Social Entrepreneurship: Interview with Mindaugas Danys, Founder of Hub Vilnius
Today I am having Mindaugas Danys, founder of coworking space called Hub Vilnius in Vilnius, Lithuania. Earlier this year in August I have sat down with Mindaugas to discuss social entrepreneurship, coworking, how startup culture is evolving in Lithuania and Baltic states and asked for some actionable tips for you to take to improve your business.
Social entrepreneurship is the process of pursuing suitable solutions to social problems. More specifically, social entrepreneurs adopt a mission to create and sustain social value. They pursue opportunities to serve this mission, while continuously adapting and learning. – Wikipedia
Hub Vilnius is the first coworking and startup acceleration space in Lithuania, operating since November 2010.
Hub Vilnius offers 100 desks for rent and vibrant community of freelancers and startups at the loft in the heart of Vilnius. Short term and long term memberships available in an open space as well as individual offices, including all the amenities: fast wifi, comfortable furniture, meeting rooms, kitchen and lounge.
Pioneering social entrepreneurship and innovations in Lithuania
Mindaugas launched Hub Vilnius in November 2010 and the idea grew out of a curiosity of social innovations and coworking was one of them. Taking western world as an example, where social innovations are strong but still a new field of action in Lithuania he thought that it was a good opportunity to be an icebreaker and start up something new.
The main idea of coworking is to encourage interaction among freelancers and startups, the members of the space to create value for each other.
He followed the internet for sources about coworking and then realised that it is still an empty spot in Lithuania. He started talking to colleagues and partners about launching the first coworking space in Vilnius and in Lithuania.
Mindaugas was the right person to take the initiative as he has been in his consulting business for ten years before launching the coworking space and before had worked at Lithuanian Development Agency investment department and eventually got interested in social entrepreneurship and social innovations.
Coworking is not about a cheap desk, fast internet and good atmosphere
Coworking can be different things to different people but there are some components of successful coworking space namely flexible environment, fast internet, good atmosphere and plenty of bright people mainly from the creative industries, IT and other related fields. People at coworking spaces interact with each other to start projects, exchange ideas, information, get an advice and create so called value added.
Hub Vilnius not only provides a cheap office space or cheap desk for a freelancer but tries to create a community and value added. Joining the coworking space you might not know what could evolve out of this action. Mindaugas says that in the last three years he has seen a number of cases of members setting businesses together or at least sharing contracts and services and supporting each other number of different ways.
At the Hub we are trying to encourage so called serendipity and the serendipity is a unique term in English that means unexpected interaction that could happen during the day when you join the coworking space, so we are trying to encourage serendipity, says Mindaugas. Some of the actions Hub took were holding meetups among members, having lunch together or encouraging members to skill-share their knowledge and run small workshops free of charge to other members.
Lithuanian startup scene is rapidly evolving
Three years ago government in Lithuania was not so interested in technology startups and was mainly focusing on the technology parks that have been probably an outdated concept.
During the last two years that has changed and Ministry of Economy through subsidiary has launched a number of startup initiatives, finally some of them started moving the startup ecosystem, startup events, accelerators and encouraged creating small subsidiary schemes that subsidise offices for startups bringing in mentors from UK and USA and also sending Lithuanian teams abroad so that they can get a first class experience.
In addition to that we should also mention rise of the venture capital availability in 2012, the seed level funds by European Union has been launched and already has proven a big success by completing all the terms of the deals focusing on pre-seed and seed level startups and investing 2 million euro already out of 20 million available.
All that said has changed the landscape of startup ecosystem. Although two or three years ago Estonia was leading the pack of the Baltic Countries due to positive exits of Skype acquisitions that has created a small private venture capital funds not just in Estonia but also have created a number of Estonian startups, but nowadays Lithuanian ecosystem looks strong and growing and has a huge potential in that field as well.
Competition and challenges running a coworking space
Every organisation faces challenges at one point.
Hub Vilnius membership is quite revolving in a sense that usually people on average stay for six months and then either launch a company and go away or start to work for other corporations or move to other opposition. Hub success is its challenge because people make progress so fast and they will leave the Hub Vilnius space.
We are privately operated organisation which means the challenge to compliment and find other sources of sponsors and donors to compete with public sector bodies like Enterprise Lithuania or universities who receive public funding. Main competitors as mentioned have been from the public sector.
StartupHighway is a privately run accelerator that takes startups and keeps them for 2 or 3 months time and they are located in our old premises in downtown technology park. New business acceleration centers are being created in several universities in Kaunas and Vilnius. It’s interesting to see how it will develop and will make coworking type activities more popular, however we hope it will not interfere too much with our existence cooperations.
Lithuanian startup ecosystem is very young, entrepreneurs are slowly growing
Very difficult to tell whether startup thing is a fashion or a norm in Lithuania. It might still generate a lot of publicity but entrepreneurs are still in a phase of growth or identification of their vision and startup ecosystem is being developed so you can find people attracted by the buzz but lack basic skills and knowledge.
You can find plenty of enthusiastic young professionals that want to build the next large company that can grow out of a startup. At the same time large corporations provide plenty of well paid jobs to the young skilled professionals including Barclays and other IT companies. These corporations create a huge pressure and competition on launching startups so I guess they are not yet in the phase and the market is still growing.
Hub Vilnius success is its challenge
As mentioned before Hub Vilnius success is its challenge. The earlier startup succeeds, the earlier leaves. But these successful startups are increasing user base and attracting venture capital business angels.
One of the startup called TransferGo was funded by Practica Captial, it’s a young startup launched last year and it’s about providing a solution to decrease the cost of money transfer from UK to Lithuania and vice versa. They are growing quite fast and it’s one of the successes.
There have been startups or companies that grew out of the hub and they are employing tens of people and as I mentioned our success is our challenge because it’s always good to hear that the company grows but there is always a challenge to find new tenants and to keep on doing our community development work.
Teams are more valued than ideas
Teams are valued more than ideas from the venture capitalist perspective and building a good team it’s a constant challenge and I guess you have to be dedicated first of all and spend enough time to build a joint company vision and objectives that you want to achieve. Motivation is very important and it shouldn’t only be money but this joint vision and dedication.
Seeing your partner giving full energy and resources to shared vision you have to commit yourself as well. Building teams is also about the trust and respect of each other. Nowadays the idea of lean methodology and things like “fail early” help to shape the team.
The future of Hub Vilnius
When asked about the future of Hub Vilnius Mindaugas wanted to stick to coworking for some time but was concerned about the lack of good feedback and support from peers, from other coworkers or members from a startup community.
The biggest challenge and drawback of Lithuanian society is that we are not good at working together and sharing losses and profits among ourselves and so that is a big challenge but I hope that I will manage to expand the coworking cooperations and find a long term partners for this. I still believe in coworking as a one of the best tools to encourage entrepreneurship because it’s growing out of networking and we also need somehow to change the mentality and it is a slow process.
Founded: November, 2010
Headquarters: Vilnius, Lithuania
People: Mindaugas Danys
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