TechHub Riga is leaving the Faculty
Despite the true grit of the Latvian startup ecosystem, we at TechHub Riga are closing our premises at Kronvalda Bulvaris 4. A place we began to grow in 2019 as the base for the startup community and to expand into a Startup House. However, it is never a straight road home, and ours has been filled with various challenges through which TechHub Riga has both lost and gained a lot along the way.
What started as monthly get-togethers at the local pub where anyone could join for an evening chat about the latest tech and hear startup stories developed into a non-profit foundation, TechHub Riga. An NGO that in 2012 officially became the first organization dedicated to the support of startups in Latvia. From that point on, it seemed apparent to this ever-hyped bubble of people that there was a need for a dedicated space where those starting their first steps in building a startup could work together, share ideas, know-how, and of course, struggles. Luckily enough, TechHub Riga found our first home at Citadeles street that was turned into a coworking space for startups. These first steps and the growing members there proved that there was a need for such a place. Small as the space was, it gave a push to move TechHub somewhere larger. Soon after, Kalku iela in the old town was marked as THE spot for a startup hub - central and perfectly sized for the needs of “wannabe entrepreneurs”. Even though this seemed as the final spot for a while, between then and now TechHub Riga moved various times trying to find the perfect match while juggling the priorities of startups with the rent of the space. Meanwhile, spreading the word about startups, kicking off and growing the first startup conferences (that grew into the region's leading conference TechChill), supporting new startups, and even bearing the idea and serving as the location for the establishment of the Latvian startup association Startin.lv.
In autumn 2018, TechHub Riga operated at the Sporta 2 premises when it became apparent that there would be no potential space to expand the coworking, not then nor in the future. A new place needed to be found, and this time, one that, like we had seen done in our neighboring countries (e.g. Maria01 in Helsinki), could be large enough to be home to startups, incubators, accelerators, organisations, and VC funds alike. After a long list and almost a year of various visited and failed locations, the old Faculty of Biology of the University of Latvia came into play. Empty since 2015 with only a museum and a couple of institutes residing in it, and with the goal (allegedly by the University of Latvia) to sell it to someone to fund the new university buildings. After various long deliberations with the University of Latvia about the format, amount of space and time of the rent we came to an agreement and signed a lease for two years. At this point also clearly stating that the goal was to find a way to turn the whole building into a startup house.
With much enthusiasm, in September 2019 TechHub Riga opened its space in Kronvalda Bulvaris 4. At that point, we were the first and only external tennant. As a starting point, we took up 500 m2 of space that still was reminiscent of a chemistry lab and remade it ourselves to the needs of a coworking space. The separate offices were scooped up in the first couple of months, with the coworking filling up equally fast. The community grew and the spaces we needed to take and to renovate ourselves expanded, but it was worth it for the potential in the long term. Between the community events we managed to run throughout the first six months, the ecosystem and the number of members grew. A dedicated events space allowed for monthly meetups, accelerator demo days, where we could invite partners from neighbouring countries and also lend it to other partner organizations such as Tellus, LMT, BuildIT, Riga TechGirls and many others for their events. The kitchen was buzzing with people sharing and talking, and it felt like the ice had finally moved - we had a space of our own.
Meanwhile, the conversations with the university continued to push forward the idea that we would be interested in finding a way to take stewardship of the whole building. At this point, other organizations, companies, and even artists took up space to rent in the building, now that TechHub Riga had breathed life into it. And then Covid hit, with all the pandemic and restrictions that came with it. While the teams residing in dedicated team rooms at TechHub Riga stayed, it wasn't enough as the coworking was in flux and, like any coworking operator, our foundation suffered losses. We re-doubled our efforts to find a long term solution because it was clear that the only way to make the co-working financially sustainable was to embed it in a large startup house where more mature startups formed the bulk of the members. This approach was modelled on startups hubs such as Maria01 in Helsinki and Vilnius TechPark.
By the summer of 2021 we had spent 18 months exploring all the possible options for establishing Kronvalda Bulvaris 4 as a startup house in its entirety, managed by TechHub Riga, including privately financed, government donation of the building, etc. The final proposal was an agreement to take over the building from the University of Latvia and collaborate with the higher education institution, tying the students and professors closer to the startup community. This proposal had the support not only of the entire startup community, but of the rector of the university and its advisory board, the office of the President of Latvia, the Ministry for Economics and was enthusiastically championed by Reinis Znotiņš, at the time parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Education.
Unfortunately, despite what seems like unanimous support, this required approval by the Cabinet of Ministers and we learned that a strategic project for the startup ecosystem was, unfortunately, still not high on the broader political agenda. In the end, it simply took a veto from the Minister of Culture to deny the opportunity for the Cabinet to vote on the proposal. A possibility to create a central hub for startups in Riga was killed in favor of turning the building over to the Academy of Arts.
All in all, we know that each of us has our own side of the coin and the industry of art and culture deserve support too, but for obvious reasons, we are disappointed that we were not able to fulfil the necessity to bring together and showcase the core of the Latvian startup ecosystem in one location, under one roof, in a scale that the startup community deserves. So we are moving forward, officially leaving the premises of Kronvalda Bulvaris 4 and for the time being becoming a virtual organization until we find a place to reside and grow permanently. TechHub Riga will continue to organize meetups, operate educational and startup school programs (already in the second season) and to support startup founders in Latvia as best as we can. We are incredibly grateful for the wonderful times we had in this place we wanted to call home, for the events that brought this community closer together, the partnerships we developed, and all the teams and members that were with us during this journey. We will see you soon and hopefully with a space to build together.
As an organization with grit, we don’t give up and we are in discussions about new potential home locations.
Stay safe, stay kind and stay with us for what's to come!
The TechHub Riga Team