ProtoLab – a cross-border network for entrepreneurs
The EU-funded ProtoLab Network connects Estonian and Latvian entrepreneurs and start-ups for better knowledge sharing, increased marketing and, ultimately, a quicker route to market.
" The key accomplishment of the ProtoLab Network was to bring together companies from both Estonia and Latvia to develop a network of joint services, allowing them to bring their products to market quicker and to better access a global audience. "
When it comes to entrepreneurship and innovation, Estonia has a reputation for punching above its weight. From Skype to Transferwise and many others, the case can be made that Estonia is Europe’s answer to the USA’s Silicon Valley.
To build on this momentum and boost entrepreneurship around the Baltics, the ProtoLab Network aimed to build a competency centre to provide local entrepreneurs and start-ups in Estonia and Latvia with specialised support in product development and access to state-of-the-art engineering equipment. Specifically, the project introduced a cross-border platform for networking and knowledge transfer, with a focus on key aspects of product development and prototyping, such as concept development, CAD/CAM engineering, 2D and 3D visualisation and modelling, rapid prototyping, as well as testing and quality control.
A networking hub
ProtoLab Network served as a hub – a one-stop-shop for strategic documents on collaboration, analysis of existing and future company needs, sourcing specialised skills, and for making new contacts through networking. The project also provided ongoing training and learning opportunities, including arranging cross-border company visits, sessions on product development and various roundtable discussions with local entrepreneurs, business leaders and academia.
However, the project’s services were not limited to product development. Once a company had a product in hand, they could again turn to the ProtoLab Network for support with dissemination and marketing. For instance, the project helped companies develop and implement marketing strategies, arranged in-company pitching opportunities, helped with creating branding platforms, web-pages and leaflets, and organised participation in key regional trade fairs. One of the project’s most popular post-production services was its ability to connect a company with a market-ready product to another company within the ProtoLab Network looking for that very product.
According to project organisers, the key success of the ProtoLab Network was its ability to establish connections between similar companies and, in doing so, develop a true network of joint services. Thus, when a company was in need of a service, they could call on ProtoLab’s dense network of contacts and refer the client to a relevant service provider. For example, when T Grupp AS needed a new-generation ticket validation system for their busses, ProtoLab introduced them to Teadusmosaiik. Together, the two companies quickly developed several prototypes of a new validation unit.
The networking service was not limited to Estonia and Latvia, as the project also worked with local companies to help them market their products beyond the Baltics and into, for example, Scandinavian countries. In fact, several products currently on the market were first developed via the ProtoLab Network.
In the end, this cross-border network integrated the complementary know-how of project partners to help funnel products from concept to market faster and helped to raise the overall competence of both entrepreneurs and technical staff
Total investment and EU funding
Total investment for the project “Increasing Competitiveness of Estonian and Latvian Mechatronics Sector through Creation of Integrated Network of Product Development, Training and Testing Centres (ProtoLab Network)” is EUR 1 068 100, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 907 885 through the “Estonia – Latvia” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Higher competitiveness of the Programme area”.