Officials from Kosovo hope to learn from Iowa startup culture
Republic of Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga (left) and ambassador Akan Ismaili speak to a group of more than 30 entrepreneurs at StartupCity Des Moines on Thursday.
In Iowa, a pool table is a trendy office accessory. An ambassador from Kosovo, on the other hand, prefers table tennis.
At least, that's what Akan Ismaili, the Republic of Kosovo's ambassador to the United States, said about his own experience starting a company as he looked around the facilities at StartupCity Des Moines Thursday afternoon.
Representatives from Kosovo, including President Atifete Jahjaga, are in the midst of a three-day tour of Iowa, including a meeting with Gov. Terry Branstad, and stops at Iowa State University, a wind farm and a cattle farming operation. Kosovo and the state of Iowa have a recently-formed partnership through the National Guard.
They stopped at StartupCity to learn about the state's entrepreneurial culture.
StartupCity principals Tej Dhawan and Christian Renaud shared what they believe makes the community in Iowa special, and the president and ambassadors, including Christopher Dell, the U.S. ambassador to Kosovo, asked questions. Jahjaga asked what steps would be needed to replicate the incubator system of StartupCity.
Renaud said if he could do it again, they would build their IT hub near a biotechnology hub. Mike Colwell, director of the Business Innovation Zone seconded the idea and said that could be a turning point for a small ecosystem.
"We're not going to go head to head in chip design," he said. "Look for those openings where you can bring two or three things together that haven't been done before."
Kosovo, which the United States has recognized as an independent country from Serbia since 2008, has a population of less than 2 million, which is less than the state of Iowa.
Most of the discussion focused on how to build an encouraging community from scratch.
"When we came in, we had folding tables, broadband and electricity," Renaud said. "The beer cooler came next."
Credit: Photo by Sarah Binder.