Globally Minded Lithuanian Startups Get Top Government Help
While the Baltic countries are small compared to their EU partners, they are said to have an outsized role in generating new start-ups, particularly through their big ideas in the tech sector. Today, we look at Lithuania, which has been campaigning aggressively through Global Entrepreneurship Week in the Baltics and has rapidly been gaining a place on the entrepreneurial map.
Students are an excellent place to start when assessing the vibrancy of a nation’s startup culture. Lithuanian students seem to have no problem working part-time upon graduation while setting up their own businesses. Combined with high levels of education, a multilingual talent pool, and investments in internet infrastructure, a lively entrepreneurial culture is spawning many startups and young companies that quickly target regional and global markets after testing their concepts in their small local market.
Lithuania appears to have already achieved a critical mass of entrepreneurs. Clusters of startup communities have been forming to exchange experiences and ideas while events like Startup Weekend, BarCamp Vilnius, OpenCoffee Club, and others fill up quickly. This growing grassroots support structure is inspired by Baltic success stories, such as GetJar, Skype, Gaumina and XtGem.
Lithuanians can also boast a little about their startups abroad as Lithuanian entrepreneurs are being offered to participate with increasing frequency in incubators and accelerators around Europe. Last September, seven local angel investors started the country´s first accelerator—StartupHighway—in Vilnius to tap into the wave of talent in Lithuania as well as its Baltic neighbours, Latvia and Estonia. It is a 13-week scheme, offering participants up to €14,000 in seed funding for 10 percent equity. Many predict new accelerators are likely to launch as angels are increasingly more open about their investments.
While still under the radar screen, Lithuania is known as a relatively low-cost startup ecosystem. Foreign entrepreneurs are lured by the talent graduating from Kaunas University of Technology, the Vilnius University and Vilnius Gediminas Technical University. These universities are helping an EU-financed technology park, Sunrise Valley, offer support for high-tech businesses.
While the regulatory environment is generally consistent with a market economy, bureaucracy still limits entrepreneurial dynamism. According to the Index of Economic Freedom, that is a characteristic Lithuania shares with many of its neighbors. In short, Lithuania is still in transition to being a free-market economy. Entrepreneurs however, are interestingly getting their voice heard in policy circles. For example, last month, startup community representatives were invited to meet with Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, Minister of Economics Rimantas Žylius and other government representatives to exchange ideas and make suggestions. Prime Minister Kubilius even travelled to Silicon Valley to personally invite top-tier venture capitalists to meet startups in his country.
We will continue to keep an eye on similar markets where policymakers are valuing bottom-up movements of creative startups in their efforts to set in motion a long-term economic growth strategy.