Silicon Valley not only traveled to the UK in November, it also stopped off in Lithuania and Portugal. Every year Silicon Valley Comes To the UK, a conference co-founded by serial entrepreneur and angel investor Sherry Coutu and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, brings leading U.S. entrepreneurs, investors and thought leaders to the U.K. to explore ideas and to ignite local entrepreneurship. This year – for the first time – spin-off events called Silicon Valley Comes to U took place elsewhere in Europe. On November 15 and 16 Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, hosted Silicon Valley Comes to the Baltics, an event that brought California entrepreneurs together with students and the business community from the region. In addition to Lithuania, people from Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Poland, Belarus and Ukraineo were expected to attend the two-day event.
As in the main event in the UK, the Baltics spinoff, in its first edition, aims to help facilitate the success of promising high-growth technology companies. More than 1,000 people attended the events over the two days. “This will be the biggest and greatest start-up event ever in the region,” says Andrius Neviera, a 21-year-old Lithuanian who is the lead organizer of the Vilnius event. “We want to show the local community how great entrepreneurship is. We want them to see that you don’t have to be a banker to make a good living after graduation.”
One of the converted is Neviera himself. He decided to embrace entrepreneurship in March when he volunteered at an accelerator in Amsterdam.
“I’m going to work in the start-up world,” says Neviera, a university student in the Netherlands. “I love the energy, the openness of people, their passion. A year ago I would have said my future was to be doing consulting for McKinsey in London. Now I know entrepreneurship is my future.”
A key goal of Neviera and the other event organizers is to show the world that the often-overlooked Baltic region is full of talent and potential technology entrepreneurs. To unlock some of that talent, there will be App Camp the weekend before the main event with the top performers getting a chance to pitch to Silicon Valley investors.
The three-day App Camp is being billed as the biggest mobile application development event in the Baltic and Nordic region with organizers expecting more than 500 participants who will be tasked with developing applications for smartphone operating systems including iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry. By the end of the event more than 100 new ideas for mobile applications and 50 prototypes will have been created with the help of the 40 mentors that will support the teams.
Some start-ups born in Lithuanian are already having a fair amount of international success, including Pixelmator and GetJar (see boxes).
Lisbon will also have its own event on November 15-16 with workshops, mentoring, and other initiatives dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship. Prior to the main event there will also be a Start-up Weekend. This will be Lisbon’s second year with more than 500 attending last year and another 500 watching from satellite events around Portugal.
“The feedback we got from entrepreneurs and other participants was extremely positive and in the last year we saw a huge increase in both quantity and quality of entrepreneurial activity in Portugal,” says Carlos Silva, chair of the Lisbon event as well as co-founder and chief operating officer of Seedrs, an online platform for investing in start-ups.
He says Portuguese start-ups to keep an eye on include Wishareit, an online platform for collaborative gift giving; UniPlaces, a website for posting and finding student accommodations that took part in last year’s Start-up Weekend in Lisbon; and TalkDesk, browser-based software to manage customer calls.
See Start-Up Spotlights Below:
Saulius Dailide and brother Aidas founded Pixelmator, a provider of image-editing software for Mac OS X, in 2007 and have been riding a wave of success since then. Pixelmator has won various awards including last year being named by Apple as Mac App Store App of the Year.
In 2010 when the late Steve Jobs was still Apple’s chief executive he mentioned Pixelmator in a keynote speech and then another Apple executive did the same again this year. That free publicity has helped speed up what was already impressive growth at Pixelmator, which is selling for $29.99 in the App Store.
The program’s new version released in August this year was downloaded more than 250,000 in the first two weeks.
Saulius said the motivation for creating Pixelmator was the desire to have an image editor that was easier to use and cheaper than Photoshop, the industry standard created by Adobe. While Photoshop is available for both Windows and OS X, the Dailides decided to put all their efforts into making the best application possible only for the Mac.
Ilja Laurs founded GetJar, an independent mobile phone app store, in Lithuania in 2004.The app store, which has 500,000 registered developers, has had more than three billion downloads and offers users 750,000 apps for Android, Windows Phone and other mobile platforms
Those numbers are all the more impressive considering the app world is dominated by app stores of technology giants like Google, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft. GetJar offers premium apps for free across a number of mobile platforms, acting as a paid discovery service. Instead of consumers paying to download apps, developers bid to have their apps featured, and only pay once the user downloads the app, making it a particularly good channel for app developers whose revenues depend on in-app sales or in-app advertising.
In March GetJar launched a loyalty program that rewards active users with a virtual currency called GetJar Gold Coins. The more apps downloaded by consumers on GetJar, the more “gold coins” earned. The virtual currency can be used to buy premium apps and virtual goods without exchanging physical money. The service now has 50 million users.
GetJar has raised a total of $42 million in venture capital from Accel Partners and Tiger Global. While Laurs is still based in Lithuania, the company’s headquarters are in Silicon Valley and it has offices in Seattle and the UK.