Lithuania, a tiny country with a population of roughly 3 million, has something the city of Akron wants: Innovators hungry to turn their ideas into commercial products.
The city this week is hosting more than 20 Lithuanians, hoping the entrepreneurs and startup companies will pick Akron as their gateway into the U.S. market.
On Wednesday morning, officials from the city and a top Lithuanian technology university signed a memorandum of understanding to work together on commercialization of products — including those with medical applications — and job creation in Akron and Lithuania.
The signing ceremony at Akron City Hall was big on pomp and circumstance, including the playing of a recorded version of the Lithuanian national anthem. Officials from the Lithuanian school — Kaunas University of Technology — presented Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic with a ceremonial sash.
Plusquellic said the Life Sciences Baltics, a medical trade fair in Lithuania, was instrumental in forging the agreement. The city’s Deputy Mayor For Economic Development Bob Bowman attended the event last year.
“I don’t know that Bob Bowman has ever been so excited,” Plusquellic said, “coming back from a trip and explaining all the innovation and technology that he witnessed the first time he went to Lithuania.”
Plusquellic said the business-development agreement is about long term job-growth potential: “There’s not this expectation that these [agreements lead to] hundreds of people coming here. It’s a matter of starting a company and then growing those companies slowly.
“It’s not an impressive number [of jobs] that we’re trying to show you, it’s the number of people who have great interest” in Akron’s entrepreneurial resources.
The city and affiliated organizations have entered other “science and technology bridge” agreements with entities in Finland, Germany, Israel and Slovenia.
The deal brings together Kaunas in Lithuania and Akron’s business incubator, the Akron Global Business Accelerator, home to dozens of companies, and housed in the former B.F. Goodrich complex in downtown Akron.
The co-director of the Lithuanian Trade Office in Chicago, Linas Klimavicius, said the university is the “leader of commercializing technology in Lithuania.”
University officials, he said, were impressed with the “amazing conglomeration of resources that are available here [in Akron] for a business that is ready to take off ... that’s looking for a much greater and larger market place.”
Key areas of potential cooperation include work on new materials for medical applications and new medical devices and diagnostic tools.
The Lithuanian delegation visiting Akron includes the two young founders of a tiny new company called Integrated Optics, which is developing small lasers. The lasers can be used in medical applications, such as imaging tumor cells, as well as in industrial processes, such as making stents — the small tubes inserted into veins.
The 28-year-old CEO of Integrated Optics, Evaldas Pabreza, who attended Wednesday’s signing, envisions teaming up with a local business to commercialize his products, as well as establishing some kind of research and development presence in Akron.
Ingrida Bublys, the honorary counsel general of the Republic of Lithuania, who is based in the Cleveland area, said Northeast Ohio has long welcomed Lithuanians, and is home to thousands of Lithuanian descent.
She noted that the trip coincides with Lithuania’s Independence Day. The country initially declared independence in 1918 but did not become independent from decades of Soviet occupation until 1990.
Petras Barsauskas, rector of Kaunas, said while the country is focusing on innovation, it faces a big challenge in finding money and other resources needed to commercialize products and tap the vast U.S. market.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com.