Acceleration Fund «Accelerace» and Science University Incubator «Unilab» Agree on Cooperation to Develop Start-ups in Latvia

23rd of January
Andis Braumanis (left), head of the university business incubator «UniLab», and Peter Torstensen, head of the acceleration fund «Accelerace», agree on cooperation. Photo: Toms Norde

A landmark cooperation agreement is signed that will facilitate the commercialisation of science-intensive ideas and the scaling-up of technological start-ups, making a significant contribution to the economy. «UniLab», the business incubator for Latvian universities, will now work with «Accelerace», Scandinavia's leading venture capital and acceleration fund, to develop high value-added, science-intensive start-ups.

Tālis Juhna, Rector of Riga Technical University (RTU) and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of «UniLab», points out that the world's leading universities have demonstrated their ability to create start-ups worth billions of euros for several years. «Science universities must not only prepare the professionals and leaders of the future and develop high-level science, but also drive innovation, its commercialisation, technology transfer from university to industry and develop entrepreneurial capacity - these are my priorities as Rector of RTU. «UniLab» has created a successful platform, but we want to develop even further. It is therefore very important that «UniLab» brings together all science universities with a common goal. Taking into account the motivation and expertise of all partners, as well as the experience of Accelarace, we are planning to establish a joint venture to manage start-up investments. The considerable experience of the planned management team and the investments made in start-ups will provide a multifaceted vision and solutions,» he says.

«UniLab» was born out of a collaboration between the University of Latvia (UL) and RTU, which have a wealth of experience in fostering business ideas from students and scientists. Now Riga Stradiņš University (RSU) and Latvian University of Life Sciences and Technology (LULST) have joined with their expertise and start-up potential, making it a nationwide initiative of science universities for the development of science-intensive and technology-driven business ideas.

Dins Šmits, RSU Vice-Rector for Academic Work, explains, «RSU has three directions of development and health sciences is one of the most important. The development of medical technologies and the growing demand point to the commercial potential of this vertical. The planned fund will also enable us to provide localisation, certification, research and development (R&D) and prototyping to portfolio companies, especially from the European Union.»

Valdis Segliņš, Vice-Rector for Natural, Technological and Medical Sciences at the University of Latvia, and Irina Arhipova, Vice-Rector for Science at LULST, also acknowledge that universities are ready to become a bridge from start-ups to investors, but turning science into entrepreneurship is often risky. Niche or local products and solutions are difficult to compete with in the business environment, so technologies are developed but not implemented. In collaboration with «UniLab» and «Accelarace», a balanced corporate governance model and a bridge between the two sides has been created that will help to bring about tangible change.

Explaining Accelerace's» contribution, Peter Torstensen, CEO of «Accelerace» and «Symbion» Science Park, praises the courage of Latvian universities to collaborate, pointing out that he has not yet come across such a model of collaboration in the world: «It has not happened in Denmark or Sweden, and as far as I know, not anywhere else, but «Accelerace» itself is made up of an ecosystem of universities. There is a strong correlation between the quality of the ecosystem and the number of successful start-ups it produces. Public funding is an essential foundation, but private investors take the lead to ensure growth in a self-sustaining market. In Denmark, too, public funds initially accounted for the majority of investment, but this proportion has now remained at just 20%.»

«Accelerace» believes that the next generation of entrepreneurs can only come from the university environment. They successfully start and grow their own companies, invest their money, time and skills back into the ecosystem, thus building the next generation of startups again. He wished to maintain the ambition to return some of the funds in the future back to the universities that have created and educated this professional base, so that they can continue to develop their programmes.

Underlining the importance of cooperation, Jānis Paiders, Deputy State Secretary for Higher Education, Science, Space and Innovation at the Ministry of Education and Science, pointed out that cooperation between the country's most valued science universities and the business sector is important to the Ministry. It is an interesting time for the R&D system as a whole and recent data shows that the role of the business sector is growing rapidly, with business investment in R&D outstripping public investment. «This is the way forward for our universities to use ground-breaking academic research to solve real business problems. Bringing academia and industry together is at the heart of any innovative technological development. Our educational institutions, especially research universities, taking into account the needs of industry, will produce graduates who are not only academically effective but also equipped with skills that are in demand,» he says.

Jurģis Miezainis, Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of the Economy, echoes his sentiments, highlighting that «One unicorn can change a country's economic performance at GDP level and produce significant results with relatively little investment. The Ministry of Economy is therefore pleased to see long-term plans for cooperation between the country's leading universities, «UniLab» and the «Accelerace» venture capital fund. This is the only long-term solution to develop competitiveness and push innovation, while also taking into account future needs.»

Andris Kulbergs, Chairman of the Innovation Ecosystem Development Sub-Committee of the Sustainable Development Commission of the Saeima, is pleased to see the commitment to cooperation and knowledge sharing, as he believes that the ideas of the future are born in universities. «This cooperation is an important milestone. We have a shortage of value-added products, productivity and workforce, so this needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Latvia also has the advantage of an accessible, open public administration that can react more quickly to legislative changes or initiatives than large countries,» he says, citing examples of start-ups where more public support would have led to more successful growth, which the planned collaboration between «UniLab», «Accelerace» and the four universities will help to achieve.

The founders of «UniLab» are RTU, LU, RSU and LULST. The aim of «UniLab» is to promote the development of science-intensive and technology-based business ideas and the creation of new high added value start-ups. Founders are supported in the development and initial validation of their business model, preparing them for the next phase of development - private or public investment. The incubator works with each team individually and provides financial support for the start-up and initial development.

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23rd of January at 15:32

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