SMEs are so vital to the Albanian economy. They represent over 95% of total businesses, employ 83% of the workforce and generate 75% of country’s annual GDP. Despite being such a driving force, Albanian SME’s lack networking opportunities. Committed to expanding SME’s potential by promoting regional co-operation and development, the German ProCredit group brought together more than 500 SMEs from South Eastern and Eastern Europe at a business to business event in Thessaloniki, Greece.
The ProCredit group has a mission to boost economic growth – and not just through financing. Its strong regional presence in the Balkan region focuses on addressing the challenges of small and medium enterprises, helping them to expand their market share. The Thessaloniki B2B event “Meet your potential business partner” was an impressive initiative, allowing similar SMEs from different countries to find common interests and consider working together.
More than 500 companies, representing sectors such as production, trade, agriculture, mechanical engineering, textiles, IT and renewable energy, enthusiastically embraced this opportunity to engage in close dialogue. More than 30 Albanian SMEs, clients of ProCredit Albania, also attended the event and each of them was offered the chance of building up new contacts with other entrepreneurs with the aim of growing their businesses. The occasion provided Albanian enterprises with a tangible chance of expanding business opportunities, giving them an efficient way to explore further possibilities of trading in regional markets.
“ProCredit banks operating in the region and ProCredit Bank Germany provide a development perspective for the businesses that work with us. We have built up an efficient infrastructure that enables our customers to easily take advantage of our banking and financial services. We organised this business event to develop this approach further. For our clients, participation in such events is an added value and a unique market opportunity”, said Ms Adela Leka, Spokesperson of the Management Board of ProCredit Bank Albania.
Borislav Kostadinov, a member of the Management Board of ProCredit Holding, also highlighted the importance of the event in his address. “There is a high potential for synergy between the countries, which can be put into practice very well with new ideas. This will help businesses that operate in neighbouring countries to adapt in a continent that is undergoing major changes”.
500 businesses – 3,500 meetings
Businesses from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine, as well as Greece, took part in more than 3,500 meetings. The around 500 attendees each had seven meetings on average, which means several new markets and seven new potential partners. Albanian entrepreneurs hailed the event as “an impressive business development opportunity”. The owner of an Albanian paper recycling company stated that “It demonstrates the great lengths to which ProCredit goes to ensure it stays personally interested and close and to its clients. In fact, I have never felt like just a customer at ProCredit, they have always treated me as a partner”, he remarked before continuing his discussions with his potential new regional associates. In another part of the event venue, a “Green Exhibition” presented the group’s approach to environmental management, providing examples involving both clients and bank staff.
The European Commissioner attending the event, Dimitris Avramopoulos, emphasised the important role that SMEs have in the economy. “SMEs are the backbone of the economy. In order to survive and grow, to maintain their employees and hire new ones, they need access to financing”, he stated.
New financing opportunities for Albanian SMEs
SMEs’ access to financing is something that ProCredit Holding highly prioritises and ProCredit Albania is a significant driving force. A positive signal for the regional economy was given with the signing of an agreement between the EIF and ProCredit to increase lending to innovative SMEs as well as small mid-caps under InnovFin – an EU finance scheme for innovative businesses which is supported by the European Commission. The European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), the core of the so-called “Juncker Plan” has already activated investments of more than 80 billion euros throughout Europe, including Albania.
According to the agreement, an amount of EUR 20 million will allow ProCredit to provide financing to innovative companies in the region and Albanian SMEs will benefit as well. The InnovFin SME Guarantee Facility provides guarantees and counter-guarantees on debt financing of between EUR 25,000 and 7.5m in order to improve access to loan finance for innovative small and medium-sized enterprises and small midcaps. The loans will be granted at lower interest rates with longer maturities, and less collateral will be required.
ProCredit Albania is part of the ProCredit group, whose parent company ProCredit Holding is based in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The banking group specialises in serving small and medium-sized enterprises. The Thessaloniki event was a great success, delivering growth-oriented services to SME’s through a network of partners and beneficiaries with an integrated approach and a strategic vision to achieve maximum growth for Albania and the regional economy as a whole./AgroWeb.org/
*The above article is published in the framework of AgroCapital program for the growth of the Albanian agriculture through access to financing and ProCredit Bank Albania.