Bear with me, good reader, to gnaw through following few lines which you might have seen many times. We will get to the importance of the context shortly.

Cities, regions, and policies have often declared themselves to be entrepreneurial, smart, innovative, and so on and forth. One can add here any buzzword from any given decade and make a complete sentence. We are living in a digital age, age of information. And yet, policies which have never in history been so accessible for everyone, are yet to see significant contribution from grassroot level, from citizens and from businesses.

Tartu, small city with 100 000 inhabitants located in southern part of Estonia, in a way is not that different from the rest of European regions, but we are a little different.

Like many its peers city of Tartu has strategic documents which have beautiful visions of bright and successful future. Our key strategic document, Development Plan of city, foresees among other targets following goals for Tartu as smart entrepreneurial city:

  •  Promotion of entrepreneurial awareness and reduction of gap compared with Tallinn (capital of Estonia).

  • Development of infrastructure related to entrepreneurship.

  •  Improved collaboration between entrepreneurs and R&D community.

So far, same old, right? Nearly every region strives towards similar goals.

That was something that we recognized as well. Fundamental building blocks of creating and sustaining fresh and vital region are quite similar across Europe. A fact that was reinforced during our study visits to, and peer reviews of other regions during ESSPO project.

So why some regions, for example like Centre-Val de Loire, have visibly advanced faster and farther?   

One common theme what we observed across different regions and institutions in Europe, from science and technology parks such as Poznan Science and Technology Park to research and development centres such as Tecnalia to regional governments such as District of Hameln-Pyrmont is that they all have well defined understanding of their goals, target groups (including end users) and processes.

That encouraged us in Tartu to ask why, for who and how are we doing what we are doing.

We have the very same necessary building blocks for resilient economy: strong academic and R&D community, adequate industry presence, cooperative regional government. Plus, active citizens and decent business support organizations. Quadruple Helix model present and standing!

Yet, something was missing. Sure, we met around local and regional roundtables. Exchanged experiences and news. And left. To meet again at another distant time. Connections were loose, and a truly working platform where industry, academia and regional government would have a voice, was not there.

Thus, in 2016, led by city of Tartu and Tartu Science Park, SPARK Demo centre initiative was born. A hub which showcases regional flagship companies, coolest startups, academic institutions, and regional government in one physical (and digital) space.

Fast forward five years to 2021, and SPARK Demo is still one of key locations where science, business and administration all are equally represented and valued. Place which has seen tens of thousands of visitors, hosted over thousand events, is an integral part of biggest business festival in Baltics – sTARTUp Day.  

Where policy makers and business support organizations go through the entrepreneurial discovery process, and design, and implement instruments which are designed to meet the needs of businesses and entrepreneurs.

Lot has happened during those five years. It has been a road of ups and downs. Make no mistake, it has not been only sunshine and smiles. Remember the buzzwords and policies in the beginning of this article? They are still here, still in place. And rightfully so, they also serve a purpose. Yet we have simplified the core message to modern 8-second attention span. Ready? Here comes.

Mantra of Estonian startup ecosystem is: “One founder helps another!”. This has enabled one tiny country to become one of the leading hubs in world for outstanding tech companies aka unicorns.
Today, city of Tartu has its own clear message: we are a startup-minded city!
We help one another to succeed whether it’s an aspiring founder, innovative city government official, entrepreneurial researcher or simply a startup-minded citizen.

Tartu Science Park, with its SPARK Demo center, incubation programs, and European projects fulfils its own small, but nonetheless needed and integral role.

Vaido Mikheim