The Nordics have emerged as a hotbed of entrepreneurship in Europe and the curious affliction is spreading to their neighbors. If you’re wondering what else is hot in the region’s tech community, we suggest you look – and travel – further south to their Baltic cousins, namely Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.
Estonia has already made a name for itself on the global tech stage as a digital citadel, and now Riga, the capital of Latvia and the biggest city in the Baltics, has been following suit and catching up fast. Five years ago there wasn’t even a word in Latvian for a startup. Today, however, there are more and more Baltic startups making a break into the global market, such as Infogr.am and Twino in Riga, Vinted, and Oberlo in Vilnius, Taxify and Testlio in Tallinn – following in the steps of well-known unicorns like TransferWise. The local agenda is packed with startup events almost every other day. It’s no wonder Latvia had the highest rate of new entrepreneurs in Europe last year.
The city of Riga naturally has a lot to offer, with one of the best-connected airports in the region, a vibrant community and centuries of being the meeting point between East and West. Today, that legacy makes Riga the place where the brightest young minds in tech from Central-Eastern Europe meet with international founders, investors and global companies looking for fresh talent and promising ideas.
And while the Baltic states have an unfortunate Soviet legacy to shed still, the state has recognized the value of innovation and has learned to embrace startup culture. Sometimes, that means using all the advantages you get – "The Parliament passed the Startup Law super fast – probably because they don’t fully understand what it means," joked Latvia’s Minister of Economics Arvils Aseradens, referring to the newly passed incentives and significant tax cuts to all (local and foreign) qualifying startup founders who register in Latvia. The past year alone saw the introduction of startup visas for foreign teams, eased hiring of foreign talent for local ones; funding for three new accelerators and a ridesharing law hopefully being added to the list by the end of the year. And yes, we have a word for startups now – it’s "jaunuzņēmumi". You’re welcome!
The smaller cousins of the Nordics can surprise in more ways than one. So while the weather isn’t exactly Mediterranean (you can’t have it all), the warmth of the people here will more than makeup for it. The ecosystem here sticks together, and everyone knows everyone – come by and you’ll become part of the family soon enough. Maybe it’s our shared cold summers or the inextinguishable fighting spirit that creates that special place in our hearts for the Finns. It could also be great saunas, there’s no way to tell, really.
So if you’re coming to Slush (and we know you are), don’t be a stranger and come say ‘hello’ at the Latvian stand – we’ll all be there. Or even better, kickstart the next startup season with TechChill in February – the best way to dip your toes and check out the water in the Baltic startup pool.