The day before TechChill, Tech Ecosystem Summit took place in Swedbank Latvia HQ, bringing together community movers and shakers from the region. Around 30 key community players from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Finland, Sweden, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Denmark arrived early in Riga to spend time solving some of their shared challenges.
Before the event, with the help of Natalie Novick, Research Director at European Startup Initiative, a research to detect most important pain points around those ecosystems was concluded. Participants were asked to rate the most urgent issues in 5 categories – Funding, Institutional Partnerships, Sustainability, Inclusiveness and Building Awareness.
The most substantial challenges were seen in Building Awareness – how the local and regional ecosystem is communicated to the rest of the world and ways of breaking through the focus on bigger hubs that leave smaller countries in the shadow. It’s not only about the visibility, it’s also about fighting existing misconceptions and stereotypes. The weak connection with Institutional partners, such as corporates, universities, political partners and others was seen as the second most significant challenge. These were followed by challenges related to Funding, Sustainability, and Inclusiveness.
As noted by Natalie Novick during her keynote speech “The System of the Startup Ecosystem”, all elements mentioned above are crucial parts of building a sustainable ecosystem. She also added that in smaller countries and communities each participant has to undertake a bigger amount of responsibility to grow the ecosystem, and it is important to find partners in order to work and solve some of the issues together: “Community builders are often the unsung heroes of ecosystems – they provide a vital public service to the startup community by providing venues for founders and founding teams to learn, share and teach. Startup companies are a product of the communities they are embedded in. Community building, especially in tech is hard work – things are changing all of the time and community initiatives are often dependent on uncertain funding. But community builders are resilient. They know better than anyone that communities can only work through collaboration. As the startup ecosystem is truly a global one, it is vital for communities that might be geographically distant from one another to come together, share resources and make meaningful connections. By building bridges across ecosystems – startup communities of any size are able to magnify their impact and provide valuable connections for their local startups.”
It was the reason why this time the event was focused on the actual problems and challenges. As TechChill’s Community Manager Ieva Upeniece noted in her opening speech: “We made this experiment of bringing everyone together and making them work on actual challenges, to break out of the comfortable and easy format of “drinking wine and networking” events. Which are nice and great to make new connections, but what comes next? We organised this event not only to bring the community together but to have some actual outcome – sparking new collaborations, discussions on actual initiatives and to solve some real issues, to start some movement in this field. It shouldn’t necessarily be work on challenges we are solving here, but if any of those ideas see the daylight and become real, I would be more than happy.”
The success of the event proved this format was the right direction to work in. Each team was formed to make it more diverse with people from mixed organisations and countries. Some of the participants noted it was quite unusual for them to work in teams from different countries, but admitted it is much needed, as these countries don’t yet have a strong voice outside the region and it is easier to gain recognition when working together. As one of the participants representing Startup Estonia, Sander Sillavee noted: “Tech Ecosystem Summit was a really interesting concept. Hacking different components with neighbours from Latvia, Lithuania and Finland opened new perspectives. Next step would be to do a wider scale hackathon about startup ecosystems.”
Later in the evening, everyone gathered on the top floor of Swedbank Latvia building to learn more about the actions all teams had to offer, Presentations sparked lively discussions between the participants and more ideas were brought to the table. To conclude the day after the official part of the summit all of the new collaborations and partnerships were celebrated while enjoying a spectacular view over the nocturnal Riga. For TechChill, which started as a small-scale event of the newborn Latvian startup community years back, this was a significant milestone on becoming the place that gathers community from all around the region and serves as a launchpad for regional startups and the main gateway for the international community into region’s ecosystem. With more partners on board and more initiatives to spark, TechChill 2019 is already on the way to continue to be the event that is made by the community for the community.