“We can already see that 2021 will be a record year in Lithuania for attracted investments”: Interview with the Head of Startup Lithuania, Roberta Rudokienė

There’s no doubt that Lithuania is rapidly becoming a tech and startup hub to watch within the Baltics, and indeed Europe in general. With an abundance of tech talent, internationally-facing events, a strong suit of hallmark sectors such as fintech, cybersecurity & edtech, and favourable conditions for founders, it’s no surprise that Lithuania made it into to recent article, TOP 30: Europe’s biggest startup hubs in 2020.

Lithuanian startups have also quite prominently featured in many of our recent Top 10 listicles, such as 10 of the most promising European blockchain startups to watch10 European startups shaking up the edtech sector in 2021, 10 promising Lithuania-based startups to watch in 2021, to mention just a few, with the capital city Vilnius also featuring in our list of Top budget-friendly European cities for digital nomad founders. It’s clear that this relatively young tech hub is exploding with interest, and at EU-Startups we’re excited to see how the ecosystem will continue to develop in the coming years.

To dive deeper into Lithuania’s startup landscape, we recently spoke with Roberta Rudokienė, the Head of Startup Lithuania (which is part of the Public Institution Enterprise Lithuania). Roberta has spent the last four years at Startup Lithuania driving the startup ship – facilitating connections between fast-growing businesses, venture capital funds, accelerators, startup friendly enterprises, and the government.

Hello Roberta, welcome and thank you for joining us. Could you give us a brief introduction as to how Startup Lithuania began and what is your personal mission there?

Hello and thanks for your interest in Startup Lithuania and our booming startup ecosystem. Startup Lithuania is a national startup ecosystem facilitator, a part of Enterprise Lithuania – a non-profit agency under the Ministry of Economy and Innovation established to promote entrepreneurship, support business development, and foster export. Startup Lithuania was created in 2012 when the startup ecosystem started to develop more actively in Lithuania and the need arose to have a separate platform (unit) for their promotion. Since then, Startup Lithuania has expanded and grown, its importance has become increasingly important. I started managing Startup Lithuania at the end of 2017 and for almost four years now I have been striving for more startups in Lithuania and the most favourable conditions for their development and growth to be created here.

What do you offer startups in the region, and also for those from abroad who wish to scale up there?

Startup Lithuania offers free consultations for current and future startup founders, organizes various events and training for our startup ecosystem, including the main international startup event in Lithuania – Startup Fair. Also, we developed and offer a (free and accessible to all businesses) pre-acceleration programme “Startup Guide“ which is designed for early-stage startups and potential developers of innovative businesses.

For foreign startups who want to scale in Lithuania, we can introduce them to our ecosystem, and bring them together with other participants. Also, we run the Startup Visa programme, which is designed for non-EU startups who want to conquer Europe from Lithuania and want to build, grow and compete in our booming international community.

Could you tell us your impression of the current startup landscape in Lithuania?

At the moment we count more than 1000 startups in our Lithuanian startup’s database and one official unicorn – Vinted, the online marketplace for used and vintage clothing. Vinted has attracted €250 million this year, is valued at more than €3 billion and has more than 45 million members globally. We are noticing this fantastic growth spurt in the Lithuanian startup ecosystem – in the first quarter of 2021, the total sales of Lithuanian startups in domestic and foreign markets accounted for €520.2 million, recording a 110% increase, compared to the same period in 2020. Also, in the first quarter of this year, the exports of high added value goods and services created by Lithuanian startups also hit record highs, i.e. €348.4 million, which exceeds the amount of €168.1 million of the first quarter of 2020 by 107%.

By the way, we can already see that 2021 will be a record year in terms of attracted investments, in the first half-year, Lithuanian startups managed to raise a record investment amount of €311 million. And the total amount is growing really fast.

Have you seen anything change in the past few years, or even during the COVID pandemic?

Lithuanian startups managed to grow and conquer new markets during pandemic; they even managed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the crisis for their business development and have shown plenty of great results. For instance, startups have demonstrated impressive growth results both last year and this year; the number of startup employees increased by 15% in the first half of the year to reach 12,400 talents. Additionally, significant growth of startup talents can be observed if we take a yearly timespan – the growth has exceeded 33% over a year. In the first half-year, taxes paid by startups also increased to €48.3 million, compared to €30.1 million of taxes paid during the same period in the previous year.

Also, during the pandemic year, we witnessed growing importance for the life sciences sector and its startups. Lithuania became one of the fastest-growing life science hubs in Europe and alone achieved 22% growth, the fastest annual growth rate in the EU.

What advantages does Vilnius offer as a startup hub?

A fully developed and vibrant startup ecosystem, including a bunch of VC funds and accelerators, such as LitBAN, Vilnius Tech Park and Tech Loft, Rockit – Fintech hub, Talent Garden, etc. Vilnius offers a lot of different events from meetups, to large conferences – all major events for startups.

Vilnius is sure to continue attracting international investors and startups to the region, allowing the local ecosystem to continue growing.

Which sectors should we (and indeed angel investors/VCs) keep an eye on in Lithuania?

Lithuanian founders and the whole startup ecosystem is well-known for the Fintech sector, also we see a lot of potential in Cybersecurity, EdTech, SaaS, Life Science sectors, and Gaming industry. These are the most in demand, and the development opportunities of such companies are also the greatest – that is why you should keep an eye on these areas.

What are Startup Lithuania’s priority areas for 2021 and beyond? Any cool plans we should watch out for?

Of course, our main priority is to help Lithuanian startups, but we’re also working on a new programme for foreign startups called ‘Co-creator Grant’ – we would like to offer grants for relocation for selected startups. So stay tuned for more.

Together with the whole ecosystem, we are working hard to create the kind of business environment that will allow companies and entrepreneurs to dream big and make those dreams a reality.

As the head of Startup Lithuania, what would you say to any founders reading who are finding their feet in leadership positions?

I would say that “your team is your power” and don’t be afraid to fail. Anyone (including investors) in the startup sector would tell you that startups are not a solo business, therefore carefully select your team of professionals and value them. There will be a lot of mistakes and failures in your startup journey – but don’t be afraid of them, make sure that you learn from them. Be ready to learn, pivot, and make fast decisions.