Small businesses hatching in Kaunas

  • 2001-02-01
  • Darius James Ross
KAUNAS - Technology and innovation centers that bring together academic researchers and private business people have been around for years and the number of new ones across the world seems to be increasing rapidly. The Kaunas Technology Center, located at Kaunas Technology University, was started by the Ministry of Economy and the university in 1998.

The principle behind the center is quite simple: It provides budding entrepreneurs with low-cost rent in a renovated building on the campus, free access to the Internet, shared office equipment such as photocopiers and fax machines, large meeting rooms and the free consulting services of its management experts.

Rent is gradually increased each year over a three-year period at which point the company has to find its own location so that space can be made to incubate a new company. "We'll be seeing off our first company this February and by the looks of things a few other ones are growing so quickly they'll have to look for space elsewhere before their three-year term here ends," said the center's director, Pranas Milius.

Christopher Huske, an expert from Germany, has been involved in technology centers since 1984 and has been a regular consultant in Kaunas for two years. His services are paid for by the German government. "There is a danger that when Lithuania enters the European Union, the country will empty out as people search for higher salaries abroad. We don't want this to happen. People in Lithuania should be able to find well paid work at home," said Huske. He also said that in this era of digital communication, much work can be done long distance and there is no need to displace people. Of the 20 companies at the center, half are involved in software exporting with the balance working in environmental and wood technology.

Huske said that the first technology center in his home of Aachen had only 700 square meters. That was back in 1984. "We now have twelve centers with 10, 000 employees and 80, 000 square meters of space," he said. Kaunas' center has 1,400 square meters available today and is negotiating with the municipality to get another building, as there is a waiting list of companies who wish to set up business there.

Huske said that having a technology center is a proven way for a city to attract investment. Ericsson arrived in Aachen 10 years ago for a three- to six-month trial period at one of the city's centers. They now have over 1,000 people working in the city.

Technology centers are also good at providing students with valuable work experience and financial support as they pursue their studies. "This place is great, I get to work half days and earn some money as well as study for my master's degree," said Tomas Peckaitis, a worker at Ekotakas, which is housed in the center. The company is two years old and specializes in wastewater disposal. Swiss chemical giant Ciba is one of their customers.

Kaunas Technological University was previously an engineering school in the Soviet system. "We still offer all the main engineering branches but have also expanded to offer a lot of courses on contemporary management practices because of the huge demand for these," said university Vice President, Vytautas Ostasevicius.