For him, startups are like drugs. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop working for the community. And that’s exactly the case of Marek, one of the co-founders and Executive Officer at Eastcubator. Eastcubator is the biggest and probably the most well-known co-working space and incubator in the eastern part of Slovakia. Today, we present you its story, challenges and future plans. Please, welcome Marek Lavcak.
Marek, can we start with your own personal story? What is your background?
I come from a small village in the foothills of High Tatras. When I was young, I loved math so I went to grammar school with additional lessons of math and physics and fell in love with science, technologies and stuff like that. That’s why I started my economy studies in Kosice. During the last years, I have fallen in love with the city and its atmosphere. Now, I live here with my wife, and we’ve both found our new home and jobs here.
Do you remember when you first heard about the startup world? Why did it attract your attention?
I was working with my friend and colleague Peter Vrabel on the National Development Project AZU. It is an education project which helps to improve professional skills of students to make them more visible in the labour market. While I was working there, I met Matej Ftacnik in Zilina during one of our events, and we talked about his job. It was about four or five years ago, and I got familiar with The Spot and its vision. After that, Peter Vrabel became a local organizer of Startup Weekend in Kosice and brought me to his team. I experienced the atmosphere of creating ideas, shaping them and building up business models in a very short time for the first time. It was amazing, and I got crushed by the world of startups 🙂
“The Eastcubator was built for the community by the community.”
Eastcubator is a co-working space and incubator in the biggest city of Eastern Slovakia, Kosice. How and when did the first idea to open it occurred? Why did you decide to go for it? Who are the founders?
Good questions, they bring a lot of memories. The very first idea came after Startup Weekend in 2013. We wanted to create the same atmosphere, not only for a single week of the year but an atmosphere that surrounds us every day, every hour and every second.
Peter started to think about a space for young tech guys, entrepreneurs, wannabees. We began looking for a place that would be a great fit for a new co–working space and, eventually, found out that something like that had existed before. Marek Kuzma (Innocent store) and Jozef Kováč (Exponea) were working with the community in Eastcubator–the very first co-working and education space in Kosice, dedicated to the community of entrepreneurs, startups and geeks. Even though they had their own businesses, they willingly shared their knowledge and lessons learned. However, the original Eastcubator had to be closed for some reasons.
They helped us with a lot of experience and advice, so we wanted to make the vision and mission of Eastcubator reborn. I can’t remember all the details, but we started as a compact wolf pack of four guys – Peter Vrabel, Matus Ondas, Viliam Vajda and me. We found the place in March 2014 and began with reconstruction works. The Eastcubator was built for the community by the community, and thanks to all the people we had helped before.
You have been a part of the Slovak startup ecosystem for quite a while. What did the beginnings of Eastcubator look like? What do you think about the progress you made when you compare your first year with the latest one?
During our first years, we were homeless startup supporters. We just hanged around and organized events like Startup Weekend, Hackathons, some workshops and courses about technology and business skills. Then we realized we had become a part of national community, and there were so many people around ready to help us. Most of all, I would like to thank the guys from The Spot – Matej Ftacnik, Ivan Debnar, our fellows from Zilina – and hundreds of people all over the Europe. Thanks to their support, we started doing really good job helping startups to be born and to grow. We were very well prepared when we opened the co-working space, with a great network of mentors, friends and supporters we had met during our homeless times.
The first eight months were difficult because we had to educate people and tell them about the advantages of not working at home and creating a co–working culture instead. Even during those months, we provided consultations to teams of young entrepreneurs and helped them get in touch with the right mentors and investors. After almost two years, I can tell we have grown up. Not only as a co-working and startup centre, but also as people – both mentally and professionally. We are still fighting a lot of issues, but it is much easier than it was two years ago.
“If you want to help people with their business, it is necessary to be trusted.”
What are the greatest challenges you have faced?
The biggest challenge? I think the most difficult part was to build trust. You know, if you want to help people with their business, it is necessary to be trusted. They need to be sure that you can help and you know what you are doing. People are very careful when it comes to money and business; they don’t want to fail because of anybody.
What services do you offer, both as a co-working space and as an incubator?
As a co-working space, we provide cheap offices with infrastructure and all the necessary equipment, along with education, courses and workshops. On the other hand, we offer consultations, networking possibilities, and we help with business plans and pitch-decks creation to teams. Our incubation program is for free, and most of our activities and events except for the co-working are non-profit. I know, it may seem strange, but we are a non-profit incubator. All the money we earn, are invested back to the ecosystem in order to make it grow.
Can you tell us what teams and startups are currently in Eastcubator and what projects are the part of your program?
If I told that to you, I would have to kill you. Just kidding 🙂 We work mostly with tech startups – both software and hardware. The reason is our network is customized to this kind of startups, therefore, we can help them much better. We provide home for BoldBurg, Ticketware, Passbus, The Platňa, Excalibur, and two more teams which I cannot say a single word about because they could really kill me (and there’s no kidding. Ok, maybe a little 🙂 Then you can find about 14 freelancers and remote developers in our space.
“Startups are like a drug – once you try it, it is difficult to stop.”
Can we name and elaborate on some of the most important events you organize?
We keep working on the Startup Weekend, which we find as an entry gate to the community of startups. Then there are small thematic open hackathons dedicated to hot topics from our local ecosystem. Last time, virtual reality was the main theme.
Then we provide space and support for any activity based in the local community. For example, a few years ago, a group of tech lovers and programmers started to arrange meetups in our space, so we helped them with promo and space. Now, every meetup is bigger and better than the previous one, and we think that it is the way to help our environment. No duplication, but cooperation.
…and personally, what is your most favourite one? Why?
I still love Startup Weekend the most. One can meet a lot of new people with dreams, expectations and the belief that everything is possible. For us as organizers, it is the week when we meet guys from Zilina and Bratislava who are working on their local events, we have a lot of discussions and also a lot of fun.
On the other hand, I really love Hackathon organized by T-Systems here in Kosice, because it is huge and dedicated to students. Last year, we were there with Viliam as consultants and met wonderful people with similar attitude towards the ecosystem in Kosice. By the way, it will be held again on November 26th.
What does your daily job as the Executive Officer look like?
As I mentioned before, nobody from our board is paid from the income of our centre. We still have to pay the bills, therefore, during the day, I am busy with my regular job. After my working hours (or during – but don’t tell that to my boss! 🙂 ) I prepare events, meetings and new projects with my colleagues. My wife could tell you that it takes a lot of time, but startups are like a drug – once you try it, it is difficult to stop. You will look for guys with similar addiction, just to be a part of that world. A few weeks ago, I changed my job, so now I do things very close to the community. My day is a combination of the things I love to do.
“We are working on a big education program for children from elementary schools.”
Can you reveal some of the future plans of Eastcubator?
I can tell we are working on a big education program which will continuously prepare and educate children from elementary schools to become professionals, to think in a different way thanks to the knowledge of both technical and business skills. We will be ready to launch it next year in January. Besides that, we will continue with all our activities.
What is the best way to approach you?
The best way is to visit us in the old city hall at Hviezdoslavova 7 in Kosice or contact us via e–mail hello(at)eastcubator.sk, Facebook page or webpage. Or simply by shouting “Where can I find Eastcubator?” in the streets of Košice
Photos: Marek Lavcak