Tech Revolution : Pardubice

"When the going gets tough, it is important to have someone strong you can turn to from time to time. Our lead partner from Barnsley – Tracey and her team - as well as all the URBACT experts who we met on this adventurous journey helped us a lot to overcome the obstacles we encountered."

Pardubice is the 10th largest city in the Czech Republic, located in the middle of the country, close to the capital city, Prague. The city has a strong economy, the unemployment rate is the lowest in the Czech Republic at 1,8%. 97% of all companies are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Services make up around a quarter of employment, key local employment sectors include chemical manufacturing, mechanical and electrical engineering, food processing and civil engineering.

Despite a strong economy and the presence of many multinational companies, in the 1990s we did not have facilities to support and nurture new businesses, and Pardubice did not offer an attractive environment for start-ups, either. This does not mean, that the innovation culture and talented people completely disappeared from the city, but they were not systematically sought and supported.

The TechRev Programme

In 2018 the new Pardubice Business Incubator (P-PINK) opened its doors. The very same year also presented an exciting new opportunity – we joined the TechRevolution URBACT Transfer Network. This partnership – led by Barnsley, UK, - focused on sharing experience and knowledge on developing and running successful business support structures on local level.

With the support of our lead partner and the URBACT methodology, we soon realized that we needed to build a strong local group of stakeholders and begin a systematic cooperation to support start-ups. The bootcamp in Barnsley and the various visits to our partner cities helped us to understand that an open approach and developing a start-up community together with our partners are more important factors than a physical space.

Our various visits to Barnsley gave us plenty of inspiration and access to the wealth of knowledge, experience and strategic documents we could use in reviving the innovative business environment in Pardubice. Our visits and the long discussions with the excellent Launchpad Team in Barnsley also helped us to understand the importance of creating a friendly and open-minded atmosphere, when it comes to supporting businesses; something you experience the very first moment you enter the Digital Media Centre in Barnsley and smell the coffee from the cart in the lobby. Many of the things we learned from our colleagues in Barnsley we started to apply immediately after our return to Pardubice: for instance, in P-PINK we launched a series of workshops for new enterprises, based on Lean Canvas methodology and the events we attended at the DMC.

Outcome: We Have A Building!

In March 2020 the COVID-19 crisis started. Everything changed immediately: in our network, planned transnational meetings, events, partner visits were cancelled, while in Pardubice many local businesses – our clients - suffered a serious blow. That was the moment when we realized that we needed to turn this situation to our advantage and do something to address this new challenge. Together with our ULG partners we introduced webinars helping businesses to deal with the new problems in many different ways. While we successfully adapted to the “new normal”, many of the small- and medium sized businesses in Pardubice have been seriously hit by the crisis. We realized that our most important job was to do something and help as many businesses as possible to overcome these difficulties and survive.

A mere 2 weeks after lockdown in March we introduced a brand-new service – a Business Ambulance for those entrepreneurs who needed immediate advice or consultation. It was soon apparent that demand for this service was really high, so we added a “chatbot” on our website to automate and streamline the process. One of the many key learnings from our TechRevolution journey is that when working with businesses, you can only be relevant if you are agile, respond to needs and adapt to changes rapidly; it was exactly this new mindset that enabled us to rise to this challenge immediately.

While our ULG meetings continued in an online format, their focus changed significantly: instead of talking about the transfer process, we kept ideating on new ways to help businesses and minimize the negative impacts of the pandemic on local economy. We are now preparing an online roundtable where representatives of the businesses, some of the ULG members and the city political representatives discuss the support the businesses need and what the city – and the various other actors – can do to help them.

Concluding Thoughts

While the URBACT project is approaching its end, we are committed to keep following the path we set. There will be inevitable failures and setbacks on the way, but we are ready to face them because now we know - thanks to the Tech Revolution network - that we can overcome them: we are now more open to breaking the barriers and building bridges.

Learning Logs