business world. We are especially grateful to B4Student for the grant and the support, since it was the first approval that was given to us. Also, we are grateful to Good Start-Up School for both financial and mentorship. It taught us that doing a startup to help others can be a business, and a business does not need to harm others to do business.

EU4I: Tirana Inc. marked a successful intervention of EU4Innovation in terms of gender mainstreaming as well. 7 out of 10 students start-ups were female founders, more specifically 28 out of 33 students participating in the incubation programme were females. To your view, what is the reason? Then, what should be done to support female students / founders and eventually further promote their success stories? Any idea / recommendation?

DDA_Artemisa: I think this happened because girls and women in Albania are faster in understanding, catching up with things and acting. Also, they tend to look forward to new things and are less skeptical regarding to new initiatives in business, taking in consideration all the cultural factors. But at the same time, they need support from the ecosystem and people that do and believe in the same things as them.

In this regard I would suggest that bringing together entrepreneurs, when senior entrepreneurs share their stories, their support and what’s more creating a community when they can easily get in touch and communicate to help, share, and promote each other would help.  Also, posting cut scenes from these gather-ups, their daily work, and interviewing each other would be a good strategy. As they say, “sharing is caring”. It would also help to promote their businesses and the entrepreneurship mindset as well.

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

DDA_Artemisa: Entrepreneurship is a long and beautiful journey. You need to embrace all the ups and downs and see them as part of the process that will lead you to your ultimate vision. You shouldn’t get too dragged or caught up in the process but be able to see the hidden path that is going to lead you to your final wanted destination. Maybe it will take longer than you thought, but the persistence and your desire to really make the world better, no matter how small that change might be, should be stronger. Also, I’d like to add that small steps add up. It might feel that some work and efforts won’t bring a change, but in the long term you will see that they all contributed to the result.

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

DDA_Artemisa: Entrepreneurship is a choice. Don’t let your dreams be just ideas, act upon them and transform them into businesses to help society. Working hard is not enough you have to do a good job.

EU4I: Thank you very much, and we wish you great success in your journey!
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