Become part of the founder community.

Who we are?


Gjirafa Lab is a startup factory, made for Internet entrepreneurs who lack access to resources and market. As a startup factory, the Lab will provide the space, mentoring, networking, technology, talent visibility, and funding to competent Internet entrepreneurs, creating solutions for the Kosovo, Albania, and FYR Macedonia market. Unlike others, Gjirafa Lab is made of people who have done it before.

Gjirafa Lab is built by Gjirafa, Inc., assisted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with the goal of building the Internet Economy in Kosovo and the region. Entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to transform their technology ideas/products into successful online businesses and solve real problems for society.

Do you want to build the Internet Economy of the region?

Application process

Do you think you have what it takes to change the Internet Economy in the region? Are you passionate about having an impact in our society? If that is you, then Gjirafa Lab is for you. Start by filling out the Online Application Form and tell us about yourself, your team and your idea.
All applications will undergo a very strict evaluation, and based on the application specifications and your achievements you may be invited for a Face to Face interview. Applications that possess the necessary arguments and solutions will move on to the tight list of finalists. We offer our experience, technical and business support, and financial backing to your team so that together, we can make a difference and lead the era of digital economy in Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and throughout the region.

What we are looking for!

Selection Criteria

Target - We will only consider ideas and startups that target Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and potentially the region. If the solution is right and has a global potential, that is great - but it will not affect your chances of acceptance into the program. In fact, we will only accept ideas/startups that have the region as a primary target.

Team - Team is the single most important key success factor of a startup. For us the team has the highest percentage weight when evaluating applications. It has to do with your passion, vested interest in executing your idea into a product, experience, and execution know-how. We also look for a balance of tech with business skills, with emphasis on programming skills.

Internet Economy Impact - Is the idea something that can facilitate doing business online and make people’s life easier? How quickly can it gain widespread use?

Market - What is the market you are after? True, we are only looking for regional solutions, but does it target mass population or just a fraction of it?

Technology - How easily can your idea be replicated? Do you have a secret sauce? Only ideas with technology solutions, products or services online, will be accepted. Other industries, hardware or other non-tech startups will not be accepted.

Challenge yourself!

What's next?

The next phase is a Face to Face interview with each team.

Teams that do possess the arguments and the solution will pass on to the very tight list of finalists.

To lead you must learn. We offer our experience and technical support to your team, so together we can make history and lead the era of digital economy.



Drena Kusari

General Manager for Lyft in Southwest region, USA

Drena Kusari Berisha is the General Manager for Lyft in Southwest region, overseeing growth strategy, marketing and operations. She has also held other senior and executive positions at local technology companies, most recently at Infusionsoft, a SaaS venture-backed company. Drena was a senior strategy consultant with McKinsey and Company advising Fortune 500 companies on strategy and other business initiatives. Before obtaining her MBA at Harvard Business School, Drena worked in Wall Street at Goldman Sachs as a financial analyst. Drena serves on the Board of Junior Achievement Arizona and volunteers as a mentor with Social Venture Partners. Along with her Phoenix Lyft team, Drena volunteers with and partners with various local non-profit organizations. Drena also served as a mentor/judge in Invest Southwest. She is passionate about children's causes and STEM. In her free time she loves to cook with her two daughters and coaches them tennis. Drena and her family live in Arizona.


Marcin Malinowski

Head of Global Partnerships CEE, Google

Manages Google’s business relations with the largest internet and media businesses in the Central and Eastern Europe. Focusing on modern business models for media, monetization and driving value from data management. Manages a successful team driving growth and developing Google’s partner network in the region. After graduating from the Faculty of Economy at University of ?ód?, founded tech B2B startup offering first in the world mobile solutions for sales-force automation. Run it for 8 years as CTO expanding internationally to major countries of Central Europe, providing solutions to blue-chip brands from FMCG and Pharma industries. After successful exit entered corporate space by joining largest Polish portal acting as a member of Executive Board and Business Development Director responsible for business development and acquisitions. Prior to joining Google worked in Telco sector at Netia, where acted as Product Director responsible for launching and scaling new, innovative products. Recognised expert and advisor in the fields of Internet, media, innovation and management. Fan of electronics, coding and AI. Pilot, snowboarder, father of 4 and violin player.


Alan Schaaf

Founder & CEO of Imgur

Alan Schaaf founded Imgur when he was still an undergraduate at Ohio University in 2009. Imgur started as a simple image-sharing website and evolved into the largest democratized image-sharing community in the world with more than 150 million monthly active users in 2015.[2] Under Schaaf's leadership, Imgur was bootstrapped and profitable for five years, scaling organically to millions of users before finally receiving $40 million in investment from Andreessen Horowitz in 2014.[3] Each month, images on Imgur are viewed across the Internet billions of times. It is currently ranked one of the top 50 largest websites worldwide. In 2015 Schaaf was listed as one of Forbes' 30 Under 30.[6] He has also been featured and quoted in notable newspapers and news sites including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, CNBC, The Atlantic, and TechCrunch.


Philip Staehelin

Managing Partner of Roland Berger

Philip Staehelin is Managing Partner of Roland Berger. Previously, Philip held executive roles in CCS (where he recently served 4 years as the CEO of the fuel cards and telematics company), A.T. Kearney, T-Mobile, Accenture, and UniCredit Investment Bank. He recently founded Spectacler that has developed a radical design for glasses for the developing world, he's a co-founder of Video Recruit / – an online video interviewing and hiring platform company that raised EUR 1.5m, and he served as StartupYard’s pilot "Executive in Residence" in 2015. Philip is a Swiss-American who was born in New Zealand, and although he has been Prague-based for most of the past two decades, he has worked in a dozen countries around the world during his many years in management consulting. He holds an MBA from INSEAD (France) and a BA in Economics from the University of Colorado (USA). He is a current Board Member/Angel Investor in Gjirafa, an Advisor/Angel Investor in ClaimAir and Educasoft, and in the past has held Board positions in NejTV, Transparency International, AmCham Czech Republic, Nostromo, Wireless Wednesday, and CAMBAS. During the first internet bubble in the late 90s, he launched (and eventually sold) a start-up focused on offline PC advertising, and he was the investor and developer of an award-winning, luxury residential building project. He speaks English, Czech and German – and can order food in French.


Tytus Cytowski

Managing Partner Cytowski & Partners

Tytus Cytowski is an American lawyer based in San Francisco focusing on representing emerging growth companies, entrepreneurs and investors in technology transactions. Tytus specializes in working with foreign founders and investors scaling and fundraising in the USA. He holds his law degree from Harvard Law School (LLM 05). Prior to founding his own law firm Cytowski and Partners in 2009, he worked at a micro VC fund and as a structured finance lawyer in a top tier international law firm New York City.


Cedric Maloux

CEO of StartupYard

Cedric has been founding and managing internet startups since 1996 and is currently the CEO of StartupYard, a Prague-based tech startups accelerator. Initially an IT engineer specialised in Artificial Intelligence, Cedric spent all his career turning technologies into businesses.


Visar Berisha

Assisant professor at Arizona State University

Visar Berisha serves as an assistant professor in the Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering department at Arizona State University. Prior to ASU, Visar worked for the MIT Lincoln Labs, and served as the principal research engineer at Raytheon. His fields of expertise include machine learning and signal processing. He has published more than 30 journals and peer reviewed publications, and holds a number of patents. His research has been featured in the Science section of the New York Times, USA Today, and NPR radio.


Edi Demaj

Co-founder of Rocket Fiber

Edi Demaj is the co-founder of Rocket Fiber, World’s fastest internet provider and IPTV and Managed Services provider. Rocket Fiber is also the biggest startup to come out of Detroit in decades. Edi is responsible for executing the Rocket Fiber vision by bridging the gap between technology, product and other areas within the company. He was previously involved in two startups including iziSurvey, an innovative survey software platform and Reozom, a residential real estate platform that streamlines the buying and selling of homes. Edi is also a partner in and co-founded the recent social app, HUM. He’s raised over $40M to date with companies he is involved in.


Lloyd Waldo

Partner at StartupYard

Hailing from San Francisco, California, Lloyd Waldo, the self-proclaimed “3rd most-famous American in Prague,” is a Partner at StartupYard, and resident Copywriter and Community Manager. Lloyd brings many years of professional writing and speaking experience to StartupYard, as well as an eye for defining the unique voice of a young company. Lloyd studied English, music theory, and musicology at the University of California, Davis, with exchange studies in English literature at The University of Kent, Canterbury. He was a noted speaker in Musicology and literary theory at the University of California, recognized officially for his outstanding contributions and research. He relocated to Prague in 2008, and established himself as a local writer, public speaker, voice actor, musician, and composer, contributing music to short films, and essays for ?asopis Krásná, a Czech language magazine, as well as critical reviews for the Prague Film and Theater Center. Lloyd is a frequent speaker and panelist at startup and tech events throughout Europe, and he is a mentor at GjirafaLab, Kosovo’s first ever incubator for tech startups, and Numa, a leading tech accelerator in France. In 2014, he joined Gjirafa, a StartupYard startup, as a member of the Advisory Board.


Bleron Baraliu

Founder & CEO of Frost+Fire

Bleron is Founder and CEO of Frost+Fire - a cutting edge platform for portfolio and risk management. With his wife, Dr. Nora Gashi, he recently also co-founded Ninety One - a health-tech startup coupling technology and data science to advance Precision Medicine. Bleron has over 17 years of experience in trading, management, and entrepreneurship in Wall Street. He built his career at Citigroup, Barclays, and State Street. In 2007 he was managing over $1B at a hedge fund, and was selected in Trader Monthly’s ‘Top 30 Under 30 Traders’ in the world. Bleron has been an active leader in the Albanian American community for 20 years. He is a strong supporter of gifted children and serves on the board of ATOMI – a foundation working with students of extraordinary intelligence from Kosovo. Bleron earned his BA (Honors Mathematics) and MA (Quant Finance) from Columbia University. He is a proud father of two daughters: Dredhëza and Qërshiza.


Besnik Krasniqi

Professor at Univeristy of Prishtina

Dr Krasniqi, a Fulbright Scholar, holds MA and PhD in Entrepreneurship from Staffordshire University(UK). He teaches Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship at University of Prishtina. His career spans teaching and research in entrepreneurship and innovation at Maastricht School of Management(NL), Indiana University (US) and University of Michigan (US). His work in the area of firm growth,innovation, institutions, SME finance, and transition economies appeared in leading international journals in entrepreneurship such as Small Bus Econ, Int Entrep Manag J., Econ Systems. Besnik has a wide range of working experiences in the government, public and private sector, as a manager, consultant, and entrepreneur. He worked at the Ministry of Trade and Industry and held managerial position as a member of the Board of Directors at Prishtina International Airport in Kosova. He has extensive local and international experience as an independent business consultant and trainer for both domestic and international private companies, government, and international donor organizations such EU Commission, USAID, UNDP, World Bank, Chemonics etc. Besnik is Certified Management Consultant awarded by International Council of Management Institutes. Besnik has served as a business mentor for TUCK Business School (USA) students’ business projects in US and Kosovo. He has been recognized for his contribution to lobbying for entrepreneurship-friendly policies and building support packages for small business start-ups in Kosovo and Balkans region including business plan competitions and funding for start-ups. He is also Entrepreneurship Network Faculty at Entrepreneurship Development Center, Michigan University (USA) and adjunct professor in at Maastricht School of Management. He is a funding director of the Business Support Centre in Kosova.


Blerand Stavileci

Minister of Economic Development

Mr. Blerand Stavileci was appointed as a Minister of Economic Development in December 2014. Prior to this, from April 2010 he was Minister of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development (MAFRD) of the Republic of Kosova, and re-appointed on February 2011. In 2007, Mr. Stavileci started his political career by engagement in the local and national elections. Since that year, he became spokesman of the Kosovo Democratic Party, firstly in local level then in national. In 2008 Mr. Stavileci became part of the Government’s Cabinet in the role of the adviser of the minister of Transport and Post-telecommunication. In June 2009, Mr. Stavileci was appointed for the position of Vice Chairman of the Steering Committee of South East Europe Transport Observatory (SEETO), at the European Commission. Mr. Stavileci holds a Masters of Science degree in Management and Informatics. He speaks fluently English, French, Italian and Serbian. He completed an intensive course of French language and civilization at the University of Sorbonne. Mr. Stavileci is a lecturer of the subjects of management and informatics at "ILIRIA" University in Prishtina. Formerly, Captain of the Prishtina professional basketball team Sigal Prishtina, today Mr. Stavileci is President of the Team.


Ermal Sadiku

CEO of LinkPlus

Ermal was one of the team members that laid the foundations for LinkPlus IT back in 2013, and is currently involved in managing LinkPlus as its CEO. Ermal is also an entrepreneur by day and an engineer by heart. He founded companies like ZagApps, Datalab Kosovo and EVAcc. He holds a Masters degree from the University of Applied Sciences Offenburg, Germany. Ermal is passionate about technology and helping new generations of young engineers to achieve success in the technology realm with a primary focus in software. He is a lecturer in "Universum" College teaching two programming courses and also a board member at STIKK. With more than 10 years of professional experience, in companies like Assecco, TIG and Datalab, he brings a lot of know-how in fields of IT, business analysis and project management. During four years of managing LinkPlus, the company has grown from a small startup to one of the biggest software development companies in Kosovo. Projects have been developed for airline companies in USA, telecom companies in Canada and automotive companies in Germany. He has interviewed, tested, trained or prepared more than 500 developers and engineers in Kosovo and the region with more than 100 of them getting employed in different companies. Ermal speaks fluently English, Serbian and Macedonian besides the native Albanian language. Can communicate in German also.



Chief Executive Officer, Frakton

Çelik Nimani is an entrepreneur and recognized professional with a strong tech background and community spirit. He’s the CEO of Frakton, a creative agency specialized software development, helping companies, entrepreneurs, and organizations, build outstanding products, apps, and experiences. Prior to Frakton, he co-founded Zombie Soup, an agency specialized in tech healthcare, VR, and AI, where he was responsible for the day to day operations and the overall management of the company. Previously he served as a Manager for Boost Innovation AS, implementing large-scale projects in the Balkans, such as the Innovation Centre Kosovo focused on start-ups and other projects focused on business development, healthcare, education, e-commerce, tourism, etc. Çelik constantly advises regional startup organizations, startups, and entrepreneurs on their programs and activities, and is actively involved in the startup ecosystem of Kosovo as well as Albania and Macedonia. He has over 6 years-experience of business and product development and is a big fan of Electric Cars, Solar Power and Space Traveling.


Fatos Islami

Vice President of Elkos Group

Fatos Islami is the Vice President of Elkos Group- the largest retail chain business in Kosovo. He leads a team of ambitious directors and managers with the main goal of offering customers the best products and gaining customer loyalty. Fatos has an extensive education background in economics and finance. Fatos brings the leadership and regional industry know-how to Gjirafa Lab. Fatos has a proven track record and he brings the leadership of a very active person with proven success in business development.



CEO of Meridian Express

Agon is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Meridian Express, a chain of convenience markets he founded in 2012. His previous work experience includes being the Development Director for Meridian Corporation, a food and beverage distribution company and a co-founder of BUKA, a chain of bakery and café shops. Agon serves on multiple boards. He has served on the Board of Directors at Meridian Corporation since 2011, serves as the Treasurer of the AmCham Kosovo Board of Governors, and was a founding member in 2011 and current President of the Board of Directors of the Kosovo CSR Network. Recently, Agon was appointed a member of the Financial Advisory Committee at the University of Prishtina and Board Member of Venture UP, the new venture incubator at the University of Prishtina. Agon was involved in the establishment of KOSBAN (Kosovo’s Business Angle Network) – a network that supports start-ups and acts as the voice of Kosovo entrepreneurs. Agon is an active member in the society with focus on CSR and other various business development related issues. Agon holds a B.A. in Economics from Bard College, New York and during his studies he was awarded the Jerome Levy Economics Institute Scholarship, Adolf Strumthal Memorial Prize for outstanding work in the field of Economics (2009), and David and Rosalie Rose Scholarship for Leadership and Academic Excellence (2010).


Agron Demi

Program Manager, GAP Institute

Agron Demi is the program manager at the GAP Institute where he had served as the executive director for six years. He has extensive experience in civil society and has previously been part of support teams of the Parliamentary Commission for Budgets and Finance in Kosovo’s Assembly. Agron goal at GAP is to use technology and its advantages to increase citizen participation in decision making, to increase decision maker responsibility, and to strengthen the interaction between citizens and institutions. GAP has created the largest electronic data platform for budgetary income and expenses for all budgetary organizations in Kosovo. Agron is a regular columnist of newspapers “Jeta ne Kosove” and “Ekonomi” for policy developments in Kosovo.


Lule Ahmedi

Professor at University of Prishtina

Prof. Dr. Lule Ahmedi holds a PhD degree in Computer Science from Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg (Germany), and has since 2005 joined University of Prishtina. She has also been affiliated to South East European University (Macedonia) as visiting lecturer, and to University of Freiburg as TA, as well as providing guest lectures to several universities in Europe (Sweden, Norway, Turkey, etc.). She has published papers in renowned international venues in the areas of Semantic Web, Sensor Web, Social Network Analysis, XML and Databases, and Information Integration, and is currently also interested in Information Retrieval, Recommender Systems, Stream Data Mining, and Internet of Things. She has reviewed for prestigious journals of ACM, Elsevier and Springer. Dr. Ahmedi has implemented over ten highly competitive projects funded by the EU (FP7 Program, IPA, Tempus), Germany (DFG, DAAD), HERD Norway, Linnaeus-Palme Sweden, the national research funding Kosova, mainly self-authored and/or as a manager in addition to serving as a lead researcher. Her projects aimed to advance R&D not only in her university, but also across Kosova through provision of extensive support to colleagues in the academia, students, as well as to businesses for pushing the sector forward. She is (co-)founder of the annual conference for open source software in Kosova with speakers from MIT, Google, Mozilla, MySQL, and of the Albanian Symposium on Computer Science with speakers from Max-Planck Institute, INRIA, ICT Swedish, L3S Hannover, Wellesley College, La Sapienza, TU Wien, TTTech.


Visar Jasiqi

Chief Operating and Outreach Officer at RIT Kosovo (AUK)

Visar Jasiqi is the Chief Operating and Outreach Officer at RIT Kosovo (AUK). He is a full-fledged believer in the socio-economic transformation of Kosovo through information technology, and that this transformation comes primarily from the development of human capacities that embody technology in learning, work and everyday life. He has been leading Human Capacity Development Initiatives for more than 15 years, initially as the IT Training Manager for IPKO Institute and then for more than 10 years as the founder and Director of Training and Development Institute, a continuing education department at RIT Kosovo (A.U.K). Visar holds a Bachelor of Science from Rochester Institute of Technology (AUK) with concentration in Entrepreneurship and Management and is currently an Executive MBA Candidate at Sheffield University, City College. He is certified as Project Management Professional from PMI and Quality Systems Manager from EOQ. For more than 5 years he serves as a Board Member to Kosovo National Qualification Authority and a jury member for Albanian ICT Awards. He is a regular trainer of Entrepreneurship at SCAAK and Project Management at AUK TDI.


Michael Gold

Managing Director of Crimson Capital

Michael Gold, Managing Director of Crimson Capital, is a seasoned finance & business expert with 41 years’ experience, 26 years resident in the emerging markets of Central/Eastern Europe, Balkans, Africa, Asia, Latin America & former Soviet Union. His specializes in increasing access to finance, innovation, entrepreneurship, competitiveness, privatization, foreign direct investment, PPPs, SME development & legal, policy & regulatory reform. His work has resulted in $7 billion USD in debt and equity financing, foreign direct investment, privatizations, PPPs and exports.


Uranik Begu

CEO at Innovation Center Kosovo

Uranik Begu is currently highly engaged with other partners and stakeholders on enriching the Kosovo entrepreneurial ecosystem. He is running the Innovation Center Kosovo as an Executive Director through which he organizes the Global Entrepreneurship Week in partnership with Kauffman Foundation and Chapter Director of Startup Grind Pristina powered by Google for Entrepreneurs.. He has been a consultant for World Bank ICT Unit in Washington and European Commission projects in Kosovo. In addition, Uranik participated in several Strategy Development initiatives, initiated by OECD, Prime minister’s Kosovo Office, ETF, STIKK etc. Uranik is an Executive DBA Candidate at Swiss Management Center in Switzerland. Uranik is a speaker and mentor in many local and international events, conferences, workshops; and a lecturer of Entrepreneurship and Marketing. He is also an investor and co-Owner of few startups.


Ardian R. Hoxha

Founder and Superintendent of the American School of Kosova

Ardian Hoxha is the Founder and Superintendent of the American School of Kosova, where his role is to set direction and policies of the school, work very closely with the team to reach the highest student results, and professionally grow the staff. Together with two of his partners, Ardian Hoxha has also founded Glam Radio, a radio station that aims to be the role model for all the other media, including TV channels, and written electronic media. Ardian shares a huge support for concepts and ideas that have potential, such as Green & Protein, where he is an investor and mentor. He guides strategic decisions to shape the future of the company, with the aim to franchise the business and make it a global brand. Before obtaining his MBA degree in IEDC - Bled School of Management, Ardian was involved in the family business Smaragd Jewelers where he was in charge of all the merchandise, accounting, packaging, and logistics. Ardian Hoxha is the Winner of UniCredit Achievement Award on 2012, youngest Rotary Club President in the world, and the youngest Successful Entrepreneur in Kosova. Ardian has strong communication, leadership, sales, and marketing skills, and is fluent in six languages.

For hard work, comfort is the word.


Apart from the support, your idea needs a very cozy working space.

Our offices, featured as top in the region, offer a very pleasurable working environment that bound to induce creativity. Our office is equipped with the latest technology and trends. Need a terabyte (TB) of space? No problem, we have it physically in the office and in the cloud. Need Tesla or Pascal GPUs for your deep learning algorithm? We have that also, physically in the office and in the cloud. Need a football table or even a shower? We have them physically in the office, but unfortunately don’t have those in the cloud yet. You name it, we probably have it.

Don't be surprised if you find our team to be friendly and always willing to collaborate and cooperate.


Rockaway StartupYard USAID