For serial entrepreneur Engjell Rraklli, startups are much more than innovation. Тhey have a vast potential to improve a country’s economy. This is especially important for the Western Balkans countries, such as his native Albania.
As a co-founder of several startups in software development and gaming, Rraklli is one of the young leaders in the country that is pushing its growth.
With a background in computer science, he has been in the entrepreneurial world since his high school days. Entrepreneurship came naturally for him, he explains.
“I’ve had entrepreneurial tendencies since high school, from forming a rock band and then starting to build games with the intentions of monetizing them, providing programming courses and so on. When it comes to the startup’s ecosystem, I personally believe that startups are the way of innovating but also of improving economies especially in the Balkans. So as an entrepreneur being in the startups scene right from its inception in Albania, it’s a responsibility for me to give back and to try to help grow the ecosystem as much as I can,” Rraklli tells The Recursive.
When it comes to developing his local startup ecosystem, he is also doing his part by participating in various workshops and programs with young entrepreneurs where he shares his experience.
As a co-founder and CEO of software company division5 and game development startup BEEZ, for Rraklli, stubbornness is a defining trait for every aspiring entrepreneur, especially when it comes to the Western Balkans. And Albania is one of the examples where this stubbornness can make you or break you, the Albanian entrepreneur explains.
“You have to be quite stubborn to cope with all the challenges thrown your way especially in a not so stable market as Albania. But stubbornness is also the weakness, as it causes you to pursue goals that might not be realistic. Great entrepreneurs need to learn how to pivot and in order to do that, we have to be open to change our minds,” Rraklli points out.
While the Albanian startup ecosystem is still very much young when compared to the rest of the region, already there are positive examples that can drive these young startups and companies forward.
“Now we have the first startups both offering services and products which are doing quite well. I can proudly state division5 as being one of them in the services section. Cardio is another one in the products section. We are attracting foreign investment as well – division5 for instance was one of the first startups to receive an angel investment from a foreign company. Others are following and Albania is slowly but steadily getting into the map of investors,” he tells The Recursive.
Raising awareness and gaining more support for local startups and companies
However, for Albania there is still a long way to go. According to Rraklii, the startup ecosystem needs more awareness, more support and local examples to push the ecosystem forward.
The young ecosystem currently has more than 150 startups with fintech as one the verticals that many startups in the country are following. While it might be too soon to talk about any Albanian unicorns on the horizon, there is a big potential for those that are providing software services.
“Unfortunately, I don’t see a unicorn coming in the next few years in Albania. Currently, we are building software development capacity through the different companies offering outsourcing services. I expect people working in the services business today to slowly enter the startup scene and start building products, but this will take a few years,” the Albanian entrepreneur tells The Recursive.
Aside from fintech, there are also many other interesting verticals where local startups can succeed, he adds.
“It could be in AI, Fintech, AR/VR, crypto etc. It’s a matter of finding a good idea, getting early support from incubators, accelerators, investors and iterating until the product-market fit is reached. I know of a few startups doing some very cool stuff in many different industries across the Western Balkans, and we should definitely keep this up,” Rraklli points out.
When it comes to his personal goals for the upcoming period, the Albanian entrepreneur aims to grow the companies that he has already founded and to be able to conquer the software development and gaming markets.
“Division5 is in its scale up phase, currently counting over 50 people, mostly engineers working together and building some very cool products for companies in Western Europe and the US. BEEZ is currently providing specialized 3D development services for foreign companies but we are seriously considering building a product and entering the gaming industry. If we do that, it will be a tough nut to crack. The gaming industry is very lucrative but has some of the highest barriers to enter, so we will see how it goes,” he notes.
And as Rraklli previously said, they are willing to succeed no matter the obstacles. The same goes for Albanian ecosystem as well, he emphasizes.
“As I said though, we are pretty stubborn. On the other hand, I think the goals of the Albanian ecosystem should be to raise awareness and onboard as many new entrepreneurs as we can,” he concludes.