International Business Expert Alex Sozonoff: Lithuanian Start-Ups Are Serious, Enthusiastic and Competent

2017-11-03 16:00

Ecosystem and governmental support are crucial for creating start-up nation, says Alex Sozonoff, Honorary doctor of Kaunas University of Technology (KTU). Having more than 40 years’ international business experience and industry knowledge in both Europe and the US, he has been serving in several management positions in Hewlett-Packard Company, and is member of several organisations, including the board of private jets company Victor. Mr Sozonoff is also the owner of Infinet Technologies.

In KTU Mr Sozonoff has contributed significantly to the creation of the National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre, which serves as a one-stop-shop for business and research. Alex Sozonoff is also one of the founders of KTU’s start-up community Start-Up Space.

Do you think that the success of a start-up depends on the country in which it is created?

Fundamentally the success depends on several conditions which need to be present. Firstly, a desire of the government to create a conducive environment for start-ups resulting in a wave of acquisitions and exits with the ultimate goal to stimulate industrial growth and to create employment. Secondly, this means the creation of an Ecosystem which includes: suitable space, incubators, coaches, mentors, angel investors, legal advisers, international connections, experts in different technical fields and above all funding.

Angel investors are typically reluctant to be the first to invest and to carry all of the risk. Therefore, the government needs to have an investing agency to get the ball rolling, to incubate, and to show a desire to create a momentum for start-ups to emerge.

Do you agree with the statement that with a great idea you can succeed anywhere? What are the key elements for a successful performance of a start-up?

There is no simple answer. Many ideas are not practical. I always emphasise that you should think what you are trying to solve, find out if something similar already exist and if you can do it cheaper or better, check with your peers what they think, dialogue with potential users/customers and seek their opinion. Be careful because you can be misled as they may not know the answer if your idea is too far out!

When you are comfortable, build an early prototype (MVP in jargon) which allows you to go shopping for inputs. Listen carefully for inputs and modify the prototype. If it involves software build it such that modifications can be easily made. Do not embed anything, but be ruthless with yourself and do no shy away from changing the prototype entirely if necessary. Better to lose some time but have it right than to go too quick and be wrong. However, the world is moving very fast so you need to balance between speed and quality.

Once you think your product is validated go full speed and apply the concept “I can succeed anywhere”.

Comparing development and efficiency of start-ups in Lithuania and Europe in the last years, what differences do you see? Is Lithuania a competitive and equivalent participant in this area?

I believe that the big difference is that Lithuania knows it has been behind and needs to be better and faster than other competing regions. Latvia and Estonia started earlier and had a big push from their governments early on. Lithuania has changed policy and policy makers too often which is not conducive to sustainability. It is also a cultural thing and a collective desire to be innovative and competitive. Lithuania needs to pick their fights and focus on areas of expertise on a few fields where it can be competitive.

For example, (and only an example) Lithuania has been successful in attracting “call centres" because of location, language skills, etc. CallCenter software and tools (such as dedicated CRM and AI) would be one of the areas of focus.

What Lithuania does offer is very good education (for example engineering and science), language skills, location and certainly, among young people, a desire to succeed and make their peers and family proud not to forget to make some money to live comfortably. Nothing wrong with that!

The latter is not different from other countries except that their ecosystems may be more developed than in Lithuania thus far. Every University in Lithuania should have an entrepreneurship program and a dedicated Eco-system.

In your opinion, what improvements should be made in Lithuania in order to create more favourable environment for launching greater amount of successful start-ups?

Role models or entrepreneurs who have been successful need to play a key role in creating a desire for young people “to be like them”. Lithuania is very active in organising events for start-ups to participate. This will pay off handsomely. The government needs to show that they are equally supportive and enthusiastic by making funds, awards and grants available. It should radiate a culture to encourage entrepreneurial success.

Overall, Lithuania is doing well and the start-ups which have participated internationally have received many complements for being serious, enthusiastic and competent. You just need to have more of them.

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