Space4health – No brain no gain!

Space4health – No brain no gain!

Space4health is an innovative approach to simulate 1G environment in space by promoting sensorimotor functions. A very interested team is compounded by Uros Marusic, assistant professor and researcher at the Institute for kinesiology research specialised in neurophysiology, Naja Babnik, professional skier (Slovenian national team) specialised in visualisation techniques, Armin Paravlic, focusing in muscle/bone physiology and developing new sensorimotor interventions and Robin Ulaga, kinesiology student, specialising into applications for bio/neuro-feedback and measuring psychophysiological responses.

Space4health uses visualisation and proper movement imagination to stimulate those brain areas that are involved in the real movement execution. The team wants to create an optimal mental and physical training in space to trigger higher motivation and enjoyment for astronauts on their long space travels. By doing so,  they diminish health risks for astronauts and optimise their re-adaptation process.

Let’s learn more about the winners from the NASA Space Apps Challenge Koper location at the University incubator of Primorska!

What challenge were you working on?
We were working on NASA space app challenge: Space Recreation – Journey to Mars.

What have you liked most about the event?
Young enthusiasts working together and developing new ideas in relatively short time. We had a great jury with many valuable suggestions.

Has the event had an impact on your life?
Certainly! Knowing many new people, developing leadership skills, working in team.

What would you suggest persons considering to take part in the future?
Join, be active in and go with the inventive flow.

What is innovation for you?
Knowing the existing knowledge and available technology, optimising protocols to develop something new to improve lives on Earth and in Space.

What do you think about the state of innovation in your country, how would you improve that?
Slovenia could benefit from more flexible innovation funding and less rigid government support schemes to researchers. Innovation to market could also be enhanced through skill building of innovators for managing their businesses.

What are your plans as a team?
We hope to get into finals and start the development of our idea further on. We think that there is a great potential for our new protocols since we already see positive and promising results of our pilot tests.

Solar Jump Jet to explore Mars

Solar Jump Jet to explore Mars

The team from the Skopje location at NewMan’s Accelerator has built a Solar Jump Jet, a jet pack which the astronaut can carry with himself on Mars and use its power in order to accomplish obstruction whenever he encounters one. Goran Jovanoski, Andrej Zlatevski, Vladimir Tanev, Martin Trnkovski, Filip Trkaleski with Martina Dimoska as mentor understand that Mars has a complicated landscape and being fully aware of all the conditions there, they have chosen the solar power. They have developed a fully and highly functional prototype which should last for long period of time.

Their first goal was step back from standard jet-power with fuel consumption and unstable flaming to make the astronauts life safer. The second goal was to use the solar power that comes from the Sun for recharging the graphene batteries used by their Jet. The lightest and strongest nano-material on Earth called graphene is also the main material used  in the skeleton of the Jet.

Let’s learn more about this thrilling project!

What challenge were you working on?
We were working on the Jet Set Mars challenge

What have you liked most about the event?
We like most about this event its motivational, innovative and educational character.

Has the event had an impact on your life?
This event made a very big impact on our lives! It motivated us to work even harder to achieve our life goals and it enabled us various opportunities to accelerate our careers.

What would you suggest persons considering to take part in the future?

Think innovative, think “out of the sphere“, be bold and believe in your capabilities. If you’re working hard enough, your dream can come true!

What is innovation for you?
For us innovation is something new, creative, an idea of something that nobody have ever seen.

What do you think about the state of innovation in your country, how would you improve that?
We have seen very innovative things from the teams on this event, therefore we believe that our country has future.We can improve it by organising events like this, where people can express their ideas.

What are your plans as a team?
We do not want to stop here. We are planning to work together as a team in the future not only on events but also on our career paths as well. NASA helped us realise how important team work and support is.

Atmosfera – Real time help for people with special health conditions

Atmosfera – Real time help for people with special health conditions

The team Amosfera from Tirana has built an application to offer real-time data to people with special health conditions, or just for general information by using data from OpenWeatherMap to show the weather conditions like temperature and humidity and from local air monitoring stations data in Prishtina (Kosovo) for the air components. Everything is measured in real-time and displayed to the user. Users can take advantage of the notification system to be warned when the air components parameters are above normal, or critical for their health condition.

Today we want to know more about this quite young team from Prishtina compounded by high school students, computer engineering and medical school students Erida Cerro, Elena Dinkollari, Kejsi Gozhita, Deivi Taka, Stefan Prifti and Theodhor Pandeli.

What challenge were you working on?

We were working on “Aircheck” challenge.

What have you liked most about the event?

The entire event was perfectly organised by Protik ICT. We had a great time with our team and the most important, the mentors. They were the key of our success, because their advices, feedback and support were great.

Has the event had an impact on your life?
To be honest, yes. We are pushing forward our project. Since we were using just a single station for the prototype version, now we expanded the number to 6 and in the upcoming days we hope to use even more air station data. We are talking with the institutions to obtain those data. We are taking this seriously!

What would you suggest persons considering to take part in the future?
I have already suggested it to all of my friends. As I said during the event, is too bad that events like this take place only once a year. It’s a very good way to spend a weekend and maybe this weekend will determine the course of our lives.

What is innovation for you?

Innovation is the way of making the information easy to adopt by people, bringing it closer to them using devices and other methods that will help them in their everyday life.

What do you think about the state of innovation in your country, how would you improve that?

We cannot say that Albania is developed enough to call it innovative country. There are a lot of innovative ideas, but as far as we know, most of them just never succeed due to many reasons. I think that the innovation is in the hand of those who bring these ideas.

Air Care – taking care of your health

Air Care – taking care of your health

Air Care is a platform to monitor our atmosphere using a device that was created using Arduino, which directs the measurements to a Raspberry Pi server and makes data accessible to the user through a well designed app. The Team behind comes from the Tirana location at Protik Centre.

Orven Bregu, Dorian Dhimo, Keida Ismaili, Sabina Baholli, Arber Cekrezi, Florian Tani and Albi Botha thought it would be a great idea to propose a platform that contains both, hardware and software. Therefore he designed hardware in three different ways: static, implemented in a drone and portable. Their  evolutionary idea is to implement the hardware in a drone with the purpose to access areas which are not easily accessible to collect data for air parameters. They also proposed a user-friendly application where user can register his personal disease historic list in order to be notified about areas that are dangerous for him.

They believe to have created not just a solution, but the Solution. Let’s learn more about them!

What challenge were you working on?
Our team was working on the challenge called Air Check focused on developing an app or platform to crowd-source information for comparing changes in environmental factors, such as temperature, relative humidity, air pollution, with occurrence of symptoms of allergies and respiratory diseases.

What have you liked most about the event?
This year the event was organised in a better way. We had more information from organisers for the deadlines and tasks to complete.

Has the event had an impact on your life?

This experience was a great thing for our team. It has had a great influence on us. Somehow, it has brought us to switch from one path to a new one. We want to continue with further projects for the future which will have an impact on people.

What would you suggest persons considering to take part in the future?

To pay more attention to the presentation. It is essential to transmit other the impact and describe your idea in the best way.

What is innovation for you?
The process in which we can create a value after translating an invention. if innovation is to have real impact then it needs to be inclusive, making space for both the bright spark of genius and the collective creativity of a wider team. Innovation is creating new value and/or capturing value in a new way.

What do you think about the state of innovation in your country, how would you improve that?
Innovation in Albania is a little bit backward. We are working on huge projects which could catalyse the technological environment. We are trying hard to make impact, modernise our old technologies. We have genius minds full of ideas about hi-tech projects, but what misses is the appropriate investment in these projects.

What are your plans as a team?
As a team we have planned to finalise the first fully functional prototype of our project. We would like to implement the air monitoring station in our city in next six months. In the future we would like to build projects that will help people to have a better life by using different technologies.

 

 

EDIE – Searching for emergence of life

EDIE – Searching for emergence of life

Space apps Challenge is about solving the challenges of space and life on Earth. The winners at the Vienna location had the idea to address both and dedicated their project to the big question about the emergence of life. Jannis Reißig, Maximilian Schwierzina, Silvio de Carvalho and Thomas Morscher entitled their project EDIE – Extra Terrestrial Deep Ice Exploration. Not only by the official jury, also children who visited the event got most excited by their idea of flying to an ice moon and … have a look!

What challenge were you working on?
We decided to tackle the “bring your own solution” challenge, because that allowed us to address the fundamental question of extraterrestrial life and to use our skills in the best way.

What have you liked most about the event?
On one side we enjoyed the supportive atmosphere with the diversity of so many great people, on the other side, we were delighted from brainstorming so many new ideas and working in such harmony together.

Has the event had an impact on your life?
It showed us our creative potential and gave us a motivational boost.

What would you suggest persons considering to take part in the future?
Just go for it and bring as many friends from as many disciplines as possible.

What is innovation for you?
New and creative solutions for problems to improve our lives.

What do you think about the state of innovation in your country, how would you improve that?
Innovation is desired and many people talk about improving it, but it all falls short with the inability of raising the required funds.

What are your plans as a team?
Making the next steps to bring humanity further. A possible start in the scope of this mission would be in the research of sublimation behaviour of H2O in low pressure and cryogenic environment.

Dorijan Marsic, Local Lead Koper, Slovenia

Dorijan Marsic, Local Lead Koper, Slovenia

We welcome the new location in the NASA Space Apps Challenge CEE Network with the story about Dorijan Marsic, lead of the Koper location. Koper is situated in Istria, a beautiful region on the Adriatic sea spread over three countries; Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. Has anyone metioned diversity as the driver for innovation? Then Koper has all cards to attrack diverse explorers with different backgrounds to hack winning solutions for our challenges!

 

But let’s come back to Dorijan who helds a political science bachelor’s degree and has been holding positions in politics, national and local disaster relief system, international organizations and university. With friends he established a startup that was dealing with radio and TV broadcasting and event management. Among other things he was elected as a Lions district governor in Slovenia. In his entire career he has been organising education, workshops, mentoring, presentations and conferences on different topics: especially team work, management, fundraising, startups, finances, budgeting, etc. Now he acts as the CEO of the University incubator of Primorska (UIP) and relies very much on: “My colleagues Andrej, Tjasa and Maja and of course a number of external experts from the University and enterprises from the region.”

 

Dorijan sounds cautious while talking about the involvement of UIP in this world biggest mass collaboration despite his rich history of builiding networks on international level. And also UIP might be a newcomer in the Space Apps Community, but not new in the innovation and startup world. In 10 years they have evaluated more than 400 innovative ideas and incubated over 70 startups, organised a number of workshops, I-schools, startup weekends and competitions.

 

But this is only the first impression. Finally we start feeling his excitement: “I was introduced to the NASA’s Space Apps Challenge by Urska Starc-Peceny who is the lead in Vienna and in charge for commumity & communication on CEE level. After seeing the extraordinary impact the hackathon has on young people and the outcomes, we decided immediately that we want to be a part of it.”

 

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Spirit of innovation
We wanted to know what has most impressed him so far about the Space Apps Challenge. “The spirit of innovation and the ability to connect people around the world to tackle so diverse challenges is inspiring – not onlhy for me, but also for the whole our team at UIP,” he explains.
First time is always difficult to estimate how to reach the potential participants with the right message. Dorijan suggests to persons who consider to participate to free their imagination and innovative ambitions and to find twin souls to attend the event. “We will have fun. The universe is the limit! Literarely,” he adds smiling.

 

From Koper to CERN in Switzerland
Koper has already big plans for their first edition. “We’ll bring together youngsters and seniors, mentors and experts, students, university researchers and professors, organising a special side Space and Robotics event for elementary school pupils. The special winning prize for the winner in Space Apps Challenge in Koper will be a visit to CERN in Switzerland. The final event of the hachaton will surely be very loud.”

 

Nurses and doctors for new ideas
We want to know how we would explain a 5 year old child his job.
“Do you know what an incubator is? You are right: when children are born premature and cannot survive by themselves, we put them into a kind, worm well protected medical box, where nurses and doctors around give them care to survive. Well, the same we do with new ideas,” he explains.

 

But what is innovation actually?
“Innovation is a new idea, process, product with new functions that improves our life and will be able to be commercialised.”
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A need for regional common strategies
And how is Slovenia suitable for that? Dorijan says that Slovenia is an emerging economy which innovation capability is developing slowly but constantly. The biggest problem there still is the difference between high direct inputs in innovations correlated with low exit results, he thinks. The Slovenian innovation environment is still on the average of the developed economies.
He would solve this with further development of “soft skills” and “soft resources”, that can be improved with constant economic growth and spreading the innovative and entrepreneurial eco-system.

 

With his rich experience and overview over the CEE region he explains that the conditions vary significantly by country in terms of their research capacities that are highly correlated with their research outputs which have an impact on the formation of start-ups and spin-offs. It is not surprising that in lot of the cases knowledge producers are not connected to knowledge exploitation actors.
He suggests: “Enhancing the overall trends of decentralization of ‘innovation administration’, regional common strategies and better exploitation of resources on a specific territory and greater influence of the ‘innovation policies’.”

 

We make a quick step into the business world to learn his thoughst about it, too. He sees a big gap between the corporate and start-up world due to lack of flexibility more than just investment resources. He suggetst corporations to contact start-ups in the early stages, searching for talents for the present and the future and also providing them innovation eco-systems within or out of their corporations.

 

Practice, practice and practice
Dorijan has had the opportunity to attend to more than 110 pitchings in the last year and a half. Good ones and those to be improved. In his opinion the reasons to be so different are different backgrounds, extrovert or introvert personalities, history of experiences in public speaking, ability to delegate if one of the team can perform better, preparedness on the topic, etc. “Our UIP incubator is already teaching them on our workshops or with our mentors how to prepare an efficient pitch in front of investors or commissions, what to pinpoint, what to avoid. Sometimes you have only one-shot-opportunity. You have to grab it and give the best of you. And before that you have to practice, practice and practice,” he concludes.

 

Dorijan is a father of Alin (28), a graduated economist and Andrej (26), a graduated in financial mathematics. In his free time he loves skiing, swimming, cycling, cooking and charity projects in his Lions Club. Currenlty he reads Start-up nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. And what does he think, as an innovation expert, how is the world going to be in 2025?
“I want to be optimistic. I hope it will be a world with less inequalies and with developed innovation oriented society.”
Brainterstellar – Connecting brains from all over the world

Brainterstellar – Connecting brains from all over the world

The NASA Space Apps Challenge CEE Network had two champion teams in the top 15 of the People’s Choice Award. After exciting voting time Brainterstellar, the team formed at the location in Vienna, finally placed 9th globally. Today we move to Vienna to meet them and better learn the idea of connecting brains from all over the world.

Brainterstellar is an international team composed by Hemma Bieser (Austria), Jaka Boštner (Slovenia) and Jofre Espigulé-Pons (Catalonia) who met for the first time at the Space Apps Challenge Vienna. They have in common the technical background; Jofre and Hemma are physicists, Jaka studies mechanical engineering. Jofre and Jaka are currently finishing their studies while Hemma has been working as a consultant and entrepreneur for several years. It was the first hackathon for all of them.

Merging two challenges into one
collageThey took a risk to merge two challenges into one, but that might have been the winning combination. Therefore we wanted to know more about how they came to this idea. Hemma explains us: “There were actually two challenges that we have addressed: Jaka had an idea for the challenge ‘Happy moments from space’ and Jofre was working on an idea for the challenge ‘Volcanoes, icebergs and cats from space’. At a certain point it seemed logical to us to merge these two ideas into one project. I was thinking about how we could make a business model out of this big idea.

Connecting brains from all over the world
NASA obtains thousands of new satellite images every single day and there is no way for a single person to go through them in a short period of time. Jofre has developed an algorithm that gives 4 new images to each user, the user selects the image that matches best the particular challenge (best pics, lakes and rivers, etc.) and the selected image is forwarded to the next round. Finally the three have finalized the idea of the program that iterates the process until it reaches a small number of images. The end result is a crowd-sourced platform that scan all images of the planet in a short period of time.

And what have they liked most about the event? Hemma was inspired by the spirit of the event: “Starting to work with people I haven’t seen before and developing a prototype in such a short time, that was really fascinating.
At the Vienna location participants of 6 nationalities were innovating together and that made an impact at Jofre: “I loved the variety of projects that were created from zero. It was also a great opportunity to know people from different backgrounds with many interesting ideas.”  while Jaka remembers the team formation inspired by Applied design thinking LAB technique in a workshop with Ruth Mateus-Berr, professor at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, “I liked the process of shaping the team. It began with presenting our own ideas, then discussing them with all participants and at end making teams to work on ideas.

The biggest impact on their life is that they have learnt and believe now that any good idea can be brought into life, at least as a prototype, in a short period of time … if one works hard enough. And then they were impressed by meeting some really motivated persons full of ideas and the possibility to learn so many things in a very short time. But, they conclude all together: “The biggest lesson was the importance of presenting and communicating your ideas to the public.

What Brainterstellars suggest persons considering to take part at Space Apps Challenge: be open, go there, have fun and help to solve one of these challenges that really matter to the people and our planet!

bird_MongoliaHaving so innovative persons around one is eager to learn how they understand innovation. Hemma starts with: “Innovation means for me having new ideas and to work permanently on making these ideas happen.” Jofre sees the innovation in 3 steps: “1st identify a challenge, 2nd find new ideas and 3rd bring them to life.” while Jaka focuses on the result: “Innovations make our lives easier.

Hemma explains us her sight of the state of innovation: “Well, talking about Austria, I think that there a too many people who want to sustain the status quo, which is an obstacle for innovation. But since about one year I see a real progress. On one side the startup community is pushing innovation forward and on the other side also companies are willing to learn from startups now.

The discussion about the future development of the project is still open. The platform has reached a great response within the first 3 weeks of its existence: 25000+ NASA satellite images scanned with the collective GAME. 2800+ visits at brainterstellar.com, 650+ visitors, 25+ different countries, 400+ twitter followers, 140+ Facebook followers and presence at other social channels, more challenges completed by the participants and even an online store to support the project.

At the end we wanted to know whether they are coming back to Space Apps Challenge. “It depends on our progress with our platform Brainterstellar. If the idea still works in one year and we are too busy, maybe we will come only to encourage other to try the same. But anyway, we will recommend everybody to do a hackathon at least once in a life!” they are all happy about the adventure.
So, everyone who get inspired, stay tuned for the 2016 edition! And, Brainterstellar team, congratulations and we hope to see you around with your pictures and challenges!

NatEv – Conquering the People’s Choice Award

NatEv – Conquering the People’s Choice Award

It is really amazing, after the second place last year, the CEE Nasa Space Apps Challenge Network has two teams in the top 10 and again a runner for the first place in the People’s Choice Award category. While fighting for every vote – don’t forget, every day one vote – we wanted  to meet the members of the NatEv team, the winner of the Pristina location hosted by Innovation Centre Kosovo, to see who is behind their idea. Here we welcome Arnold Plakolli, Zana Bytyqi, Blend Mehmeti, Arlind Dushi, Muhamed Retkoceri, Taulant Mehmeti and Rinor Maloku.

NatEv it’s a mixed group. Some of the team members knew each other before the event, since they had worked on projects together before. But some of them that worked with each other for the first time. Again, not all, some had experience with hackathons before and kind of knew how these events were organized and held. Anyway, all of them had worked on projects before and had experience on developing new and innovative applications and giving solutions to problems in their community.

What challenge were you working on?
The challenge theme was called “Earth” and our particular challenge was called “Volcanoes, Icebergs and Cats from Space”.

What is your solution about?
We wanted to offer users an interactive way of reading data about different events from our planet, to display those data in a way that was not going to be boring but would let users not only get informed but also have fun using it. They can also post about events that they have viewed on their own.

What have you liked most about the event?
It’s very unique because it gathers not only experts but also innovative people with creative ideas, people that can come from different parts of our society and give solutions to global problems and hopefully help people around the world.

Has the event had an impact at your life?
The event has had a great impact on the entire team. Not only we’re feeling excited that our project is being selected among the best and most innovative projects in the entire world, which is the most important part. But we’re also excited to let people know that Kosovo has the potential to offer to the world great people that can give creative solutions to problems that bother society.

What would you suggest persons considering to take part in the future?
We would absolutely encourage every person who is considering taking part in the future, to go ahead and try it. It’s a very special occasion that helps people with creative ideas to develop their careers even further but also lets them express their talent with the world and help people and science.

What is innovation for you?
Offering new solutions, creative ideas about how different problems should be solved, how work can be done differently and be more efficient and increase the chance for success. Basically, for us innovation is changing for the better the way we’re used to solve problems.

What do you think about the state of innovation in your country, how would you improve that?
As a young country we’ve just got started with innovation. With helping new businesses and individuals turn their ideas into projects which can be used in the real world and also help change already given solutions in the way that they can be more effective. 
In the short time that we’ve had, we’ve already shown to be very innovative and ready to take on global challenges. There are successful projects giving an impact not only in our country but also on international level. We want to encourage local and foreign investors to come and invest in people and companies and their ideas. We’re young but we’re very hard working people, ready to share our talent with the world.

NatEv Team

What are your plans as a team?
Our goal for the moment is to finish this project entirely and hopefully put it online as fast as we can to make people use it. We’re also hoping that NASA will help our project grow even more and work with them on adding more features and expand it into a very big online platform.

To close we want to know whether the NatEv team members are going to participate at the NASA Space Apps Challenge in the future. Will you?
Since we saw that we can give good solutions about problems that we find to be very interesting and turn them into real projects, we’re definitely going to participate at this event in the future with the hope that we can help innovation in the world develop even more.

Let’s support this fantastic team to win the People’s Choice Award and vote for them every day!

Irena N. Chaushevska <br />M.A.

Irena N. Chaushevska
M.A.

NASA Space Apps Challenge 2015, CEE Locations Chief Coordinator

Entrepreneur. Manager. Mother. Integrator. Change Maker. Risk Taker. Futurist. Doer.
Passionate about building the start-up ecosystem in the Republic of Macedonia and the region of South-Eastern Europe.

This is how Irena introduces herself. After 14+ years in management, finance law, marketing, media, government and executive trainings she decided to use all that experience and in April 2014 launch the first Accelerator in Macedonia – NewMan’s Business Accelerator.

But our story starts before that. With her dream to become an astronaut and her decision to visit NASA.

Irena and the first European contact to NASA
“It’s an amazing story. Already as a kid I was interested in space and space travels. I wanted to become an astronaut. In spring 2012 I learned about this event taking place for the first time at about 50 locations. I wished we could have Macedonia on that map. And than the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars on August 6, 2012 – this was the final trigger for me wanting to learn more. I thought e-mail communication would not be enough, so I wanted to go to NASA to talk about the possibilities. But I had no Visa for the United States.”

Irena, at that time she was head of an educational center in Skopje, Macedonia, wrote about 20 requests to her LinkedIn contacts to help her with the confirmation letter. Finally one accepted and she got the Visa, and in the mean time managed to schedule a meeting at Caltech, academic home of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory – JPL.

“At JPL I met their Director of the Educational Sector. She exchanged a lot of valuable training resources especially in the area of robotic exploration of the solar system, the Curiosity Rover mission and then … changed my life and my career by saying that I was the first from the European educational sector meeting her. Me, the first? And the only think to do was … TO ASK!”

Yes, indeed, Irena was the first European asking for cooperation and went home with information and contacts to Space Apps and other projects. And the following year Space Apps took place in Skopje.

The event changes your thinking
By Space Apps Challenge Irena is most impressed by the massive global cooperation between people from different backgrounds, skills and ages and open sharing of valuable information between NASA as state agency and regular people.

“This is a unique experience which changes your life. It sets your brain on a different speed of thinking and reasoning for what should and could be your next start-up idea or your next product and service of your current company.”

Last year the focus at the Skopje location was on students as participants, this year they also want to open the door for young entrepreneurs. They will host both parts – The Data Bootcamp on April 10th dedicated to Women and the Space Apps Challenge on 11th and 12th.

Skopje as success case
In 2013 the Skopje location welcomed around 80 participants together, but the big success came last year, when the event was hosted by NewMan’s Business Accelerator just after its establishment. 158 participants created 32 projects with which Skopje became the winner location 2014 worldwide by number of projects and 5th by number of participants. One of the teams won the 2nd place at global level in one of the categories.

Irena_winners

This showed the true Irena’s dedication and the innovation ability of the young people in Macedonia. A winning combination which won trust of the Space Apps global organizers who entitled Irena to inspire and support additional 9 locations from the CEE region to host the event in 2015. And this website is one of the results of this.


Innovation – simple improvement with great impact

This is how Irena sees innovation – simple improvement with great impact. But in real life that seems to be so difficult.
“In Macedonia, there is no strategic support of the R&D activities in the companies in terms of access to finances for it, tax incentives and supporting legislations. If we change this, it could move the country from being the outsourcing location into a R&D location.”

She is observing how the globalization of product and service markets is accelerating and how European companies, in particular SMEs, face increasing competition not only for sales, but also for technical know-how and skills.

“I think it’s all about the speed. Speed with which new products can be brought to the market and optimization of cost-saving. Similarly, the creation of wealth and employment depends to a very large extent on the speed with which scientific and technological breakthroughs are converted into practical and attractive solutions.”

She believes that for innovation it is crucial the ability to reap the results of the scientific achievement and that requires much more than the ability to turn a new idea into a working product. “Efficient flows of technology are not enough, if financing and business skills are missing. There must be accessible protection for intellectual property and adequate incentives for the entrepreneurial drive.”

Small is strong
In Irena’s opinion Europe, especially the CEE space, needs a dynamic, self-sustaining culture of innovation. Small is strong. Critical for this are the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which have in recent years proved themselves to be the engines of the economic growth and the principle source of the new employment.
“SMEs account for over 99% of all European businesses and in many fields provide the channels along which new technologies develop.”

She believes we should give in Europe SMEs the pivotal role – support the creation of new ventures and spin-offs from research institutions and large companies, as well as the removal of barriers to their rapid growth and transfer of know-how.

The art and science of pitching
“The perfect pitch is both art and science,” she believes. Coming up with creative ideas is easy; selling them to strangers is hard. She sees it as an imperfect process for communication of creative ideas. Audience has no formal, verifiable or objective measures for assessing that elusive trait, creativity. Catchers, even the expert ones, therefore apply a set of subjective and often inaccurate criteria very early in the encounter, and from that point on, the tone is set.

“You can improve your chances of selling an idea, if you made the catcher to feel that they are participating in an idea’s development,” she has learnt along the way. “But by being aware of stereotyping processes and the value of collaboration, both pitchers and catchers can understand the difference between a pitch and a hit. Missing that means overlook creative individuals who can truly deliver. I heard numerous examples of people who had developed reputations as great pitchers, but who had trouble producing usable business models.”

Irena_demodayAt NewMan’s Business Accelerator they categorize the start-up teams based on their entrepreneurial knowledge and experience and group together people with similar level of difficulty in the Smart-up Center. “But then we focus on their personality and work with them individually in order to address their individual challenges by becoming great team and great pitchers.”

Talking about personal. Irena wrote a book entitled “I am Enough” talking about her
personal and professional challenges as woman, mother and entrepreneur. It will be
published in May.

World in 2025
She is living with the development, therefore we wanted to close with the future. How does she see our life in 2025?
“From the smallest personal items to the largest continents, everything, everywhere will be digitally connected, and responsive to our wants and likes. Methods for harvesting, storing and converting solar energy are so advanced and efficient that it becomes the primary source of energy on our planet. Understanding of the human genome and genetic mutations leads to improved detection of, and prevention methods for, the onset of neuro- degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. A versatile human genome engineering platform is a reality, paving the way for the modification of disease-causing genes and helping to prevent certain metabolic conditions. Food shortages and food price fluctuations are things of the past. Light-weight aerospace engineering coupled with new battery technologies power electric vehicle transportation – on land and in the air. Bio-nanocomposites based on nanocellulose make 100% fully biodegradeable packaging pervasive. Petroleum-based packaging products won’t exist. Kinematical techniques used to understand the Higgs Boson particles generated in the Large Hadron Collider advance such that quantum teleportation is more commonplace.”

Cheers.

(Photo: archive NewMan’s Business Accelerator and Nina Nikolikj)

Edlira Kasaj

Edlira Kasaj

NASA Space Apps Challenge 2015, Local Lead Tirana, Albania

Successful entrepreneur, experienced organizational leader, effective strategic thinker, implementer, and communicator. Computer science degree both BSc and MSc and an MBA in England. 14 years of experience working across private sector, governmental bodies, international organizations and academic institutions.

Eldira is the CEO of Albania’s first ICT Innovation Centre and has been one of the cofounders. Her mission is to promote entrepreneurship and Innovation.

 

Reach the stars for real

This is the first time at NASA Space Apps Challenge for her, but she has a lot of experience in organization of similar events. She has organized Startup Weekend, Hello Tomorrow Challenge, and various other local competitions. At Protik Innovation Center they organize weekly events that focus on ICT, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “I am very excited of this opportunity to bring Space Apps to Albanian youth,” Edlira explains us.

She was contacted by Irena Chaushevska and took over as lead, because she likes the combination of various expertise by participants to solve concrete challenges. “And also the high level of organization and coordination,” she adds.

She suggests persons, who consider to participate to approach this competition with enthusiasm and collaborative spirit. This time it is for real that your solutions can reach the stars! is she excited.

 

Practice playing games

Edlira has a long experience working in management in the ICT industry in public private and academic institutions. Her mission is to promote entrepreneurship and innovation. But what is she exactly doing, how would she explain that to a 5 year old child? She laughs and thinks for a while: “I am helping people come together and practice to become better at the games they daily play.”

 

The missing ecosystem

For her innovation is a different, unexplored product or approach to a problem. In Albania she sees lack of scientific research. Also lack of structures that promote cooperation, collaboration and promotion of innovative ideas. She thinks that the problem is also the stiff primary education system. “Generally an ecosystem that promotes innovation is missing,“ she concludes.

What to do? Edlira suggests strategic investment in the higher education. She stresses the importance of creating communities of interest to keep innovative people involved and build structures which will promote innovative people and ideas and help incubate and accelerate these ideas.

She assumes that in the CEE space the issues are the same: the low level of R&D, the slow ecosystem and, “Everyone fights with the continuous lack of talent. Therefore we come back to the importance of good education, especially technical and scientific, to generate enough educated innovators and then investment in R&D and the whole ecosystem”.

 

From shy geeks into great presenters

Presentation skills are a major influencer of how the ideas are perceived. “We have worked with youngsters and have seen them grow from shy geeks into great presenters. Making a good pitch is of course dependent on some personal traits, but it is also quite linked with experience and education. I strongly believe that in order to make a good pitch you need to prepare very much for it. “

Edlira observes that in Albania presentation skills are scarce, “Some pitching workshops online would be great!”

 

Practice makes perfect

She doesn’t remember her very first pitch, but she remembers that during her MBA she learned for the first time the basic theories behind presenting and bringing the message across to an audience. “It was so revealing that for each presentation I would take hours to present and make it right. And practice makes perfect.” she concludes.

 

Prospect of a bright future

We discuss further with her the gap between the corporate and start-up world. The main issues she believes is funding, “In the corporate world a lot of funding goes for innovative ideas whereas by startups funds are scarce. And this, although it is well recognized that SMEs produce much more innovation than large corporations. Helping startups fund their initiatives would allow for more results in this area.”

How to change that, how could big corporation attract innovative people? Edlira knows both sides pretty good and suggests the three main elements: “Corporates should be flexible, offer innovative people ownership of their work and the prospect of a bright future.”

 

The moment you take success for granted

Edlira likes to socialize, read and going to the gym. She is also learning to play the piano too. Right now she is reading “The Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai and “The startup of you” by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. While the first is a great literary book narrating about loss and life, the latter is a great book that teaches people on how to manage their careers as a startup, as a nascent company. Hoffman and Casnocha explain that “Often its when you come in contact with challenges that other people find hard but you find easy that you know you are in possession of a valuable soft asset”. They explain how the world of work has changed and how important it is to stay on top of your game. They say that The moment you begin to take success for granted is the moment a competitor lunges for your jugular.

She believes our future in 2025 will be quite high tech, with all our gadgets finally integrated. But she has some concerns, “Hopefully, we will have learned to respect more our land and work towards social responsible evolution.”