Adam Walker and Josh Turner felt right at home as they met with Balkan prime ministers, U.S. trade delegates and corporate executives. They managed to create a minor buzz at a major investors’ conference—the first ever U.S.-Balkans Business Summit this past March.
The following month, the Kosovo Wind Garden project was selected as a semifinalist in the Dell Social Innovation international business plan competition. The project was among 1,000-plus entries from college and university students around the world vying for the $50,000 prize. While the project did not make the finals, business continues as the students position themselves and Kosovo Wind Gardens among other global entrepreneurs looking to invest in the Balkan countries.
“People were fascinated by the fact that Josh and I, being as young as we are, are serious about getting this company off the ground,” says Walker about the March summit.” It was a conference with more formal workshops and lectures. But other parts were more freeform and gave us the chance to discuss opportunities.”
Walker and Turner propose construction and sale of 2-kilowatt-capacity wind turbines that can be used by individual home or business owners in some of the less populated cities or farming regions outside of the capital of Pristina. The 2-kilowatt wind turbine may encourage energy independence in a place where having electricity all the time is not assured.
“It’s an appropriate technology. I think there’s some real traction there,” says Carl Lundgren, professor of manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology. In December, he traveled with 10 RIT students, including Walker and Turner, to the American University in Kosovo to work with 13 students at the college on a series of alternative energy and sustainability class projects. Walker and Turner teamed up with fourth-year public policy student Shpend Jusufi from American University in Kosovo, and the wind turbine project extended beyond class to become a potential business proposition.
The students are taking an incremental approach and starting turbine sales with a manufacturing facility in Ferizaj, Kosovo, owned by a U.S. manufacturer, Balanced Wind. Turner, who will graduate in May from the College of Applied Science and Technology with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology, says the company has given Kosovo Wind Gardens the exclusive right to sell its horizontal-axis wind turbines in the country.
Many incoming students have their own businesses before even starting classes at RIT. Many more will leave at graduation as entrepreneurs, including Turner, Jusufi and Walker, a fourth-year student who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in science, technology and public policy from the College of Liberal Arts. In June, the three will reunite in Kosovo to conclude fieldwork and final planning. They have managed to engage several other local and international companies, giving the project the potential to change the economic winds.