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Klaipėda is building the most ambitious IT ecosystem in the country

2020-04-22

A few years ago Klaipėda was the first city in Lithuania to confirm and start developing an ambitious economic development strategy for the city, which has a special focus on strengthening the ecosystem of information technologies. The first results are already evident today. According to the city development agency Klaipėda ID, local businesses are going through rapid digitalization processes, a new generation of IT talent is growing, startups coming from Klaipėda are gaining world-wide recognition.

The city economic development strategy Klaipėda 2030 emerged as a collaboration of the municipality, local businesses and their associations, as well as all formal and informal educational institutions. The strategy aims to promote economic growth, development, job creation and the increased attractiveness of the city in the next decade. A significant part of the aims outlined in the strategy involve information technologies and include the strengthening of IT education, optimization of IT processes in businesses, seeking to attract investments to the IT sector, creating high value-jobs, and developing an ecosystem for startups.

Kazys Pupinis © Donatas Vaičiulis

“After reviewing the key areas of the city strategy that we are directly responsible for, it became clear that IT has to be our top priority”, says Kazys Pupinis, Head of Business at Klaipėda ID, the city development agency responsible for a significant part of strategy implementation. “Klaipėda needs to continue strengthening its IT ecosystem, consisting of the infrastructure, professionals and education. Once all that is in place, we will start seeing more success stories that are needed to attract more the IT investors and talents”, states K. Pupinis.

Among the vital conditions needed for the implementation of the city strategy, K. Pupinis highlights the importance of education in the fields of engineering, IT and communication technologies, as well as training in product design, development and marketing. According to him, the city should further seek to strengthen both formal and informal education as well as ensure that education starting from pre-schools to universities has close collaboration with the industry.

“Klaipėda also needs to invest in the startup ecosystem, since startups are one of the driving forces of innovation in this world. Financial investments in infrastructure, labs, and facilities for science and business are needed. This calls for a strong collaboration between the city, local businesses, and educational institutions. The first steps are already being taken and we hope to see visible results in a couple years of time,” comments the Klaipėda ID representative.

According to K. Pupinis, when the ecosystem as a whole functions well, it is easier to attract and keep young talent, professionals, and families. It also helps to show the direction of the city development to foreign investors and international partners.

Seeing the growing potential

Andrius Plečkaitis, project manager of the Information and Communication Technology Industry Association Infobalt, states that even though most IT businesses and members of the association tend to focus on Vilnius and Kaunas, the growing potential of Klaipėda is gaining increasing attention. 

“In the last three years, Lithuania has doubled the exports of high value-added services. Exports in the IT sector have grown six times in the last decade. IT development in Klaipėda should be attracting exporting companies, which are looking for comfortable work and a family environment for their employees. Besides the wonderful seaside location, Klaipėda has great strengths such as competitive real estate prices, no traffic jams, and great social infrastructure”– says A. Plečkaitis.

“In three years, Lithuania doubled the exports of services adding high value. Exports in the IT sector has grown six times in the last decade.”

Today, as we are all facing quarantine and getting used to remote work, the physical distance among the cities and company branches proves to be of limited importance. That is yet another reason for IT businesses to start thinking about Klaipėda.  

Gediminas Koryzna, Director of Business Development Department at Invest Lithuania also notices that in recent years, Klaipėda has been especially active in developing technological parks and the startup ecosystem.  

In 2019, Klaipėda City Municipality confirmed a unique financial incentive system for service centers located in the city. According to Gediminas Koryzna, this inventive, alongside the office infrastructure and higher education study programs in the field of IT, is creating great possibilities for developing successful service centers and establishing new ones in Klaipėda.

“It is also great to see the number of students in Klaipėda University is growing and LCC International University with partners is starting a pilot IT program developed according to the Harvard University model,” says the Invest Lithuania representative.

Offering a Harvard course

For the last 12 years, the undergraduate Klaipėda University IT study program has been listed among the strongest in the country. IT is also gaining more attention at the LCC International University, which is planning to offer a new undergraduate program in data analytics within a year. Currently, LCC International University collaborates with Turing School in providing high school students from the region with an opportunity to learn the art of programming based on the famous Harvard University model.

Klaipėda University © 

According to the Turing School director Lukas Kaminskis, the school successfully works with IT businesses, which provide scholarships for talented students, offer internships opportunities and even employment for those students who are still in high school or have already finished the course.

“More and more businesses want to invest in younger IT talent and this tendency will only grow stronger. We already see examples of businesses establishing their own IT schools and I believe such cases will soon appear in Lithuania. A high demand for IT employees has existed for a while now – not only in Lithuania,” says L. Kaminskis.

Development of IT talent is actively supported by local businesses in Klaipėda. Emotion, an IT solutions and marketing agency located in Klaipėda, set up a 900 Eur scholarship for one gifted student to attend Turing School courses last year.

“We collaborated with Turing School because we liked their vision and methodology, which helps students gain skills up to the point where we can hire them and continue helping them in their learning journey. We always offer internships and often employ such students. Someone once believed and invested in us. We simply want to give back” – says the founder and CEO of Emotion Raimondas Nausėda.

Managing the seaport more effectively

Educational institutions are not the only ones successfully adapting to the changing environment. Local businesses as well as industry giants, such as Klaipėda State Seaport, are leading the change as well.

The seaport of Klaipėda © Klaipėda State Seaport

According to the Infrastructure Director and Acting Director General of the Klaipėda State Seaport Vidmantas Paukštė, the ability to quickly adapt to the changes in the maritime sector is essential to all ports, not just Klaipėda.

“The competition battle will be won by the seaports using the most advanced solutions and technologies. Strategically, Klaipėda Port has state-wide importance, thus we are constantly improving the information systems of the seaport and use innovative solutions,” he says. “Currently, seaport authority uses about 30 various digital solutions. For example, we cannot imagine our work today without the Freight Movement Information System (KIPIS), which has made our work so much easier”.

The Vessel Traffic Management Information System (LUVIS) allows paying port dues from any part of the world. The agents do not have to go to the port with paper documents anymore. This has helped managing the ships in the port better, reduced cargo and vehicle downtime in the port and enabled a more efficient use of the port infrastructure.  

“Even now, during the state of national emergency due to the pandemic, the work in the port does not stop since the modern digital systems allow us to operate as usual and perform many functions remotely,” says V. Paukštė.

A few years ago, a miscellaneous spatial system of digital map PortGIS was installed in the port. This system facilitates the work of specialists from various fields, modernizes and digitalizes seaport processes, and helps to ensure its security. Klaipėda Seaport Authority received an award in San Diego (USA) for achievements in installation of geoinformation systems.  

“We understand that the spectrum of innovations will continue growing – we are open and always seeking new solutions that could improve our work. By participating in various hackathons, we are actively collaborating with scientific institutions and the creators of innovative products. Currently, for example, a berth-scanning prototype is being developed. This new solution may be soon employed in our seaport,” states V. Paukštė.

Designing progressive prototypes

Klaipėda Science and Technology Park (KMTP) is another major player in the IT ecosystem of the city. This entity is responsible for creating the environment fostering innovations in Klaipėda.

“Significant industry, energy and supply routes all meet in Klaipėda. Our geographical position gives us unique advances, but we also need to continuously work on advanced IT solutions to further increase our competitiveness in the well-established key industries. We already have success stories, but now is a time to further grow our successes as crisis also brings new opportunities,” KMTP development manager Andrius Sutnikas is convinced.

Andrius Sutnikas © Klaipėda Science and Technology Park

Last year, KMTP organized several hackathons related to the seaport technology and industry as well as 3D scanning. Such events foster the startup ecosystem in the city and increase the cooperation between businesses, public sector and academia.

“During the hackathons our IT specialists have already created promising prototypes for the LNG containers, based on Blockchain technology, as well as seaport monitoring and cargo flow management systems. Multiple businesses have already expressed their interest in our prototypes, so they are being developed further,” says A. Sutnikas.

The KMTP also works with the younger talents in the city. For example an initiative named “Code of Klaipėda” provides high school students with an opportunity to work on their programming skills and help them choose IT courses for their future studies. Student IT competitions and game development hackathons called “Game Jam” are organized each year in KMTP facilities.

“We encourage students to use the opportunity to familiarize themselves with Klaipėda-based IT organizations and their employees. We organize tours and invite students to participate in hackathons for both professional and young IT talents,” says Andrius Sutnikas.

Taking advantage of the current crisis

Omega Technology, a branch of a Norwegian company Omega AS that was established in 2006, offers information system development and maintenance services. Currently about 40 IT professionals work here.

The general manager of the company, Vadim Naroznij, is sure that the current crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could be a great opportunity for cities like Klaipėda.

Vadim Naroznij © Donatas Vaičiulis

“A crisis like the one we are experiencing now can cause a new wave of online businesses and opportunities for remote work. Many organizations may have to review the way their operations are run,” he believes. “Klaipėda is already in the epicenter of the industry and logistics in the Baltic countries and this situation can be used to strengthen that position even further. We work with innovative IT solutions and are always ready to help Klaipėda reach a higher technological level in order to introduce the city to the international community. We eagerly wait to see more global industry players here”, says V. Naroznij.

Naroznij emphasizes that, despite the world-wide pandemic and the chaos that it brings, Klaipėda should be able to continue demonstrating great results in 2020.

“The population has stopped decreasing and is now stable in the city. The amount of international investment grows; we are only second to Vilnius. Klaipėda has a sustainable and effective industry, great institutional and educational ecosystems, and exceptional examples of teamwork. Even though we do not yet know the consequences of this crisis, as a business we are sure that Klaipėda will be able to bounce back quickly and keep growing. The city has what it takes,” the general manager of Omega Technology says optimistically.

From Klaipėda to the rest of the world

A few years ago, a now well-known start up – Interactio – was founded in Klaipėda. The team created a virtual simultaneous interpretation platform for conferences and meetings. Both participants and interpreters can either work at the event or join in from anywhere in the world. Interactio has attracted more than half a million investments and companies such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft use its interpretation services.

“Klaipėda is the perfect place to create IT products because the city is balanced for concentrated work and is also close to the rest of the world, which can be reached through Palanga International Airport.”

One of the founders of Interactio Henrikas Urbonas is glad that he was able to bring his business to the international markets while being physically in Klaipėda.

“This is why our project has developed so well, because we started working in Klaipėda, now in Vilnius as well, but we were always expanding our world-wide network. This attracted international investors and business consultants to our project. It allowed us to work world-wide. Today we operate in more than 70 countries,” he says.

According to H. Urbonas, Klaipėda is the perfect place to develop IT products because the city is balanced for concentrated work and is also close to the rest of the world, which can be reached through Palanga International Airport. One can reach the biggest cities in Europe from here faster than driving to Vilnius.

“This connection to Europe could be the key in Klaipėda’s growth. We – residents of Klaipėda – like to compare ourselves to other big cities in Lithuania, but I believe our greatest growth potential lies in the strong connection with international capitals, one of which is Copenhagen. It has a great IT ecosystem, global connections, and capital," says the CEO of Interactio.

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