Russian-Speaking Tech Innovator Inspires Local Entrepreneurs in Latvia

All eyes were fixed on Lawrence Wright as he spoke to a group of 50 university students at Rezekne College, a small university in eastern Latvia.

Wright, an American serial entrepreneur and angel investor, captivated the audience for two hours with expert advice from Silicon Valley on startup strategies and business model development. But what fascinated the audience most was Wright’s mastery of the Russian language. The eastern region of Latvia, known as Latgale, is home to a large percentage of native Russian-speakers who rarely encounter Americans, let alone Americans who speak Russian.

Wright’s visit kicked off U.S. Embassy Riga’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, a worldwide event that celebrates entrepreneurs and small business owners who bring ideas to life, drive economic growth, and expand human welfare. As part of the Bureau of International Information Program’s Special Entrepreneurship and Innovation U.S. Speaker Program, Wright traveled throughout the Baltics for 10 days to deliver a series of lectures, seminars and workshops to students and local entrepreneurs. 

While visiting the eastern region of Latvia, Wright broke down cultural barriers and forged new relationships with locals through his linguistic abilities. Local participants felt more at ease expressing their ideas as well as hearing answers to their questions in their native tongue.

Wright, who has lived in Russia on and off for the past 20 years, didn’t grow up speaking Russian. After visiting Russia in the late 1980s, he went on to become a country manager for a Fortune 300 IT and systems integration company. He was named the first endowed chair and professor of practice at Russia’s top business school, Skolkovo, where he pushed the boundaries of entrepreneurship education.  In 2014 he created GVA LaunchGurus and Startup Academy -- now called GVAccelerator -- which is the most successful acceleration program in the region. To date, the program has generated 185 startups.

Eager to find ways to invigorate the economy, students, and local entrepreneurs loved Wright’s enthusiasm and expertise. The Latgale region suffers from a high rate of unemployment, especially among youth, and faces networking and investment disadvantages compared with business center Riga.  The region has also experienced some “brain drain” as talented youth are tempted to leave for better paying jobs in Western Europe. Wright challenged his audiences to take risks and to develop and research their ideas to increase the chances of success.

“More startups fail from a lack of customers than from a failure of product development,” Wright said. “Startups are about vision, ideas, sweat, and luck.”

Wright’s visit was just one of the many Global Entrepreneurship Week activities U.S. Embassy Riga has planned for November. The Embassy’s Entrepreneurship Seminar for Small- and Medium- Enterprises, a half-day event led by Wright, gave local entrepreneurs an opportunity to learn more about running an effective, globally-oriented small business.  The Embassy also has partnered with the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) in Riga to host four screenings of films featuring entrepreneurial themes at SSE and at the Embassy’s American space at the Latvian National Library.

As Latvia continues to transition to a tech-savvy, startup-focused economy over the past decade, local startups, such as infogr.am, AirDog, and Cobook have had considerable success and are leading a new generation of entrepreneurs in Latvia, but the country still needs help in supporting and promoting local talent.

In an attempt to inspire future entrepreneurs, Embassy staff and teachers from a local international school visited more than 1,000 elementary school students in 10 rural towns across the country as part of the Creativity Counts program. The main activity centered around students thinking of imaginative ways to advertise their communities by creating a poster with colored mosaic tiles. Over the course of five days, volunteer instructors had fun interacting with the children and seeing them come up with unique visions of their towns.

I visited two small towns on the final day of Global Entrepreneurship Week as a volunteer. As we said goodbye to the children, I couldn’t help but wonder what the future held for them. I hoped that one day they would have the opportunity to create something unique that would not only allow them to prosper, but help their community as well.

About the Author: Matt Thompson is an Assistant Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Riga, Latvia.

Comments

Comments

Jorge A.
|
Mexico
November 23, 2015
Congratulations to Mrs. Deena for her enormous contribution to the education of these children in Latvia and every other place in the world she has taught. We were very fortunate to have her at San Jorge School in Mexico.
Daniele W.
|
Kansas, USA
December 15, 2015
You have it right.Good show!
American teachers teamed up with U.S. Embassy Riga to visit students in rural towns throughout Latvia for the Creativity Counts Program - which promoted creativity and innovation - during Global Entrepreneurship Week
Posted by Matt Thompson
November 20, 2015

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