Arjeta Puca had a dream. She wanted to return to her birth country of Albania to start a business, using her experience in the automotive industry in Germany and Japan with world-renowned companies, such as BOSCH. Puca had emigrated with her family in 1991 from Albania to Turkey at four years old but was eager to move back to Albania to demonstrate the power of women-owned businesses in industries traditionally owned, managed, and employed by men. In 2016, she did just that when she opened TIMAK, the first woman-owned company that specializes in refurbishing vehicles, including ambulances, fire trucks, waste trucks, border-patrol vehicles, and other vehicles in Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Bulgaria.
A strong proponent of employing women, Puca encourages women to diversify their career options, and hires them as welders, refurbishment fitters, and mechanics. She also partners with local schools to offer internship and training opportunities to female students. Today, 70 percent of TIMAK’s employees are women.
According to the National Institute of Statistics in Albania (INSTAT), less than 26 percent of SMEs in Albania are owned or managed by women, with most of these businesses in the service sector (personal care, trade, and tourism).
Puca developed her networks in this male-dominated sector from the time she started her business. By 2020, she had built a solid network of clients, half of which were municipal governments, and TIMAK was exporting ambulances and specialized vehicles to Bulgaria, Macedonia, and even Chile. TIMAK also services the private sector by supplying maintenance vehicles, sewage machines, and pile drivers.
Although Puca was experiencing success, some of her public sector clients took months or even years to pay their invoices. Then, in 2020, one of her main investors pulled out of TIMAK due to the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. These events resulted in cash flow problems for the company.
TIMAK required working capital for vehicle purchases and refurbishing equipment, so Puca approached three banks to obtain a loan. All three rejected her application since they consider her five-year old company a start-up and she had no collateral to secure the loans. Overall, the banks deemed the investment too risky, despite TIMAK’s revenues surpassing $1 million over the past two years. Puca’s experience is not unusual.
Commercial banks remain the main source of financing for SMEs. In Albania, the financial sector tends to perceive lending to small enterprises as riskier than larger companies. This is particularly true for women-owned businesses as few women in Albania own property and lack the collateral required for a loan. Women in Albania face long procedures to apply for loans. Additionally, high interest rates and collateral requirements discourage women from applying in the first place. Non-banking institutions and guarantee schemes still play a minor role, but the demand for such non-loan products remains low as many are unaware of their existence. While the government of Albania is working to increase the registration of women as co-owners of properties and improve legislation which will allow women to use property as collateral to access finance, only 19.1% of women own property in Albania.
To mobilize working capital for SMEs, particularly women-owned SMEs (W-SMEs), USAID is equipping Business Advisory Service Providers (BASPs) to assist companies in tapping into financing opportunities. Using a Pay-for-Results incentive program for BASPs that work with SMEs and W-SMEs that qualify for financial support, USAID ensures that the results are obtained (financing accessed) rather than the input.
When Puca learned about the BASP online portal, she was quickly connected with Creative Business Solutions (CBS), which facilitated an introduction to Procredit Bank and working capital loans that do not require collateral. Within three weeks of meeting, Puca was able to obtain a non-collateralized loan of $150,000.
“The services offered by CBS saved me time and secured me the best deal while allowing me to concentrate on acquiring new contracts and running my business,” said Puca.
CBS walked Puca through the entire process, completing business plans and financial projections and supported her with the preparation of loan documentation and negotiation of the loan terms. CBS is also providing wraparound consulting services to help TIMAK boost sales by preparing sales pitches and project proposals. With the working capital she has secured through the assistance provided by USAID and CBS, Puca plans to buy new equipment for TIMAK that will create additional opportunities in new markets.
In addition to mobilizing much needed financing to help companies grow, BASPs play a crucial role in the market by connecting sources of financing with SMEs through brokering relationships, sharing information on available products and services best suited to SMEs, and providing consulting services to improve SME internal operations so that they become bankable clients.
With CBS’ services, Puca obtained much needed working capital, enabling her to keep TIMAK open and continue employing staff. TIMAK’s success in refurbishing quality vehicles at a reasonable price helped the company win a United Nations tender to supply 11 ambulances to Ukraine, soon after Russia started the war. In efforts to continue helping Ukraine, TIMAK is negotiating with partners to supply more ambulances to the country.
By USAID PRIVATE SECTOR ENGAGEMENT
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