TechTalks is an initiative that promotes local entrepreneurs who help strengthen our ecosystem. By inviting the founders to answer some questions, we want to shed light on the most inspiring stories and models of the ecosystem. We hope that by giving startup founders a space to share their knowledge and experience, we will all learn and grow together.
How has your career helped you with setting up your start-up?
My first engagements in entrepreneurship have been for me in support of managing a family and seasonal business, in the field of tourism and cuisine, since the age of 17. Here I learned the importance of customer care. Later, during my studies at the Faculty of Economics, University of Tirana, I participated in business plan competitions, among them organised by the OECD and Unique Junior Enterprise, a NGO affiliated in the university. Here, I joined as part of the team, in the role of Head of Partnerships, very soon after attending several events on campus. This engagement in extra-curricular activities is key to establishing links with the labor market, establishing first contacts off-campus and thus launching the application of theories taught in undergraduate programs.
Subsequently, I was introduced to many entrepreneurship methodologies and practices through youth exchanges and trainings by the European Commission, which helped me to strengthen my knowledge in this field and to organize how to transfer this knowledge to students in Albania. After almost 10 years in this field, I have developed the belief that entrepreneurial skills are not only acquired in tasks directly related to starting a business. They can also be obtained as a result of civic engagements, volunteer work, expert roles in certain fields, research work, and others. Also, students today should be encouraged to study more broadly than undergraduate programs, as the competition they face is no longer their classmate, but students around the world.
When I moved to Denmark in 2015, I quickly became part of the Venture Cup institution, running the organization’s representative office at the University of Aarhus, where I was also pursuing a master’s degree. My tasks were to organize events in order to educate students in the field of entrepreneurship, to give lectures in “multidisciplinary” classes when I related the topic of the relevant subject to entrepreneurship, to prepare student groups for national and international competitions, and to create models of startups to support student ventures. From here, I trained over 80 startups per year, and introduced to 300+ students per year in this field, which enabled me to get acquainted with CELLUGY, and take on the role of consultant for startup investments in companies and communication strategies with third parties. At the same time, I formalised my relationship with the University of Aarhus as a lecturer in the subject Innovation applied in Engineering, and Project Manager for the commercialisation of research work for academic staff in the Department of Engineering.
Every career leaves room to “stumble” on a different path from that of tradition, and to think of entrepreneurship as a viable and valuable option. What you can do first is review and evaluate the resources you own, starting with yourself, and more on the network / knowledge, knowledge / skills / expertise, money and property, and more.
What have been some of the biggest challenges for you?
In my specific case, the biggest difficulty was related to the fact that I was working in the field of entrepreneurship in a Western European country, but with an Albanian passport, which deprived me from time to time of taking the risk of being 100% involved in the role of entrepreneur. This is because of immigration rules, which are out of my control. Therefore, not wanting to focus on influencing factors that I can not change, I am calling that the biggest challenge has been to maneuver several job positions simultaneously, without losing in the meantime, with so many opportunities found, the connection with myself, friends and family. On the other hand, and why I do not like to say, women and girls in entrepreneurship have to face skepticism and full of doubts against the skills they have, so often we have to work harder to prove to the market that being worthy to run a venture is not determined by gender, but by a person’s mission and commitment to that mission. For this and other reasons, for a year now I have launched a simple and modest Podcast, HER Frequency, where we address topics on women empowerment in STEM and entrepreneurship.
What have been some of the biggest wins of your engagement?
The victories for CELLUGY were related to the investments won by the European Commission in 2020, and the international awards as the first place in the global packaging competition “PackBridge” and “Global Innovation Summit” in 2019. On the other hand, for me the most victory it is to have found a team that I love to work with, as we share the same values, and that we have created a circular economy materials concept that the market and nature desperately needs. Also, through working with entrepreneurship, a very important victory for me is when I hear that my students or young people I have consulted, are developing professionally as entrepreneurs or specialists in the field.
What are some of the specific needs of CELLUGY?
CELLUGY is currently increasing the production capacity of EcoFLEXY material and is undertaking collaborations for companies in the field of packaging, chemical industry and personal care. Investments are key to the further development of CELLUGY, so we are in the Serie A: phase of raising venture capital funds. Furthermore, it is very important to educate the market on circulating economy practices in relation to nano-sized and naturally occurring materials, such as cellulose.
Do you plan to invest in Tirana as well?
CELLUGY was founded in Aarhus, Denmark, by young people from Spain and Indonesia, from where I joined the team as a co-owner along with a Danish colleague. Today, the team has over 10 full-time employees, including interns or student positions, and is represented by over 8 nationalities, which is a competitive advantage for the company. With great desire in the future, I would like to set up company operations in Tirana. Recently, together with other highly engaged colleagues in Albania, we have opened the office of the World Business Angels Investment Forum, to facilitate and improve investments by business angels towards start-ups. Tirana is full of liveliness, culture and economic activity, and can serve quite well to grow business not only in Tirana, but also in other cities of Albania.
If you want to share your history with our local ecosystem, you can contact us by email: email@example.com