Tourism | Western Balkans Adventure Week
REG Teamed with the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) to organize the first Balkan based AdventureWeek, a specialized, nine-day familiarization tour in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. AdventureWeek took place from August 26th to September 3rd with the goal of raising awareness of the adventure tourism product in the region to international outbound operators, specialized travel agents, and international travel journalists. Par- ticipants included 15 tourism buyers and 6 jour- nalists from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe represent the source-market for this product.
A survey of the participants found positive views of the region’s tourism potential, with 18 of the 21 operators indicated immediate plans to investigate the western Balkans further. Journalists from Yahoo Travel, Lonely Planet, and WanderLust magazine have already published several digital stories, and others other are planning print stories in 2015.
AdventureWeek is part of a coordinated attempt to establish the Western Balkans as an integrated travel destination. Future collaboration will include: AdventureEDU training workshops, consultations on marketing, new product development, and an Adventure Summit in Macedonia in 2016, that provides extensive opportunities for regional promotion. By promoting the Western Balkans through multi- country itineraries and as an integrated destination, the region becomes more competitive.
IT | ICT Trade Mission
From October 5th-10th, REG organized an IT Trade Mission to Austria and Germany with GIZ Open Regional Fund (GIZ ). Fifteen IT representatives from REG’s partners in the region attended, including Albania IT Association (AITA), BIT Alliance Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo IT Association (STIKK), MASIT ICT Chamber of Commerce Macedonia, and ICT NET Serbia. The participants met with more than 100 IT representatives in Vienna, Munich and Stuttgart. The trade mission led to the Balkans IT Clusters jointly signing MoUs with the Bavarian ICT
Cluster and the Baden Wurttemburg Connected IT Cluster. Next steps include proactive follow-up to develop and establish concrete business partnerships.
IT | Nis EU Funding Opportunities Workshop
REG recently organized its 2nd regional work- shop on EU funding. This workshop was held in cooperation with the Nis Center of Excellence and Innovation (a USAID legacy institution), the Nis Regional Chamber of Commerce and Indus- try, and the Nis Cluster for Advanced Technol- ogy (NiCAT). Twenty IT representatives from, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Greece were present. This is part of the initiative to create a network of ICT clusters in the Balkans and Black sea region, which follows an April, 2014 conference organized by Foundation ICT Cluster and the Bulgarian Ministry of Transport, Information Technologies and Communications.
Following the first regional workshop in Novi Sad last May, a regional multi-country bid was initiated. At this second workshop, the group final- ized the concept for the EU bid through the COSME funding mechanism, which is a 2.3bn. multi-country cluster development program that is funded at by the EU and would seek to support SME’s in the following areas: Better access to fi- nance for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises
(SMEs), access to markets, supporting entrepre- neurs, and more favorable conditions for busi- ness creation and growth. The group also applied for a 250,000 Euro project. It spans 12 organizations from 8 countries.
Additionally, a regional MoU was signed, estab- lishing a Black Sea – Balkans Regional ICT Cluster Network, which includes 16 organizations from 10 countries. The main objective of the network is to enhance cooperation between ICT clusters and to create more business opportunities by supporting innovation and fostering collaboration for joint research projects.
Agribusiness | 2nd Round of Capacity-building Training for ISO22000 Auditors Results in Ten Certified Auditors
EU and regional markets are the main export destinations for the fruit and vegetable processing industries in REG countries, but many companies must still meet food safety and food quality requirements to export to the more demanding EU markets. The major importers and retailers of food products in the EU and regionally insist their vendors conform to the safety requirements that are beyond the basic HACCP principles.
To address this obstacle to trade, REG held a second ISO22000 auditors training on October 30th-31st at Hotel Park in Belgrade, Serbia. The REG Project engaged TUV Group from Austria to develop the curriculum and perform the advanced two-day training. Participants from 10 leading fruit and vegetables companies attended, who were quality control managers or technologists responsible for activities related to compliance with food safety and quality standards in their firms.
At the end of the training, all 10 participants took a two hour written examination on identifying non-compliance and proposing corrective measures according to the ISO 22000 standard. All candidates passed the exam and received a certificate for FSMS Internal Auditor for quality
and food safety management system in accordiance to the requirements of the ISO 22000:2005 from TUV Austria. This capacity will improve company competitiveness when approaching larger retailers in the region and targeted international markets, and reduce costs for external consultants to comply with the standard.
Finance | Regional Study Tour to National Deposit Insurance Fund Hungary
From November 16th – 21st, USAID’s REG project organized a study tour to Budapest, Hungary for program beneficiaries from the Eurasia region. The study tour consisted of three participants from the Moldovan Deposit Guarantee Fund in Deposit System (FGDSB), and the Armenian Deposit Guarantee Fund (ADGF) .
The objective of the study tour was to improve the readiness of the participating deposit insurance agencies (DIAs) to conduct a fast and efficient payout of insured depositors in the event of a bank failure. Moldovan and Armenian DIAs benefited from observing the process of a payout and other actions in the event of a ‘live’
bank failure in a mentor country. Hungary served as a good case study as it established the first deposit insurance system in Central Europe in 1993 and since then has successfully handled a number of insured deposit payouts through agent banks and other means.
Entrepreneurship | #PrishtinaFTW
USAID REG organized the project’s third #For The Win (#FTW) event in Prishtina, Kosovo on October 31st-November 1st as part of the 2014 KosICT Conference. It was organized in cooperation with Innovation Centre Kosovo (ICK), Kosovo ICT Association (STIKK), and Crimson Capital.
As in prior #FTW events, #PrishtinaFTW brought together local and regional entrepreneurs, investors, and facilitators with goals of: providing access to best practices for early-stage entrepreneurs; assisting local private and angel investors to professionalize and grow their syndication (investment networks); and building capacity of entrepreneurship community organizers and innovation centers to improve their services, outreach, and effectiveness.
A total of 130 participants attended the sessions on Day I, that included: transforming emerging tech communities through early stage investments; startup ecosystem building; and specifics in sourcing startups and assisting their growth.
On Day 2, 60 entrepreneurs participated in discussions with the local startup community on topics such as “How to pitch your Startup” and “Building companies locally for global markets.” Lastly, a pitching competition for preselected companies took place in which seven startup companies presented their ideas and were provided with valuable feedback and recommendations. The competition was won by Ermal Sadiku from LinkPlus, a Kosovo IT company that is launching a new online regional marketplace for used car parts.
The prize consists of an offer to join the acceleration program at Skopje-based New Man’s Business Accelerator (NMBA) at a reduced rate, and to participate for free in business development meetings in Skopje at NMBA, including a meeting with the head of Microsoft Ventures in Europe, David Raskino. The prize was awarded jointly by REG project staff Max Gurvits and NMBA CEO Irena Chaushevska.
Entrepreneurship | #ArmeniaFTW
The fourth REG #FTW event took place November 8-9th in the Gyumri Information Technologies Center as part of InnoWeekend 2014, an Armenian entrepreneurship weekend coordinated by Microsoft Innovation Center Armenia (MIC), that also encompassed Startup Weekend Armenia- Turkey, and the annual Microsoft-sponsored hackathon (YAN).
#ArmeniaFTW attracted many young tech entrepreneurs.
During Day 1, more than 100 people attended the keynote presentation to enrich their knowledge about startup ecosystems, accelerators, and early`stage investments. On Day 2, there were over 300 attendees of the startup pitches and awards. The jury for the start-up contest consisted of #FTW speakers as well as leading local investors and entrepreneurs. The jury selected two winners from a total of 16 pitches that included Sololearn and SkyCriptor.
Sololearn, a company from Yerevan, is a mobile learning platform offering 14 interactive and gaming applications in the fields of programming, business, and photography. It is available for Android and Windows, and has already been downloaded more than 350,000 times.
SkyCriptor, a company from Gyumri, is a cloud-based solution for data encoding and can be used by people without special knowledge and skills in encoding.
As an award, both companies are fast-tracked to pitch to the investment committees of Happy Farm accelerator (Kiev) and StartupWiseGuys accelerator (Tallinn).
Entrepreneurship | #KyivFTW
#KyivFTW took place on December 1, 2014 with the Happy Farm Business Incubator in Kyiv, Ukraine. This was our final #FTW (For The Win) event, and was organized in partnership with Happy Farm Business Incubator, Belarus- based Bel.Biz, CCCstarups and Proffstore.
CCC Startups is a new venture capital company, raising a new private fund for the Eastern European and Middle East region. Proffstore is a Ukrainian startup, part of PrivatBank, who are sponsors of Happy Farm. They’re developing an online marketplace for small and medium-sized businesses to offer their services and find clients and suppliers.
Start up Ecosystems, Entrepreneurship, Early-Stage companies and Women Entrepreneurship were among the main topics at event, as well as presentations by the The Ukrainian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association and the American Business Safari.
Eight selected startups from Ukraine and Belarus participated in the pitching competition and received professional feedback and advice from the jury members.
More than 360 visitors were registered, as well as 15 participants that travelled from Belarus for the #KyivFTW event. More than 120 people attended the keynote presentations to enrich their knowledge about startup ecosystems, accelerators and early-stage investments.
Entrepreneurship | Empowering Women in Business– Serbia
Between November 5th and November 28th, CEED organized three three-day workshops for female entrepreneurs in three cities in Serbia, including Belgrade, Subotica and Vranje. Participants included new businesses and entrepreneurs who had founded their company within the past two years. This training provided participants with the opportunity to deepen their knowledge about: running a business; promoting their company through use of media including business capacity and methods for professional communication with customers. The total number of participants trained was 52, and a post-training survey in which found that 65% of participants rated the trainings as very useful while the remaining 35% assessed them to be useful.
Tourism | REG Tourism Product Development Activity
For the past six months, the REG Project has been working to develop high quality tourism products in the Western Balkans region. To that end, he consulted more than 200 locally-owned companies from the region, held more than 50 meetings, and reviewed more than 100 product ideas.
As a result, 22 new tourism products have been developed in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The products are “divided” thematically into the following categories: The Balkans Challenge, Balkans Gastronomy, Hiking the Balkans, Off-Road Experience in the Balkans, Travels in Time around the Balkans, and Wildlife Experience in the Balkans. The experiences are all designed to attract tourists who value culture and authenticity, and who enjoy spending time in nature. All products fall under the umbrella of ‘Adventure Travel,’ a category of travel which is a higher margin product and is ideal for regional development through tourism. According to Adventure Travel Trade Association’s Industry Snapshop of 2014, the average adventure travel trip price is $477 per day, and 65% of what the traveler spends stays in the destination country.
The new products will be uploaded on the www.BalkansGeotourism.travel portal for marketing purposes. REG consultant Jack Delf is meeting with journalists and other potential buyers to promote and discuss the new Western Balkans products. One of the products has already sold, which includes (which countries) and the first group will consist of 15 travelers.
Through this product development work, Jack Delf offered training and consultation to all participating local service providers, including site inspections and direct support in developing innovative products. Jack also provided a two-day Leave No Trace training to 4 participants from Macedonia, all of whom received certificates.