She Starts Up: Lorena Gjana and Esmerina Hidri – KODO Academy

Back in September 2021, thanks to the support of EU for Innovation and Challenge Fund, Kodo Academy launched a pilot programme by opening first classes for new programmers in three technologies: ReactJS, Node.js and Python. The students attending the academy had an opportunity to develop their knowledge in technologies, which have been identified as the ones with the highest demand in today’s market.

This interview of “She Starts-up” campaign by EU for Innovation, will introduce and put some light on the work of two super-girls, who are running KODO Academy, an initiative that aims to create and strengthen a community of developers and technical experts, and act as a backbone for the empowerment of the start-up ecosystem in Albania, by bridging software developers with new founders.

They are: Lorena Gjana – Chief Operational Officer at division5  and Co-founder of KODO Academy, active part of the innovation ecosystem in Albania, being involved in start-up mentoring and development and also tech-enthusiast, as well as Co-founder of BEEZ Gaming Studio.

The other one is Esmerina Hidri – an urban planner by background, enthusiastic to engage in building communities of motivated young people by bridging knowledge with the reality and making an impact in Albanian society, Coordinator at KODO Academy and also Product Manager and Game Community Catalyst at BEEZ.

EU4I: Can you tell a little us something about your background and how it links to what you do at and for KODO Academy?

Esmerina: I have a MSc. In Urban Planning and Managemen,  with a passion for start-ups and business world! Being an Urban Planner has shaped my abilities to understand better the needs and to be motivated to find innovative solutions for the job market and to improve life quality. Therefore, I was so intrigued with the mission of KODO which is: BUILDING TODAY, THE SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS OF TOMORROW!

Lorena: My career has been a roller-coaster and an exciting exploration of different sectors and industries; from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to non-profit organisations, helping in strengthening the civil society organisations in Albania. The last few years, through programs and partnerships, I have had the opportunity to get involved in different ways in the development of the innovation ecosystem. With division5 we aim to be more than just a software development agency,  we aim to become an actor into building and strengthening the tech enthusiast’s community in Albania. We want to provide opportunities for the Albanian youth, make them feel that they can prosper and have a better future in their own country rather than chose to leave Albania.

EU4I: How did the idea to kick-start KODO Academy come to life and then evolve? We know, you Lorena have been involved in the process of drafting a project proposal, as part of Division5 team, right?

Lorena: Together with Engjell, the CEO of division5, for some time we had been discussing on different ways we could use our experience and capabilities to build something, that could provide value and help the software developers community in Albania. We have learned, through our work with division5, that there was a pain point for every software developer company and agency in Albania, when it came to recruiting new talent. The education system faces a big challenge to adapt their curricula to the vastly growing and changing tech industry. The transition from university to the workplace takes time and efforts to conduct additional training for new programmers. The need for training courses and in-depth curricula was very obvious.

EU4I: What are the key successes in such an initiative, linked both to the young generation of potential coders and the private sector/start-up ecosystem on the other?

Esmerina: I’ll go straight to the point: 1. Trained future developers ready to be integrated in the business world and who are solution oriented and 2. For the private sector: access to a better equipped talent pool

EU4I: The cooperation between division5, KODO Academy and EU for Innovation has been a long and intensive one (in terms of capacity building, linkages, etc), but do you recall the first time you heard about EU for Innovation, or participated in one of its activities? Could you mention a few what activities/ intervention(s) by EU for Innovation that you think benefited KODO Academy the most?

Lorena: Personally, I have been involved in many programmes and activities organised by EU for Innovation. I have been part of the ‘Innovation Ecosystem Actors Programme’ which encouraged newly integrated professionals to expand their network and help with their projects the strengthening of the Albanian ecosystem. I managed the first Innovation Management Academy, an initiative also supported by EU for Innovation. I have also been able to participate in many local and international events, conferences, and summits thanks to the opportunities presented by EU for Innovation. All these interventions helped me get to know the innovation ecosystem better and thus find the right partners and tools to build KODO Academy.

EU4I: To your perception, have EU for Innovation activities contributed enough to the development and promotion of KODO Academy, or of the innovation and start-up ecosystem in Albania? What about yours, as an individual/ person engaged with KODO?

Esmerina: Overall the support we got from EU for Innovation helped the Academy and the students to be better prepared for the job market. On promotion level we had the opportunity to be part of several Education Fairs; Job Fairs and of course the promotion continues on social media, which is a thing we can’t do without nowadays. On a personal perspective as Coordinator of KODO, it helped me better understand the need of the market and shaped my skills on the reporting side of the project.

EU4I: Do you envision further continuation/ strengthening of cooperation between division5/ KODO Academy & EU for Innovation programme? How? Any ideas/ recommendations for improvement and future cooperation?

Lorena: division5 is always opened and seeking to expand our pool of collaborators. What would be very interesting is the possibility to expand our network even further in the region. Crossborder projects could be developed not only to exchange experiences of best practices, but also to build complimentary partnerships.

EU4I: We know that besides KODO, there is another initiative that is very close to your heart: BEEZ (Gaming Studio).  Would you like to share something more with the readers on this topic?

Esmerina: BEEZ is our new “baby”! I say “we” since BEEZ is co-funded by 5 amazing people. One of them is Lorena too. BEEZ is an Albanian Gaming Studio and very soon we will launch our first Game. It has been a while since we started this new experience, which is very challenging and at the same time so much FUN. We must say, it is not easy, but it’s totally worth it! Dealing day by day, with cool things is something, that I want to do for life!

EU4I: What should be done to further promote success stories and improve the visibility of EU for Innovation beneficiaries/ collaborators (such as KODO Academy)? Any recommendation?

Lorena: Visibility is key when it comes to the initiative we have built. In our case, universities are an important actor, that fuels the demand for such academies. Activities organised in collaboration with universities, would help spread awareness and help the youth in their career building journey.

Esmerina: Maybe time to time networking meetings with the ones, that have gotten support from EU for Innovation, just to see how the projects are going on and developing in the future. Maybe a community can be created.

EU4I: Being two very active girls, always “on the move”, taking and driving initiatives; is there something you would you like to share with readers/ to encourage them in starting their own entrepreneurial journey?

Lorena: Not being afraid to fail! Failure teaches you more than success does, I believe. Put passion and commitment into everything that you do.

Esmerina: YES! In every Game you have a Mission. Find this mission in your everyday life and this will guide you to get the #EPICWIN.

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

Lorena: Well, it is not a quote from someone famous, but it has stuck with throughout the years. A very kind and wise mentor of mine said: Surround yourself with people, that challenge your thought but support you nonetheless.

Esmerina: “I think therefore I am” – René Descartes

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