Supporting Start-ups and community life
The City of Vilnius has repurposed a major historic site by transforming unused hospital buildings into a dynamic centre connecting technology, culture and the creative industries. Vilnius Tech Park serves as the biggest ICT startup hub in the Baltics and Nordics, uniting international startups, tech companies, Venture Capitalists accelerators, incubators and other ecosystem players with a mutual goal – to shape the region’s startup ecosystem and grow together internationally.
This project was shortlisted for the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2018 in the following category: Cooperation.
Conceived and built by Italian architects in the 17th century, Sapieha park was originally a home to the palace of the famous Lithuanian noble family of the same name, until the 19th century, when it was sold to the Tsar. Initially the palace was repurposed to house a military hospital. After adding more buildings to the palace complex, the site continued to provide medical services until 2015.
In 2015, when the hospital was transferred to new premises, private investors partnered with the Vilnius City Municipality to repurpose the existing park and its buildings into Vilnius Tech Park.
The key objectives for Vilnius Park are to serve the city’s people by providing new economic opportunities, enhance cultural and community life and increase tourism.
Vilnius Tech Park is managed by experienced technology hub administrators supported by a committee made up of representatives from entrepreneurial companies and the municipality. The management team has overseen the development of facilities, such as a conference centre for large-scale events, as well as hackathons, meetings and product launches, and other activities and services. One innovative programme, Sapiegos Corporate, acts as a platform for collaboration between corporates and entrepreneurs, helping existing businesses tap into the start-up ecosystem’s fresh, innovative thinking and investment opportunities.
The community focus embedded into Vilnius Tech Park and its start-ups from the beginning has led to many novel initiatives. CodeAcademy, for instance, teaches the most in-demand skills - programming, web design and cyber security - and helps students put them into practice in leading companies. A junior version is getting youngsters into computer game design, branding and web and mobile app development.
Some of the businesses based at the Park are themselves inherently community-oriented. Miesto Laboratorijos, for example, runs a citizen’s laboratory for eco-gardening, inviting residents to learn about innovative ideas for sustainable living and consumption.
The cultural life of the city has also been profoundly changed for the better by Vilnius Tech Park. The traditional Culture Night held every June attracts more than 100,000 visitors and features over 100 arts and culture projects and shows, some of which now take place in Sapieha park.
Throughout the year the Vilnius Tech Park organises or co-sponsors cultural events such as sculpture displays and takes part in the municipality’s cultural initiatives such as Create for Vilnius. One of the best ideas to come out of this competition to find ways of rehabilitating public spaces is a robot-guide which would invite citizens and visitors for excursions. It is hoped the novel guide will be implemented in the Sapieha park area in the next few years.
Vilnius City Municipality is the lead agency for the project and has collaborated with a number of corporate companies to provide funding. The City leased some of the Sapieha park buildings for a period of 25 years and private funds of over €7 million were invested in their renovation. Vilnius Tech Park opened at the end of 2016, providing nearly 800 jobs.
Today, Vilnius Tech Park is the largest and most integrated ICT hub in the Nordics and Baltics. An eight-hectare site has been rehabilitated, providing over 9,000 m2 of office space. It currently hosts a community of more than 65 innovative companies and has become a magnet for foreign technology and talent.
The project has also increased the visibility of Vilnius as a tourist attraction, with the flow of visitors and number of local excursion companies increasing every year.
Sapieha park has become the city’s central leisure zone and community activities are thriving as residents come up with more and more ideas and start-ups want to join in and play a part.
The synergy between new technologies and the city’s cultural heritage that underpins Vilnius Tech Park’s ethos was, the municipality team admits, hard won. Discussions about the Park’s objectives at the start of the project were long and difficult. A way was eventually found to combine all the various threads into a final plan and there’s clear agreement now that the Park’s impact proves the viability and value of this unique approach.
Challenges since then include helping the resident start-ups grow into sustainable businesses and getting the right balance between the beauty and quiet of the environment, which attracts community groups, and the noise of cars and visitors, which is vital to the success of the start-up ecosystem.
Vilnius Tech Park has not only put the city on the global start-up map, it has also become a community asset, enabling residents to connect with their heritage and new technology.
Collaboration between representatives from the start-up scene and the municipality has allowed to develop workshops, seminars and events that respond to the needs of entrepreneurs and foster their professional and personal growth.
Vilnius Tech Park, Boosting startups & community life, EUROCITIES, November 2018: http://nws.eurocities.eu/MediaShell/media/2018_cooperation_Vilnius.pdf