October 8-9 Vilnius hosted one of the brightest social and business events in the modern exhibition center LITEXPO. VCEE Startups could not miss such an occasion and even coordinated a panel discussion dedicated to the issue of building the startup ecosystem in Central and Eastern Europe.
For two days, the city dived into continuous dialogues, meetings and presentations with thousands of people attending #SWITCH conference sections: professionals’ sector, youth part, and hackathon zone. There were many opportunities to learn, express one’s point of view and participate in networking. Renowned speakers, politicians, representatives of the leading world companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft were invited to share their precious experience, evaluate the current state of the local ecosystem and suggest some ideas for development.
Numerous students and young professionals came here in order to get a better idea of the ICT sector innovations, try some of the most exciting and impressive devices invented by the students of Lithuanian universities and find out about startups. Drones flying over the exhibition zone, Oculus virtual reality devices everywhere, chemical tricks demonstrated by university students, the sound of 3D-printing machines, great music produced by visitors via the Mash Machine, one of the latest Jaguar cars exposed and many other sights created a special atmosphere of this youth-friendly event.
One of the three main #SWITCH sections – Professionals – took place in two halls and attracted large audiences of international visitors who gathered in order to hear European executives of renowned companies, ask questions, build new partner relations. Here successful businessmen and EU politicians participated in numerous panel discussions dedicated to the most actual topics in European business today: digital markets, living in smart cities, e-skills and employment, open data, e-government, startup ecosystems. This can be considered one of the most interactive parts of the event.
Andrus Antsip, Vise President for the Digital Single Market on the European Commission, shared his view about the level of funding infrastructure in CEE countries in an interview with VCEE Startups: “It varies. For example, Lithuania is doing much better than Estonia. In general, it is quite easy to raise some funds from the EU budget, more than 20 bln euros is now directed for broadband networks. Of course, more money will be needed to cover the entire continent with the quality broadband network and it means we have to attract our private investments. And it is not enough. We have to provide quality services to our people, we have to overcome the barriers that still exist between EU countries. We have to create Digital Single Market in the European Union”.
Another section of #SWITCH, Youth section, turned out to be the most interesting and informative in practical aspects. Here young visitors had a great chance to see amusing presentations, learn some basic business strategies from real cases and listen to success stories of talented executives and entrepreneurs: Christian Zahorski-Philippe (Amazon Web Services), Patryk Bukowiecki (Allegro Group), Rafal Plutecki (Google Campus Warsaw) are only a few outstanding speakers that inspired young people for success. We asked Kaisu Karvala, the head of global communications and PR in Rovio Entertainment company, widely known for Angry Birds, about the ways of motivating young people for earning millions with their startups:
“I suppose you have to think in another way. You need to do what you are passioned about, nothing about the money. If you do the right things, the money will follow you. I think there is amazing hunger among young people, especially here, to really grow and do something with digital solutions”.
Artur Waliszewski, a representative of Google in Poland, also said a few words about young people, their inspiration for achievements and possible help that can be provided by governments for startups:
“I would say the best thing they can do is not disturb! I also think there is no need to inspire young people. They are always full of ideas and ready to bring changes. So again, just do not disturb this process of creativity and realization”.
Of course we did not miss the chance to ask Artur about Google Campus in Warsaw and its possible contribution to business development in CEE region with all of its modern equipment and general infrastructure:
“First of all, Google Campus is not only about infrastructure. It is more about people and their innovative ideas. The campus should open already in November and it will take some time to attract enough people and companies there, organize everything. We hope to cooperate with the whole CEE region and are open to all kinds of dialogues”.
#SWITCH Hackathon was held under a special motto “Cool and Crazy” and was dedicated to the topic of smart cities. We had a super opportunity to talk to the main organizer and initiator of #SWITCH, Antanas Guoga and ask him about his understanding of a smart city:
“You wake up in the morning and you know the exact time of when the bus is coming. Solar energy is used everywhere, the city is clean, the air is fresh, well-established transportation system, a lot of opportunities for progress, you can do anything electronically and easily, flexible city government, people themselves have to be smart”.
We also wondered if Antanas believes that it is easy for startups to raise money in Lithuania:
“The goal should always deal with an idea, not money. It’s easy to come up with a great idea and to do something huge. The money will always come, but it’s never easy. It wasn’t easy for Apple to raise the first bit of money, it was never even easy for e-Bay. Raising money should not be a barrier. Just keep going, keep pitching and the money will come if the idea is right”.
It is worth mentioning a great networking party organized at the end of the first day of #SWITCH. Exclusive cocktails, delicious snacks, fascinating desserts and cool music accompanied by live saxophone created the best atmosphere for the conference’s attendees to meet in informal surroundings, talk business, build connections and just share their impressions about the event.
But of course, most of the deals were made at the conference itself. Participants exchanged ideas, looked for new partners. Thus Rimantas Burnickis, a representative of Baltic Orbis company, told us about a new perspective project that can be started soon with their new potential partner, an automobile producer, whom they met at #SWITCH. Baltic Orbis is a private company dealing in robotics education area. They developed unique software integrated with a special device connected to a person’s brain. The device monitors alpha and beta waves of the brain activity, reflecting relaxed state and mind concentration respectively. Then the scanned information is sent to the software which interprets the signals and translates this data into the code. The code then gives orders to the robot that will visualize your activity level through its movements. There are many fields to apply this software in medicine, therapy, and now Baltic Orbis found another application field at #SWITCH – cars’ equipment. The technology can be used in special devices installed in modern automobiles to prevent the driver from falling asleep while on the road by scanning the brain waves of the driver.
During the conference, we asked some young visitors, mostly school students if they know what a startup is. Turns out most of them recognize the word but still have a vague idea of what a startup is about. Let us hope to see more of such exciting events like #SWITCH, where people of all ages and positions meet to discuss some currently essential topics for the sake of mutual development and success.
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