It seems Latvia is pushing hard to become the next start-up hub in the Baltics. And they have everything they need to do it. This may sound like a long-copy advert for Latvia, and in reality, it most probably is. Latvia; you had me at Sveiki
For the past 12 months RayanJawad and I have been shooting back and forth to Latvia to work with the national Latvian Investment and Development Agency (LIAA) with regards to helping them spearhead the start-up economy in the region. And in start-up terms, they are sitting on a goldmine.
We have just returned from helping LIAA’s latest cohort of DeepTech scientists begin the process of commercialising their technologies, and it was wonderful for a government to understand the need to take a very modern and entrepreneurial approach to tackle the most traditional of businesses; commercialising science and tech research. Bringing this attitude to life is their second DeepTech Atelier conference annual event in April which is already attracting a reputation abroad within the international investment and start-up communities. Get your ticket now; last year's was ace.
There are multiple levers a start-up or researcher needs to successfully get to market and grow; a solid founding team, access to funding and investment, market validation, and the ability to scale domestically and globally.
Latvia, admittedly under the radar until recently, has been working on addressing these problems to offer domestic and foreign start-ups the help they need help to validate their tech, attract foreign investment, and globalise. Driving this is a recognition that Latvia has - until recently - relied on more traditional industries (the cornerstones of the Latvian economy are agriculture, chemicals, logistics and woodworking as well as textiles, food processing, machinery production and green technologies), when in fact the opportunity for the economy could lie in commercialising their deeptech-sector and emerging tech start-ups. And they are on it bigly.
To date Latvia hasn’t been put on the map for its start-up scene, more probably because it has not yet had the PR of creating a Skype or Spotify of its nearest neighbours, but this is soon to change.
Latvia is making it easier for foreign start-ups to come into the country; accessible start-up visas, wide-use of commercial English, an affordable highly-educated workforce, super-fast wifi, and ability to easily access industry. And this is where Latvia may strike gold. Arguably Latvia is too small – so far – to attract start-ups as a marketplace, but this close-knit business community is the perfect environment to sandbox technology, co-operate with a very-open national industry players, and validate technology. There are ambitions to become a global smart-city, and mobility, education and healthcare are just some of the areas they could be really interesting to the international start-up sector.
Championing the benefits of this accessible business community is local entrepreneur Didzis Dejus (SquadRobotics, Baltic 3D Printing, and alumni of Startupbootcamp London) who is helping drive the main players to connect with global start-up and experts, and ensuring everyone is connected to the right people. The ability of entrepreneurs like Didzis – the man literally knows everyone in Latvia – to connect and bridge start-up players to government and industry is of immense benefit to entrepreneurs. We live and die trying to connect to the right people. A meeting traditionally taking four people and three months to get in London takes one phone call and a matter of hours in Riga. The opportunity for validating with industry is clear.
In terms of Domestic start-ups, the scene is erupting and being rightfully nurtured by the government. Aforementioned benefits above, alongside access to European funding, specialised and highly attractive tax breaks and benefits for start-ups, established relationships with Smart City champions like Busan (Korea), and cheap flights to European hubs means it’s much easier to launch a start-up than ever before. Latvia’s Commercialization Reactor Fund is investing in domestic deep-tech and deep-science start-ups, ready for globalisation, investment and launch, and soon to start their second cohort. Among their start-ups we met are entrepreneurs leading the charge in skin grafting and counterfeit protections in the supply chain.
It feels like they’ll soon be nudging their Estonian neighbours off the map for the next Baltic Hub, and rightly so. Well done!