A peek to the future was taken in the historical town of Prizren in Kosovo, where experts and enthusiasts of technology and digital media gathered for the third annual DOKU:TECH festival on 6 and 7 August, 2016. One of the speakers in the event was the Finnish Valto Loikkanen, serial entrepreneur and one of the founders of the Grow VC Group company. At the same time, the Balkans’ largest documentary film festival DokuFest was scattered in multiple venues all around town. These two cooperating festivals brought thousands of visitors to Prizren to explore the various dimensions of reality. The Embassy of Finland in Pristina is a proud supporter of both DOKU:TECH and DokuFest.
For more than two decades, Valto Loikkanen has been involved in founding and mentoring companies. Although it was Loikkanen's first visit to Kosovo, his background reveals an interesting link to the country: during the Kosovo conflict, one of Loikkanen's early companies designed mobile covers for the legendary Nokia 5110 phone. One model was designed particularly for Kosovo, and the profits from its sales were donated for the Finnish Red Cross's Kosovo Emergency Relief Fund. Since then, Kosovo has become the youngest state in Europe. The country's young people are interested in learning about the newest trends of technology and media as well as in developing new products and services themselves. Even though Kosovars still need a visa to the Schengen area, by using information technology they can interact with people from all corners of the world and develop, for instance, internet services, despite the geographic borders.
The discussion arena that was set up in an Ottoman era stone yard in the old town of Prizren was naturally turned into a stage for information technology pioneers. The guest speakers discussed open-mindedly about both the possibilities but also the challenges that technology and digitalization bring about. Aral Balkan, a UK activist fighting for fair social media, opened the discussion with a powerful petition for securing the privacy of web users. His fellow citizen and the technology publication TechCrunch’s editor-at-large Mike Butcher spoke about his Techfugees application that has grown into a digital community for assisting refugees. The German Thorsten Wiedeman who works on the borderline between arts and gaming industry, diverted the discussion from global problems to his experience from an experiment and a performance where he spent two days in a virtual reality by trying different gaming applications. In addition to entertainment, virtual reality can open totally unprecedented dimensions for, say, the health care sector.
Since the phone cover days, Loikkanen has taken a leap into fostering startups and developing digital systems, particularly in relation to the digitalization of the finance sector. After having lived abroad for many years, Loikkanen has returned to Helsinki, from where he supports, among other companies of the Grow CV Group, the work of the Finnish Startup Commons that focuses on improving the conditions of startups and developing know-how around the world. Having founded and developed several startups and supporting services, Loikkanen has learnt the natural laws of international financing and the special characteristics of innovative startups. Like an environmentalist, he also aims at securing habitats as favourable as possible for startup enterprises. Accordingly, in his presentation, Loikkanen spoke about providing startups with ecosystems, the vitality of which depends on a suitable entrepreneurial atmosphere, development of startup culture, know-how, availability of funding and support services, fluent exchange of information and seamless connections to customers and other companies.
In the DOKU:TECH presentations, the technical features of the newest applications or gadgets were on the side-lines, whereas experiences, everyday applications and future visions were brought to the fore. A common characteristic of the speakers was their endeavour to solve problems by applying technology, trying to find different innovative approaches and supporting digital platforms. Information technology enables, for instance, more efficient targeting of humanitarian aid, easier connectivity and networking, and even more flexible banking services. The themes are old but thanks to technology, the tools are constantly being updated. Therefore, the contrast between the historical milieu and the futuristic visions was all but striking in DOKU:TECH.