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Apr
07
2017

Inside the Latvian startup ecosystem: university incubators

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The "Inside Latvia's Startup Ecosytem" series will cover the different building blocks that play a part in forming, developing, and influencing the country's startup environment. This is the first in the series and will cover universities and their role in supporting innovation. 

The future of the economy is taking shape today. For that reason, young people shouldn’t be limited to formal university educations, they should be encouraged to take the steps to become leaders, future shapers and entrepreneurs. Business incubators are tackling the aim to support the popularization of the latter. So we have put together list of Latvian University Business Incubator initiatives that are actively encouraging students to grow into entrepreneurs.

First things first - what is a Business Incubator and what does it do? According to Enterpreneur.com, the definition for a business incubator is:

An organization designed to accelerate the growth and success of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services that could include physical space, capital, coaching, common services, and networking connections.

The only difference between regular business incubators and university business incubators is that the second is available for students exclusively (and mostly within the premises of university).

Latvia has quite a lot of universities for such small country. To be precise – 17 state- supported and 12 private universities (and this is excluding colleges). While some have a narrow field of interest such as art, music, sea or defence and are not in need of business supporting initiatives, the ones with wider range of studies offer support for developing students' new ideas. In total, Latvia has 6 business incubators in universities. In this article we will introduce you to the biggest and the most successful ones.

University of Latvia - Student Business Incubator

The first and one of the largest universities – the University of Latvia (LU) offers an incubator called LU studentu Biznesa Inkubators (LU SBI for short).

This incubator's vision is to offer the opportunity for each student to become a great entrepreneur. They support student ideas and help their vision to come to life through offering a motivational environment, work and production premises, coaching and mentoring, web page hosting, prototyping possibilities, and access to databases. The successful ideas (teams with ideas) after 12 months of BI support can get a financing grant of 10K euro for the future growth of their company.

In 2012 LU SBI started with 12 teams’ business ideas but have grown significantly since then - at the start of the 2016 term, they supported 76 teams! So students have been active and joined in teams to make 76 ideas into real life companies. And while this season the trending IT sector is represented with 11 teams, the textile sector is leading with 13 teams, followed by 12 design-based start-ups. There are still a few new entrepreneurs ready to produce something tangible!

30 out of 76 of the most promising and well handled ideas have been selected to continue the rest of term to learn, grow and develop further their companies before joining the market without training wheels.

A few of the companies LU SBI has helped to grow are:

  • KarmaSock, designer socks
  • Bee In: natural wrap made for storing food
  • Learn IT: programming lessons for children  
  • Sēklu muss: natural and healthy snacks from dried fruits and seeds
  • Luxafor: notification tool for co-workers and important messages

What sets LU SBI apart from other BIs is their way of approaching market feedback using what they call “Innovation stands” – it’s a stand which is placed in the middle of a shopping mall to attract passers by and get to know their feedback about a particular product or idea instantly. Keeping their hand on the pulse, so to speak.

Riga Technical University - Design Factory

Riga Technical University (RTU) has two initiatives – the Design Factory and Idea LAB. The first is equipped with latest technologies (3D printers and more) in order to encourage students to try out their ideas in reality, cooperate with companies in creating new things and just having fun while getting themselves acquainted with 3D modelling and prototyping. The Design Factory is also open to cooperation with companies if prototyping is in their plans – yet the project has to be something fresh and innovative in order for them to take it in as places are limited.

Idea LAB on the other hand is place for new ideas to turn into business especially devoted to students. Since reworking the BI concept in 2015, Idea LAB has supported 66 student teams with their business ideas.  

Currently in the incubator present are brands such as:

  • Drone Plan providing Ground control with the help of Drones
  • Quube giving elegant solution to organise and protect your writing tools
  • KIDLÍNÓ offering linen kids wear with elements of kids development

Some of successful alumni are - WinMill - equipment for training hockey goal keepers’ reaction and Cits Zars - eco and healthy wooden kids’ toys.

The Design Factory is available not only for students and companies, they are also open to pupils who are writing their research projects and could use 3D prototyping for the project. That’s a great way to promote tech driven youth to grow into idea full entrepreneurs!

"RISEBA" University of Business, Arts and Technology – Creative business incubator

RISEBA offers the “Creative business incubator”. This year they are supporting 8 teams with various business ideas starting from a social project for elderly people and finishing with planner books for athletes.

One idea worth mentioning from this season is Ette Tette who are producing cradles, toddler learning towers and other wooden furniture for growing kids.

Latvia University of Agriculture – where ideas are born and nurtured

While Latvia University of Agriculture (LUA) don't have a business incubator per se, they have a land in Vecauce, 60km from University itself where students are welcome to join, help maintain the farming, do their study research and take part in solving actual issues in the meantime.

Many companies have sprung to life in cooperation with LUA and have already found their ways to consumers and are currently available on the shelves of supermarkets all around Latvia (and outside):

  • Milzu! cereal flakes without preservatives, but full with fiber, vitamins and minerals
  • Graci Musli bringing new ingredients to muesli and helping to stay healthy and slim
  • Rūdolfs organic baby food – all natural with no additives, no sugar added, no preservatives and no thickeners

 

Honorable mention

A few other universities are also offering their students possibility to learn and grow using their business incubators like Riga Business School with Startup lab, The University of Economics and Culture with Business Incubator and ISMA (University of Information Systems Management) with their business incubator. We’re excitedly waiting student companies to grow and emerge from these BIs loud and proud, so we could introduce them to you in the follow up articles about these institutions and their environment!

The positive trend of universities implementing practical learning is encouraging. In providing all the tools necessary for students to take advantage of trying out business ownership in less risky environment, universities give opportunities for students’ ideas to springboard into real businesses after the incubation period. And looking at the bigger picture - this way universities are also giving strong base of future economical situation in Latvia to grow and thrive.