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Science

New startup hub to boost Latvian tech community

TechHub Riga is set to open next month, and will offer co-working spaces to local IT firms. It is the second location of TechHub, based in London, a well-known startup incubator and co-working space.

Co-working

Co-working offers an informal work environment

In East London, there's a small area known as the Silicon Roundabout, in the district of Shoreditch - it's the British answer to Silicon Valley. By 2010, there were nearly 100 tech startups located there, including TweetDeck, Songkick, Last.fm, Dopplr, and many others. In September 2011, Google acquired a seven-story building nearby as an event and workshop space.

One of the neighborhood's anchors is TechHub, a co-working space that was co-founded by one of the editors at TechCrunch Europe, one of the continent's most well-known tech blogs.

However, next month, TechHub is expanding for the first time to the European mainland - to Latvia. Starting on February 9, 2012 TechHub Riga will offer a co-working space for new IT start-ups and will host local and international tech events on a regular basis.

Andris Berzins

Andris Berzins is one of the founders of TechHub Riga

TechHub and the Riga tech community are trying to build on some of the buzz that already exists in the region. There are already regular events like the Startup Sauna and Garage48, held in Finland and Estonia, respectively - but none, so far, in Latvia.

TechCrunch is already planning a launch event to show off the best Baltic startups when the co-working space opens on February 9th.

"TechHub saw in us an A-team that was ready to roll, that was very active," said Andris Berzins, one of the space's founders, who added that he and three other Latvian startups were looking for a place to work together.

"They came and visited us here," he told Deutsche Welle. "They said that in their short time visiting here they had felt exactly the same community that they had already built in London. They felt it was a very good fit and, so the first TechHub was announced as Riga."

Co-working largely unknown in the Baltic region

Co-working - where flexible workers, who perhaps work non-traditional hours, and care mostly about Internet access, can come together in one place - is still pretty new in the Baltics. TechHub Riga will be the fifth such space in the three former Soviet Baltic states: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

In addition to being cheaper than a regular office, the open layout is designed to help new business meet each other and work together.

As of February, there will be 35 to 40 permanent desks for resident start-ups who will have to pay a monthly fee of 80 euros ($102) per month. That's a steal compared to the almost 315 euros per month that TechHub London companies pay.

Wooden beams

The finishing touches are still being put on the TechHub Riga space

The rest of the office will be a drop-in area, which means that anyone can pay an annual fee of 360 euros ($460), he or she can use an available desk during workdays. But the physical space is just a means to an end, Berzins added.

"What we're hoping is that this is the home of the new Skype that will come out of Latvia," he said, underscoring that Skype was created in Latvia's northern neighbor, Estonia.

"[Latvia is] a great place for technology startups. There are a lot of very talented people in the development side, on the design side, a lot of ambition and a culture of hard-working which is very important for a startup."

Though there aren't any firm statistics about how many new IT companies have emerged lately, there are some very interesting startups that most people outside of Latvia probably haven't heard of, with names like Amooz, CoBook, Reach.ly, RentMama and Sunny Ride -- and they're all eager to work at TechHub.

New tech community on the rise in post-Soviet Baltic region

Half of the TechHub's space is already full as nine startups have already booked their permanent desks, including Mighty Fingers, a seven-man company that creates real-time multiplayer online games.

"Right now there's a big problem in gaming industry that you have to make game once, for example, for iPhone, and afterwards you have to make the game a second time for Android or for another device or operating system," said Gatis Smaukstelis, the company's CEO, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "We're making technology which allows to make game once and run in all devices."

Man on Skype

Skype was created in Estonia, Latvia's neighbor to the north

Smaukstelis and his colleagues are still working on the HTML5-based app, which will allow it to run on nearly any browser, and hope that the company's work at TechHub will help get their company noticed and to attract investment.

This combination of a tech community, workspace and investment is still something rare in the post-Soviet Baltics, local business experts say.

"Most of the incubators I've visited in Latvia provide only, basically, with the office space," said Arnis Sauka, the chairman of the business department at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. "They do try to organise some seminars, try to attract experts, but this is not something which is ongoing and systematically organised."

Sauka noted that that just like in Silicon Valley or Berlin, a close-knit geography is very important.

"The community is more than ready. It's a bit more problematic with the infrastructure," he said. "So, I really hope that this IT incubator will create this framework for this creativity to foster and business to happen."

Author: Gederts Gelzis, Riga
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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