It’s not every day a Scotland Can Do member organisation gets the opportunity to visit a place like Minsk, so when the invite came to attend Venture Day, held at Imaguru Start Up Hub, one Europe’s leading Start Up support agencies, it was easy to say YES!
Minsk… right – where is that again?! Belarus. The former Soviet bloc country, landlocked by Poland to the West, a wee bit South of Latvia and Lithuania, North of Ukraine and close friends, Russia next door neighbours to the East. You would be right thinking that might be a tough place to live and work – history hasn’t been too kind to Belarus, like many of the countries around that part of Europe. Minsk was completely destroyed after WW2, but fast forward to now and you couldn’t find a more welcoming place to visit and work – a great choice as host city for this summer’s 2019 European Games.
Arriving from Edinburgh, via Belavia’s World of Tanks sponsored plane from Paris, the Imaguru team arranged for a chauffeur and volunteer chaperone from the Airport. A beautiful 45 minute drive through rural villages and dense woodlands – 40% of Belarus territory is forestry – gave a glimpse of a developing economy in what is Europe’s 11th most populated city. Check-in, followed by a short walk with some other event speakers, we arrived safely at the Start Up Hub for a quick tour and reception. It was clear how successful this organisation was in creating and executing a Start Up conference. Experts had travelled from all over the world to attend the event, from San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Chicago, Washington and New York in the USA, Berlin in Germany, Madrid in Spain, The Hague and Amsterdam in Holland, Warsaw in Poland, as well as Turkey, and from all across Russia, Armenia, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. Minsk knows how to do Start Up!
Venture Day kicked off the next morning, with US Agency for International Development Ambassador to Eastern Europe welcoming over 800 young and aspiring business owners to the Start Up Hub. The energy and enthusiasm lasted all day, and after a quick catch up with the British Embassy Ambassador, Fiona Gibb OBE, it was a full day engaging with students and young entrepreneurs eager to meet and learn from each other.
The highlight? Easy! Getting to meet the Teenguru Team – a friendly group of highly, motivated and bright young people who were spending school holidays investing in their careers, working on ideas and generally having a Can Do Attitude, not to mention their amazing English to drown out my very limited Russian! A round table discussion about Young Enterprise Scotland, and the programmes we run, and learning about the fantastic work the Imaguru team have been doing to engage school and college students in the start-up community, showed the synergy and collaborative spirit of our two organisations. It was easy to start thinking about exchanges and opportunities to work closer with new friends made in Belarus, bringing adventurous and socially mobile generations together from all across the continent.
On the main stage, we had the opportunity to share our own YE Scotland story and tell the wider audience a wee bit about how we do Enterprise Education for Schools and Colleges here in Scotland with our Bridge 2 Business, Pathways and Company Programmes. Focusing on the skills that all young people need, we spoke about how all stakeholders in Education – Students, Educators and Senior Management – have a huge role to play to Enable Enterprise for All. It was the final speaking slot before the Venture Day Pitching Competition, where two Tech Entrepreneurs from Artyline and GiveAway won capital investment from the judges, led by Maurice Beckand Verwee, along with a trip to the Heureka Conference in Berlin, arguably one of the world’s most successful Digital Tech Start Up Conferences.
As always at Start Up events, with the formalities over with, the afterparty quickly followed. Scottish and Eastern European hospitality is very much alike, rarely alone for more than 10 seconds before a new introduction… beers, burgers, & business cards in perpetual motion!
A truly wonderful experience, and a big thank you to Angela Bashir @ Scottish Enterprise for the introduction to the team at Imaguru Start Up Hub. Hopefully YE Scotland can tag along again in 2020, making sure Scotland is Open for Business!
Author: Brian McEwan, Innovation & Partnership Manager at Young Enterprise Scotland