2014 was a record making milestone for Garage48, with new formats & new markets!

When we founded Garage48 back in 2010 we had one idea in mind - we wanted to show that launching a new startup is much easier than people may think. Since then many things have changed, but our goal to promote startup culture to larger audiences in the Baltics & developing markets has remained the same. Something that started as a one time event in Tallinn, Estonia has grown into truly international startup movement. 2014 was the best year ever for Garage48 -  with the record number of events, participants, new formats and new markets! In 2014 we had the record number of hackathons - 14 and with whopping 1116 participants

As our team is very small (today we have a full time staff of 3 people, but also many great volunteers and mentors), we don't want to increase the number of events per year too fast. That is the reason why we consider 14 events a very big number for us.  Our goal is to offer Garage48 hackathon participants equally kick ass feelings in all our activities independent whether it's happening in dark Nordic winter weekend in Tallinn (Estonia) or in extremely hot East-African city Kampala (Uganda). So our team is always personally around in our events, making sure that we deliver highest quality. 
This year we entered new amazing markets like MoldovaPalestine, Oman & Georgia. In many ways our first event in Oman, Muscat was very memorable. Coming from Estonia, a cold Nordic country in Europe, our team learned a lot about Middle East culture & Arabic countries, the hospitality of all the people we met and how they approach the entrepreneurship with a little different twist. This made us realize that the Arabic market is pretty untouched by the startup community. Because of this & amazing local partners, there will be more events in Oman and the countries close by, very soon.

Personally, I am extremely happy that in 2014 we were back in Ukraine, where we visited beautiful Lviv for the first time. We are planning to organize more events in Ukraine in 2015 as this country has huge potential to grow to an amazing community of startups. In 2015 we will have events in Kiev, but also in charming Odessa. In 2014 we continued our cooperation with Belarus by organizing events in Minsk and for the first time in Vitebsk. I have to mention, that this country is still a quite challenging place to organize events. 

After a small break (3 years) we went back to Africa - we had (and still have) the second best event in Uganda, Kampala. This time it wasn’t just a weekend hackathon with an additional focus to motivate women to come out with ideas, but a longer volunteer project that focuses on doing practical trainings, workshops and mentoring the potentially successful startups. Designer, Garage48 volunteer and mentor, Helen Kokkspent 3 months in Uganda teaching UX & designer skills to local startup entrepreneurs. Second designer, Garage48 volunteer and mentor, Jaanus Sakkis just arrived back working on similar goals and growing the local Design Uganda community. We are confident that the practical workshops are the best possible way to improve and grow the startup community in Uganda.

And now about Estonia, where we had 5 events in 2014! This is remarkably huge number for a country that has the same size as just one borough in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Our home base and a good ground to test different ideas, we introduced a new format for events - one of them a week-long startup camp for IT & business students. The Student Startup Camp took place in February in cooperation with the University of Tartu. As it proved to be very successful we organized the second event in October in Moldova together with the Technical University of Moldova and USAID CEED II project. Compared to our “usual hackathons content”, the camps include more practical lectures and workshops in addition to the main goal  to build the product.

In February our co-founder Priit Salumaa introduced another new format - an event where software, hardware and art is combined - that’s how Garage48 Hardware & Arts was born. Despite many fears and risks (this event has way bigger costs & more challenges for the organizing team & participants ) it ended up being our most successful event ever! The event had a record number of prototypes. The participants and teams were really experienced and eager to achieve good results. A year after the first hardware event 6 teams out of 20 are still alive, teams have founded real companies and they are working to bring their innovative products to market! Usually only 1-2 teams will turn weekend hackathon experience & prototype into a real company, so 30% success rate is super high. One of them is Natufia Labs (the internet of greenhouse team)!

In November 2014 we had another special event in Estonia - Garage48 Enable Tallinnthat focused on joining forces with people with disabilities and introducing the needs and opportunities of the technological world to make daily life easier for many people in our society. It ended with 10 prototypes and huge amount of positive emotions. Event organizer Maarika Susidescribed it as the warmest and most positive event after 20 events she has helped to organize. Maarika also organizedHealth&Wellness special event in Tallinn during the Estonian ICT Week and Pärnu Women Special in autumn, which had a record number of women participating and great teams. All this experience will surely keep Maarika working with special events during 2015, first of them focused on clean technologies and environment on the 8th to 10th of May in Tallinn. 

Last year we had just one event in Latvia - focused on gamification and entertainment. But my dear friends from “Latvian Mafia” promised that in 2015 we will have at least 3 awesome events: Hardware & Arts will be the first full fledged hardware hackathon in Latvia, while Open Data and Public Services will be aimed to open up the data vaults of municipalities and government to build services for the society and you can expect also an Open event for all types of ideas.

As all our main markets are small, we started to link communities between countries more actively. As a result we had growing number of participants, who traveled just to take part of our events. In Estonia event we had participants from 10 different countries. We encouraged this exchange so twice we organized startupbus from the Baltics to drive our events in Belarus - both in Minsk & Vitebsk. We also organized a bus from Riga to our first hardware hackathon in Tartu, Estonia. I strongly believe that if we connect small neighbouring countries like the Baltics, Belarus & Ukraine the more we will have successful startups from this region. We have already several examples out of this cooperation, as one of our most successful alumnis Trackduck has great mix of founders - CEO & marketing power from Lithuania & technical talents from Belarus. 

Many people keep asking me how our top teams are doing after the event. Unfortunately, we don't have daily data from all of our teams & participants. But by my information VitalFields (Estonia), TrackDuck(Belarus-Lithuania), Qminder (Estonia), Metricscat (Belarus) and myTips (Ukraine) have found investors and their revenue is growing. 2013 alumni GoWorkaBit (Estonia) entered the Finnish market recently and our 2013 alumni Taxify, co-founded by Garage48 co-founder Martin Villig, was chosen as the best Estonian startup in 2014 just a few weeks ago. 

As I mentioned Garage48 has a pretty small team. None of these magical events couldn't have happened without the people behind Garage48 Foundation. I want to personally thank Krists Avots, who was leading our daily operations; Karin Rand, who made a huge improvement in the foundation’s financial side; Jane Muts, who improved our co-working space HUB in Tallinn - both in the overall quality but also in the financial side. My very special thanks goes to Maarika Susi, who organized so many kick ass events! And last but not least - we were helped by an amazing army of volunteers. I would like to bring out our most active volunteer Triin Liiv, who is leading our social media. And Alvo Aabloo from Tartu University and Anu Piirisild from Estonian Academy of Arts, who are helping passionately with our Hardware & Arts hackathons. And my young sister Elise Sass, who contributed as team member, volunteer and a mentor. 

But we can not make any event without super skilled mentors. And as master brains behind Garage48 are active entrepreneurs, we choose mentors very carefully, being sure that they have relevant experience. Looking back to 2014 we had several tens of them. This time i will personally thank Helen KokkMaret Kruve & Maido Parv, who helped countless teams with design. Jaan Kruusma, who opened magic behind marketing. And Martin Grüner, whose technical experience solved many problems, what teams faced.

All of this couldn't have happened also thanks to our Sponsors & Partners. We want to thank you all for contributing to the events, especially: Microsoft, Estonian Development Fund, Credit24, Enterprise Estonia, US Embassies in Tallinn and Kampala, Embassy of Kingdom of the Netherlands, Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Estonian Development Cooperation, ITA in Oman, University of Tartu, Estonian Academy of Arts and Startup Vitamins.

In 2015 this great team will continue improving and participating in the startup community in Eastern Europe, Africa but also in Middle East. If I look at our events roadmap today, there are some pretty good surprises for 2015 and I can promise, that despite of our 4 years of age, Garage48 keeps challenging itself every week  - we still feel like a startup! Rock on!

P.S. It’s not too late to join the startup revolution - our next kick ass event will take place in just few weeks in Tartu! 
Join Garage48 Hardware&Arts from 6-8 February, registration is open!

Blogpost written by Garage48 co-founder Ragnar Sass
See our Garage48 in retrospective infographic here: https://infogr.am/garage48-in-retrospect