By Rudina HOXHA
Recently HM Ambassador of UK to Albania, Duncan Norman launched the UK-Albania Tech Hub Initiative. It supports the partnership between Albania and the UK in the technology sector, aimed at boosting tech start-ups in Albania and creating opportunities to do business with the UK.
You can find it in the link below :
The Ambassador thinks aloud that in Albania, there are lots of people, particularly, younger people, who have brilliant concepts for the start-up technology.
“So, what we want to do is to help encourage that to grow and to be successful and through that, to help build Albanian economy and also help build the links between UK and Albania,” the UK Ambassador explained in an exclusive interview with FOLLOW BUSINESS ALBANIA.
A fan of technology, the Ambassador highlights that this initiative is all about a marketable concept. “It needs to be something that creates a product which is sellable and ideally not only here in Albania but even in the UK market in order to establish those links,” he underlines.
Full interview below:
Recently the UK Embassy in Tirana launched the Tech Hub initiative. In your view, what is so interesting about this initiative which made the Embassy to embrace it?
I think for every country the economy makes up for a major part of one’s development. That’s true about Albania, about UK, about every country. For the UK, the digital area is of a major part of our economy. A lot of our economy is based on digital. And what we have seen in Albania over the last few months and I have met quite a number of entrepreneurs is that there are lots of people, particularly, younger people who have the most amazing ideas about how to make the most of the digital opportunities that exist in Albania.
So, the people have some brilliant concepts for the start-up technology. What we want to do is to help encourage that to grow and to be successful and through that, to help build Albanian economy and also help build the links between UK and Albania.
Is UK Embassy going to commit itself in helping the young start-ups to meet the vital criteria of this tech hub initiative?
We created this new initiative, called the UK-Albania Tech Hub, in partnership with the British Council Albania. It is an idea and a concept which has been used elsewhere in the world but never in this region. What we are doing is that we have opened up a competition for people to apply, who have start-ups initiatives. We are looking for people who fundamentally have a brilliant concept which can be turned into a business opportunity. Ideally there must be some kind of product ready. It is desirable they may have started to sell this product on the market but that is not absolutely essential. What we want is the idea. We are going to conduct a series of part-time training sessions in Albania who will be taught by experts arriving from the UK. They will help the participants develop entrepreneurial skills by assisting in the development of their ideas and concepts. The best of those who are selected will be provided with a further opportunity; the chance to visit the UK, arrange meetings with UK-based tech companies and pitch their business with the hope of winning contracts and business in the UK. This will be an amazing opportunity for them to turn their idea into a potential international business.
I think that is a big stimulation!
Yes, indeed, I think so.
What is your vision about the Albanian start-ups landscape? Do you think they are growing fast though still in its first stages?
What we see in Albania is that there are some brilliant ideas and some young companies, young people who own these companies which can potentially be very successful. So, what we want to do is not only to help those companies but even to work with the Albanian government to try create a great new environment which is going to be as conducive as possible for these companies to become a real success. Currently our program is quite small. We are just working to identify the key companies but we are keen to expand this program if it is successful.
Mr. Ambassador, in your view, what is so important for the applicants to have in mind before applying?
As I mentioned before, it is about having a fundamentally brilliant concept, something that should be marketable. It needs to be something that creates a product which is sellable and ideally not only here in Albania but even in the UK market in order to establish those links.
How do you see the impact of technology in workplace and in the economy of one’s country?
When I started working, I did not have a computer at my desk, and within a short period we now find ourselves working in an environment where almost everything we touch is digitalized.
The UK Government has been heavily involved in creating a space whereby tech companies can thrive and subsequently the economy can grow. We have the advantage of being involved in technology for a long time. We have got an environment that is there not only to enable but even to support digital start-ups such as the legislation, the tax environment which is very friendly for the digital start-ups. So, we have all that support that the companies need.
The UK also has a long history of collaborating with others to encourage innovation; UK-ALBANIA Tech Hub is one of the ways in which both countries can collaborate to encourage innovation and a healthy business environment to the benefit of the economy.
So, you are a fan of technology?
I am a huge fan of technology and also I have a teenage daughter who is even more a fan of technology. I am active on social media such as twitter; digitalization has even changed the way diplomacy is conducted.
Are you afraid of the future of technology? Experts warn the era of robots.
I think it is hugely exciting. I think the technological advances that are being made not only in the digital area but across the life areas are extraordinary. So essentially, booking the ticket to be a tourist to the moon is not frightening but a fantastic opportunity. It makes our lives easier and more exciting. The way we can communicate and keep in touch with friends from all over the world makes such a difference to the lives of the people today. And I think it is something wishfully embraced. If we can get the robots to do some of the boring jobs, I should be more than happy.
Will the UK Embassy broaden its involvement in technology to contribute in the public administration reform for example?
We are closely working with some of the ministries in Albania, for example the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice about the way they work and helping them to be more efficient. And that kind of work will continue. It is slightly separated from this program which is tailored to start-ups tech companies. And we will look and see how successful this is. If it works, then we will see whether we can upscale it to be able to have a bigger impact. Thus having a bigger effect on the economy of the country and I think providing those hopes and opportunities for a kind of group of young people who sometimes can feel slightly disadvantaged.