Viesturs Sosārs: the earlier the stage of globally appealing project, the more the support of local environment matters

Together with my Innovation Academy team member Jānis Altgauzens we finalized 2021 with a positive balance. During the first “convocation” of the remote idea development camp (in Innovation Academy) participants created 28 teams to develop their commercialization potential further already at the beginning of 2022. Most of the teams will continue working also in the second or pre-acceleration part of the program to develop the ideas under the guidance of mentors and various experts more in-detail allowing them to reach the stage when they become appealing to investors outside Latvia.

Innovation Academy program merges learning of the content necessary for commercialisation of innovation-intensive ideas with the practical, intensely mentored work on the initial testing of the commercial potential of ideas. Program is focused on the development of scalable and technologically-intensive ideas with global potential with the main emphasize being placed exactly on validating of practical ideas, receiving support from internationally experienced mentors throughout the entire program.

When we announced the program, we anticipated great response to the Innovation Academy, but we were pleasantly surprised by the number of applications. Also, we were positively delighted by the great versatility of the competence of participants and the degree of readiness of ideas. 198 participants were involved in the first phase of the program with the task of offering interesting and useful content, team building and finding new team members. Amongst them were already established teams and creators of ideas, as well as participants who wanted to participate in the development of ideas provided by others. During six weeks 32 hours long workshops were organised on the innovation practice, culture, teambuilding and technology trend topics. Additionally, every week remote networking of participants took place, active communication via the communication channels of the program and individual consultations of the program developers with all participants of the program.

People approach me with the question – is there still a place for such initiatives and what is the return, as the new unicorns emerge so slowly, rarely and pre-acceleration stage is frequently with a low output in establishing brilliant commercialization examples?

My answer to this question is based on the essence of the start-up ecosystem development and strengthening idea. Although start-ups are working on the commercialization of ambitious and globally scalable ideas, in their earliest stage they are usually very local – team of founders most frequently are located in one place and also the first investors are geographically nearby. It means that, in order to fulfil the potential of Latvia to the maximum extent on a global scale, a focused work must be done on the preparation of the local ideas and teams for the global growth. Therefore Innovation Academy is one of the few pre-acceleration programs anticipated exactly for the creators of ideas from Latvia.

There have been similar pre-acceleration programs available in Latvia with the purpose to bring an individual from the idea to something valuable somebody else would be willing to pay for not only in Latvia but also outside its borders. Online pre-acceleration programs, various activities focused on the development of scientific technological projects implemented by the joint Estonian and Latvian program Prototron, Startup Wise Guys accelerator, as well as start-up training programs offered by TechHub Riga could be mentioned as examples. However, up to now a lengthier pre-acceleration program has not been offered in Latvia that would allow validating viability of one’s idea in a systematic manner and for a longer period of time. Professionals and scientists of various sectors have many ambitious ideas; still they are not being commercialized due to various reasons. It becomes possible with the support of people who have created new services and validated an idea. This is the main reason why the Innovation Academy – pre-acceleration program – was developed by the Riga Business School where the teams of complementary competencies can work on the verification of the viability of their ideas in a systematic manner and for a sufficiently long time with the support of individuals experienced in the creation of new products and development of start-ups, forming a stream of healthy, investment-ready start-ups. The Innovation Academy is organised with the support of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia and EEA Norway Grants Latvia.

Mentoring component is what significantly separates Innovation Academy from other, similar pre-acceleration programs. Various online pre-acceleration programs offer first and foremost good knowledge and little mentor support. Innovation Academy was constructed with its most important added value being the permanent mentors of teams – experienced professionals in start-ups and innovation environment who work with the teams throughout all four months. Many times right advice and intellectual challenge in the testing of ideas are the most important fast growth preconditions teams require on the beginning of their journey.

Riga Business School is grateful that we have been given a three year’s mandate to develop this program, to make it a permanent pre-acceleration program of Latvia on the path of achieving investment readiness of ambitious projects. Our goal is to develop practical training in the ecosystem of start-ups to help develop globally scalable business and thus promote growth of the society. We are on our way towards something permanent and big. Currently development of ideas is possible due to the LIAA and Norwegian funding support but we are hopeful about possibilities to make this initiative sustainable in the future.

I see from other programs that early mentoring of teams is critically important for the further development of ideas and also new teams appreciate it a lot – we can observe that from their feedback on regularly basis. Mentoring adds discipline to the work providing reference points the teams set for themselves together with the mentor, being able to move faster and in a more systematic manner. Innovation Academy is designed to combine permanent mentors of the teams with mentors who can provide support in various specific topics.

In a way Innovation Academy is unique in the context of Latvia. Its uniqueness lies in the strict focus on the ideas created in Latvia, targeted approach towards commercialization of ambitious projects with a global potential and ongoing support of mentors – individuals already experienced in the start-up environment when testing the very first steps of the viability of idea.

Viesturs Sosārs, Riga Business School Resident Entrepreneur, Innovation Academy Program Director