I was in Tirana to give a keynote speech at the Balkan Venture Forum’s 3rd edition on November 14, 2013. l was very pleased to receive the invitation, because the Albanian translation of my book was breaking records in Albania and the dates of the Forum coincided with those of the Tirana Book Fair, where l would have the opportunity to meet with my Albanian readers.
One of the best things about writing a book is that, when it is translated into another language, people in countries where you have never been know many things about your life. When l imagine that a university student in Tirana whose hopes and dreams l know nothing about is reading my life story on the bus home from school on a rainy evening, l really feel very happy. It is a feeling that is not easy to express in words.
My Tirana keynote speech was immediately after the opening speech of Mr Niko Peleshi, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania. My topic was ‘The Rising Steps of the Successful Entrepreneur – A Success Map for Every Entrepreneur’.
On my schedule there was also a live interview on the Albanian economy channel, Scan TV. Mr Nikolin Yaka, the President of the Chamber of Commerce of Tirana, also organized a press conference for me to announce the new regional 15 million European innovation fund for the training of the staff of SMEs.
I was also invited to a debate dinner in Tirana organised by the US Embassy in Kosovo, where l had the opportunity to meet with early stage market players of Kosovo.
The most surprising moment of this trip was seeing a wall-size photo of the 16th president of the USA, Abraham Lincoln, in the entrance of Albania’s Enver Hoxha’s house, which is now used for American English language courses. Until 1980s Albania was under the communist rule of Enver Hoxha, who closed all doors of his country to entire world. And now, his house is the center for an American English language course!
My previous visits to Tirana
This was my third visit to Tirana. My first visit was thanks to an invitation from Epoka University in Tirana to give a speech on entrepreneurship, so l decided to see the country at the same time. I was accompanied by Mehmet Usta, Chairman of the Board of Calik Holding, owned by a friend of mine, Ahmet Calik, and the owner of the BKT Bank of Albania and Eagle Mobile, the number one telecom company of Albania.
I gave 4 speeches at four different universities: Tirana University, Epoka University, New York State University and Luarasi University. I was also featured on 4 different programmes on 3 TV channels. One of them was a sixty-minute live broadcast on Klan TV about my life story, one was a 20-minute programme on Scan TV, and the third was a morning show on Klan TV. The News 24 channel also reported on my speeches on its main news bulletin.
I was also interviewed by one of the most popular newspapers, The Daily of Albania.
My life story – on Klan TV
An interview on Albanian entrepreneurship – on Scan TV:
An interview – on Daily Panorama
My speech at Epoka University
My second visit to Tirana was a one-day trip to meet with 50 students from 25 universities for a talk about entrepreneurship. It was organized by Edmond Qenani, my Ambassador to Albania in Tirana University’s Faculty of Business Administration.
Entrepreneurship Ambassador Programme
I have a global programme to foster entrepreneurship eco-systems. I select and appoint Baybars Altuntas Ambassadors of Entrepreneurship for every country in the world. The main objective of this ambassadorship programme is to foster the entrepreneurship eco-system of those countries to create jobs, wealth and better economies, with the know-how transfer from me to the appointed Ambassador. The first Baybars Altuntas Ambassador of Entrepreneurship is Edmond Queanani, appointed in Albania. The second is Medina Braha, in Kosovo. The third one is Panda Wan, in China. The fourth one is Vezirbek Beshliyev, in Kazakhstan. Ambassadors are appointed by me for a maximum of two years.
The first nucleus of the city center was established in the Roman-Byzantine Empire (Theranda), the period of its first expansion, but in the course of its history it was occupied by the Ottoman Empire, and finally it was part of the agglomeration of the Kingdom of Italy. Modern Tirana was founded as an Ottoman town in 1614 by Sulejman Bargjini, a local ruler from Mullet. Tirana became Albania’s capital city in 1920 and has a population of 600,000 − 763,634 including the wider metropolitan area.
Albania has an interesting place in the daily life of Turkey. We have a saying: ‘ He’s got Albanian blood in his veins’, which is used to describe people who are particularly stubborn. My grandmother’s father was an Albanian who came to Istanbul in the 1900s. My father is well known in the family for his stubbornness and everybody thinks that he is like that owing to his Albanian heritage.
Why do Turks have a saying like that for Albanians? I don’t have a definitive explanation for this, but l think it may be related to Skanderbeg (Iskender Bey), who lived in the 1400s and was the first person in the Balkans who rose up against the Ottoman Empire. He was trained at Topkapi Palace and lived in Istanbul. After he returned to Albania, he organized rebellions against the Ottoman Empire and didn’t give up, even when the Ottoman Empire insisted on changing his idea.
Albania – Lessons for Entrepreneurs
There are similarities between the global expansion of McDonald’s and the spread of the Ottoman Empire. The most striking one parallels the franchising system.
From here, we have lessons for entrepreneurs:
- Albania is one of the smallest countries of the Balkan region but it was the first one to rise up against the Ottoman Empire. So ‘small’ always carries a better potential than ‘big’, which suggests that entrepreneurs have more potential to become big businesses than larger companies.
- Secondly, even the smallest unit of a chain is very important. You should care about each and every player in a system, small or large. Albania and its relationship with the Ottoman Empire is a good example for big countries.
Entrepreneurs should therefore be careful about their franchising systems. A sustainable franchising system is possible if you care about all your franchisees, since you are transferring all your know-how to them.
Albania in the daily life of Turkey
In Istanbul we have a particular type of stone used for paving sidewalks: Albanian Stone (Arnavut Kaldırımı). I saw the same kind of stone in Stockholm, but the Swedes may or may not refer to it in the same way. There is even a district in Istanbul called Arnavutköy (Albanian Village).
The composer of the national anthem of Turkey, Mehmet Akif Ersoy, was an Albanian who emigrated to Istanbul. It was a great honour in 2001 for me to buy and refurbish the apartment where he had lived in Beyoglu, in the downtown area of Istanbul. For many years the headquarters of Deulcom International, my own company, was in this building, next to the Galatasaray Sports Club headquarters and across from Vakko, a famous Turkish textile and fashion brand on Istiklal Street. So it was a privilege for me as well as for Deulcom International students and employees to listen to our national anthem in the very building where it was composed.
Flying to Tirana
I flew to Tirana on Turkish Airlines on the evening of the 13th of November. Nik Grezda, the Balkan Venture Forum’s representative for Albania, was waiting for me at the airport. We chatted on the way to the Sheraton Hotel, where l would stay until Saturday. He is a very good guy who is engaged with the Albanian entrepreneurship eco-system, with a banking background in the US. He has an American wife and three children. I had a photo taken with two his brilliant bilingual children at the book fair on my last day in Tirana.
It was lucky for me that there was a Spanish football team at the Sheraton on that date and they all wanted to stay on the same floor. So l was upgraded to a suite. My firm pillows were all available on the bed. Great!
|The Balkan Venture Forum in Tirana created the platform for regional entrepreneurs to connect with international investors and business partners. The fourth event in a series, the Forum sought to stimulate regional entrepreneurs to look across national borders and bring their business solutions to regional and global markets.The Forum attracted over 250 participants from Albania, the Western Balkans, South-East Europe, Europe and beyond, including start-up companies, innovation experts, investors, business angels, support agencies, and government representatives.Alexander Tasev, CEO of Balkan Venture Forum and Michael Gold welcomed all participants.In his opening remarks Mr Niko Peleshi, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania, emphasized the importance of start-up development in Albania and the region through investment-oriented events and entrepreneurial support programmes and gave assurances that the government ‘would not be a headache’ in this process.Citing the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, Dr Jim Barnhart, the mission director of USAID in Albania, pointed out the important role of start-up companies as a force of ‘creative destruction’ to unleash new competitive powers in the economy.As the keynote speaker of the first day, I highlighted the various milestones in the entrepreneurial career path and the crucial role of entrepreneurial decision-making and risk assessment. My speech was about the steps of a rising entrepreneur, and I outlined each step of becoming a successful entrepreneur:
Here is my presentation: Albania Rising Steps of Entrepreneur
In the investor panel regarding the latest trends in financing start-ups in the region of South-East Europe, William Stevens, the founder and CEO of Europe Unlimited, the co-organizer of the Forum, stressed the importance of investors joining forces to address the needs in the region and act on a transnational level. He emphasized that platforms such as the Balkan Venture Forum provide investors with the opportunity to find suitable co-investment partners in order to be able to spread the risks and feel more comfortable about their investment decisions.
The keynote speaker on the second day, the Albanian-born founder and managing partner of Boston Global Ventures, Vivjan Myrto, accentuated the necessity for entrepreneurs to ‘make their product sparkle’ in order to attract investors’ support. The minimum viable product that he compared to a patient in intensive care who is alive but not fun to spend a lot of time with, would just not be good enough.
The Minister of Innovation and Public Administration of the Republic of Albania, Dr Milena Harito, after having expressed in her closing speech the readiness for supporting the start-up companies in Albania, presented the awards to the winners of the pitching competition.
The 28 presenters came from Albania, other Western Balkan countries and the South-East European region, and were from various business sectors, ranging from ICT, to media and clean tech. These were selected from over 100 applications by an international jury in the following categories:
The pitching competition was carried out in five separate sessions in which the presenters were given 8 minutes to present their business idea to an audience of investors and experts, followed by a 7-minute question-and-answer session. The Forum was preceded by a Venture Academy where start-ups received training and preparation for their pitching on the following days. This kind of preparation was highly appreciated s an ample opportunity for learning and improvement.
Winners of Balkan Venture Forum – Tirana:
With three previous editions (Skopje, Belgrade & Sofia), the Balkan Venture Forum series has gathered over 1000 relevant industry participants.
The next Balkan Venture Forum will be held in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in May 2014.
The Balkan Venture Forum series of events is the region’s leading venture and innovation forum where innovative business ideas meet investors, support agencies and policy makers from the South-East European region, wider Europe and beyond. It is organized by Balkan Unlimited, Crimson Capital, and Europe Unlimited. The Balkan Venture Forum is one of the main events of the SEE Programme project VIBE (Venture Initiative in Balkan Europe) and is co-financed by the European Union.
VIBE – Venture Initiative in Balkan Europe
VIBE is a project co-funded by the EU in the framework of the ‘SEE Transnational Cooperation Programme’ with the primary objective to support facilitation of innovation and entrepreneurship in the region of South-East Europe. VIBE aims at fostering the creation and growth of innovative SMEs and start-up companies through a large array of actions.
SEERC – the South-East European Research Centre
SEERC is leaded by Andreas, who is from Germany and a lecturer and is the partner of VIBE. SEERC is based in Thessaloniki. Andreas attended my speech in Athens and l enjoyed his friendship very much. His wife is Greek and he speaks Greek fluently.
Here is the relationship between VIBE and SEERC:
Chairs of the Forum
I was a few minutes late to the opening of the Forum. When l entered the hall, l went directly to the first row and sat down. My Ambassador, Edmond, sat down just behind me, in the second row. A few minutes later l understood that the main organizers of the forum were all sitting on the left side and right side of the first row, and l was the only one in the middle of the first row. Nobody sat in the five seats on either side of me. I assumed that some people would come and sit but nobody did. So l invited Bostjan Skalarw, the Consul for Economic Affairs in Istanbul, to sit in the chair next to me. He is a very friendly and serious person who followed all details of the event from start to finish. He was not happy with the entrepreneurs’ pitches. His wife is from Turkey and he lived in Istanbul for many years, but he now lives in Slovenia.
I wanted to get a coffee and asked him if he would like to join me. He preferred coffee to tea, like me so l asked Edmond, just behind me, to order 2 coffees for us. Edmond immediately went out the hall and a few minutes later a waiter brought our coffees to the front row. Mr Bostjan Skalarw enjoyed this very much because we were the only ones who were drinking our coffees and following the speeches. He said: ‘l know this method from Istanbul . . .’
He was right. In Turkey, if you are the head of even a department, you go to meetings with your assistant and your assistant opens the doors, shows you where to sit, orders other people on your behalf — because you are the head! This convention is not seen in Europe so much, may be not at all. I was very surprised, when l attended the first meeting of EBAN in Brussels, that none of the Board Members’ names were on the chairs where they were supposed to sit. When l organized the EBAN Winter Summit in Istanbul last year, l couldn’t decide whether to write names on chairs or not. l decided to do it the Turkish way, and everybody would know where to sit.
However, if you don’t write the names on chairs and don’t confirm their rank, what happens? Baybars enters and sits like the President of Albania J
The most memorable lessons in cultural differences are learned by inadvertently making cultural blunders. In this case, my Albanian hosts were gracious and accommodating of my foreign ways.
My readers were all in the room. Some of them came from Kosovo and Macedonia to get an autograph on their books. They took photos with me, l autographed their books, and answered their questions. During my visit, I appointed Medina Braha as my Ambassador to Kosovo. She was my reader and follower from Facebook. She had come to Istanbul a few months before and brought me a very nice Kosovo flag made by Kosovo’s unique mining stones. Medina Braha is a research assistant in Piristina University and now my Ambassador to Kosova
She is about to set up a Baybars Altuntas Society in Kosovo, the first society in the world set up in my name.
At lunchtime I met with Slobodan Markovic, the organizer of the next Balkan Venture Forum in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is a perfect entrepreneur, a Serb who lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina and who wants to translate my book into Serbian and distribute it in countries throughout the region. I enjoyed his friendship very much and I am sure the next Balkan Venture Forum in Bosnia will also be a great success with his organization.
Press Conference with Tirana Chamber of Commerce
I visited Mr Nikolin Yaka, the President of Chamber of Commerce of Tirana, and presented a copy of my book to him. He invited me to hold a joint press conference on the second evening of the event about the new innovation fund received from European Union to train the staff of the SMEs,
In the press conference, l said that instead of bringing the fish to the table, this fund was going to teach people how to catch fish for themselves. One of the participants asked if there were good trainers of innovation to be used for this project in Albania. I thought that wasn’t quite the right question. We all know that if there are good learners, even the least effective teacher gets good results. If there are weak learners, then even if Bill Gates comes to classroom, it won’t work.
Mr Yaka also invited me and my wife to the gala dinner on the 14th of December in Tirana.
A dinner debate at the invitation of the US Embassy in Kosovo
Mr Cavan E Fabris, the economic and commercial officer of the US Embassy of Kosovo invited me to a dinner debate in an extremely nice fish restaurant. They also served a special cheese prepared in a particular way, which was nothing short of exquisite. I attended the dinner with my Ambassador to Kosovo, Medina Braha. Mr Cavan E Fabris was a former entrepreneur and came to diplomacy from the private sector, so he was very familiar with the basic principles of entrepreneurship and l enjoyed the debate very much. At the dinner there were entrepreneurs from Albania and Slovenia as well.
After the dinner, we went to the Taiwan Center for coffee. On the way, we went along the street where there were protesters in the front of the Prime Ministry. Protesters were trying to give a message to the Prime Minister that they didn’t want to accept Syria’s chemical weapons being destroyed on Albanian soil, maintaining that it would create an environmental problem in the future. The next evening the Prime Minister of Albania announced that he had re-considered his position in the light of the people’s demands, and that Syria’s chemical weapons would not be allowed in Albania.
I was invited to Scan TV, the CNBCE of Albania, for a 30-minute live broadcast about insights from Balkan Venture Forum and some evaluations of the entrepreneurship eco-system in Albania. When l receive the interview link, l will add it here. It took place on Friday, November 15 from 12.00 to 12.30.
Mr Ivan Jovetic invited me to Montenegro to give a speech at the University of Donja Gorica and l agreed. To be honest, Montenegro is a name l always enjoyed hearing in the voting section of the Eurovision Song Contest and the word ‘Montenegro’ always made me think of poetry. Montenegro translates directly into Turkish, but l don’t really savour the feeling the Turkish translation creates in me, so l prefer using ‘Montenegro’ even when I speak in Turkish. What a nice poem.
JEREMIE Programme in Hungary
Mr Laszlo Csoknyai gave an excellent presentation about how the JEREMIE programme was launched in Hungary. He was a board member of the European Venture Capital Association (EVCA) and he knows how to set up co-investment funds with public money and VC under the JEREMIE scheme. Anyone who wants to develop a similar programme in their home country should first consult him.
JEREMIE is a programme described as joint European resources for micro to medium enterprises.
ABAA – Albanian Business Angels Association
After the closing speeches, we were invited by Mr Klajdi Malo to a dinner at the Tirana Mountain. Dinner was hosted by Mr Malo, the owner of Teleferic Systems of Tirana, where his father also built a very nice mountain hotel. An excellent dinner with an excellent view. He is also the Vice President of a family business, Euro Lotto. He will be the pioneer of the Albanian Business Angels Association in co-operation with Links Angel BAN of Turkey. Mr Bratislav Stankovic, the science and technology advisor to the President of the Republic of Macedonia, was also one of the invitees of the dinner.
The Greek entrepreneurs participating at the Forum were:
The Greek entrepreneurship eco-system was very active at the event. Greece is one of the main players of the Balkan entrepreneurship eco-system. I am very happy to see successful entrepreneurs from Greece creating social justice and jobs. SMEs and entrepreneurs play a crucial role in solving the economic problems of the Greek government.
Tirana Book Fair
On Saturday, the day after the Balkan Venture Forum, l had a book signing event at the Book Fair of Tirana. This fair is one of the biggest book fairs of the region. I signed many, many books for my readers from Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo.
I was also very pleased to be able to meet with Ms Mirela Sula, who read my book on her flight from London to Tirana. She is the author of a book on love and she too had a book signing at the fair. Her book and mine were published by the same publishing house in Tirana, OMG GVG Publishing. Founded in 1998 by Vasilika and Gëzim Tafa, OMBRA GVG is one of the best-known publishing houses in Albania.
She presented her book to me with an autograph and a message:
Because it was in Albanian, l couldn’t read her book but l am sure it is wonderful, seeing the great demand for it at the fair.
In the afternoon l had lunch with Mr and Mrs Tafa, owners of the OMG GVG Publishing House. Mr Tafa is very knowledgeable about history and also art. Their daughter Vanessa speaks English fluently at the age of 14 and she is also very good at painting, like her father. Ms Vasilika Tafa is the entrepreneur of the family responsible for marketing issues, and Mr Gëzim Tafa is responsible for product quality; he is the one to assess manuscripts and is responsible for deciding whether or not to publish. Vanessa was the first reader of my book in Albanian because she had been given the book to review since Mr and Mrs Tafa were a little bit busy those days. Thanks to Vanessa, my book passed the first screening successfullyJ
Here is the link for your orders:
Enver Hoxha and Abraham Lincoln
Late in the afternoon, l had a meeting with the vice president of Lincoln Language Courses in Tirana. This language course was founded by an Albanian entrepreneur in Tirana who now receives VC money from a foundation in the US and is ready to expand the system to global markets via franchising. She invited me to a meeting of their shareholders and directors that will be done in Istanbul in the first week of January 2014. Because l am the founder of the Turkish Franchising Association and am also experienced in the franchising system for my school chain in Turkey and Cyprus, l think l will have many experiences to share with them.
After our meeting, she invited me to the Lincoln Language Course, which is housed in the former home of Enver Hoxha, who ruled the country under a communist regime until his death in the 1980s. Now, a wall-size picture of Abraham Lincoln decorates the entrance to the house.
I think Enver Hoxha wouldn’t believe that Abraham Lincoln’s Picture on his wall even if he saw it in his dreams J Everybody is speaking American English in his house, even in the toilets J.
Life is like that . . .
Going back to Turkey
After my visit to Enver Hoxha’s and Abraham Lincoln’s house, l returned to my hotel, collected my bags and Nik took me to the airport for my 20.45 flight to Istanbul.
I look forward to visiting Tirana again one day.
Key people of Balkan Venture Forum
William Stephens: Belgium
Aleksander Tasev: Macedonia
Nik Grezda: Albania
Michael Gold: Kosovo