In five years, Košice might become the second Tartu, says Peter Kolesár from CIVITTA Slovakia
He got excited about the innovations in Israel, where he worked as an economic diplomat. It was when he started to deal with innovative policies and how states, cities, and regions should help develop innovative projects.
“Israel is a startup country also known to have top-notch science and research. I was interested in how the public administration dealt with the support of innovations and startups at that time. I was also impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit of people from Israel,” mentions Peter. He currently leads the Slovak branch of international consultancy company CIVITTA, which plays a vital role in supporting the innovative domestic ecosystem.
He considers trust to be a critical factor of successful cooperation. “The relationships among the partners must be based on mutual help within the ecosystem. None of them can expect anything in return, since the interest of the group is more than their individual interests.” In terms of an innovative ecosystem, the partners are research and innovative institutions, representatives of the academic sphere, and the public administration, corporations, and beginning companies – startups. “Similar to nature, it is impossible to create a synergy artificially. We can only create space and conditions for partners to cooperate, trust each other and follow the common goal.”
Startups can help with solving challenges of the city
The rise of self-government’s interest in startups has been primarily visible for the last ten years. Peter says that the city can benefit from cooperation with startups in two ways. “Firstly, a new direct connection between the problem and its solution is being created, and the city gains access to innovation, technology, and interesting ideas.”
The second advantage is that the way startups approach solving problems and challenges can get into the mindset of the self-government’s employees. The benefit of startup thinking is the so-called lean approach, collecting feedback in the shortest possible time and minimum cost. “Speedy creation of a prototype, its immediate testing, and iteration based on the customers’ needs, in this case, citizens of the particular city. It is the communication with the customer – the citizen that allows testing the feasibility even before investing a large amount of money into the solution,” explains Peter.
In Slovakia, there are the first two successful examples of solving the city’s challenges in an agile way. Program Challenger Urban Creative in the project Košice 2.0 is one of them. “The winner of the last year’s edition is the startup eZelené mesto that focuses on increasing the energy efficiency of the buildings. Thanks to the acceleration program, they shifted their focus from the corporate clients and individual customers to the city. Currently, they are testing their solution and expanding on more buildings that the city operates.”
How to make the ecosystem work
So what is needed to make the cooperation between the city and the startup scene work? In every working local innovative ecosystem, the city plays a crucial role mostly in supporting entrepreneurship. It, however, requires a shift in the mindset. “For example, a startup cannot afford to invest money, energy, and time into the process of public procurement, which often takes years, just to cooperate with a city. Still, startups are the ideal partners to pilot the solutions and improve them in the beginning phases with minimal costs. It is their benefit in contrast to big companies.”
The next step that a city needs to do is to identify quickly and correctly the problems that bother its citizens. It is again something that a startup can influence positively. “The city needs to regularly show that it is open to cooperate not only with the community of innovators from the private sphere but also researches from the academic environment. That’s the moment when good things start to happen,” adds Peter.
The sources of ideas are stored in universities
Košice’s great advantage is that it is a university city. “There are talents from different fields concentrated at universities. At the same time, there are also many IT companies and key representants of heavy industry, which are perceived as potential clients and investors from the perspective of startups.” According to Peter, Košice and other cities lack the incubator of ideas. “In order to have, let’s say, ten successful companies, we need hundreds of projects and thousands of ideas. I see the potential in universities and their students.” Immediately he adds that educating students towards entrepreneurship should be something taught at every level of our education. “We should raise students who can transform their ideas in concrete initiatives, no matter if they work in the private, state or non-profit sphere. If this happens, Košice’s ecosystem can soon be comparable to the ecosystem in the Estonian city Tartu. Even though the city is half smaller than Košice, it attracts talents from all the Baltic area and countries outside the EU.”
How to transform an idea into a successful startup?
“In the first place, it is about a strong team. The creators or the authors of an idea are those who need to put the initial energy into it and define the whole process that will follow,” answers Peter. Another essential element is the supportive infrastructure. “The moment they start to work with the idea, the supportive mechanisms should be available – the prototype doesn’t need to be finished yet, but these mechanisms can put it into another phase of receiving the feedback from the customers, placing it on the market or receiving the needed investment. One of those mechanisms can be the accelerator.“ Challenger Urban Creative is unique because it can lure many talents from the region or even abroad to Košice. “This accelerating program supports and develops projects that are in the phase of validation. It helps to push them forward and react to the real needs of the target market, the city in this case. We encourage companies to solve the real challenges of the city of Košice. This way, a new unique synergy between the city and the participants of the innovative ecosystem is created, and the results can be seen in the improvement of the quality of citizen’s living in Košice.”