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Tartu breathes youth, academic spirit and bohemian sensibility.

"Tartu today is a European university city in which thousands of young people live and learn every day. It's one of the few cities in the world whose name includes the word 'art' in it, and it also fits perfectly into the word sTARTUp," says Urmas Klaas, the city's mayor. Klaas, currently serving his second term in office, kindly answered a set of questions by The Baltic Times.

Tartu recently launched its bid to become the 2024 European Capital City of Culture.

Could you share with us something about your entry, and what will be Tartu's theme if nominated, and the expected budget for the event?

Tartu today is a European university city where youth, academic spirit, a bohemian sensibility and the digital age come together. The Capital of Culture process offers an unparalleled opportunity for self-analysis and planning for the future. We want to look beyond the borders of Tartu and beyond 2024. In the longer term we all need a survival strategy. In such a situation the most important keyword is 'culture'. Here, with its experience and knowledge, Tartu can be of help. There's a number of key issues for us. First and foremost is our population, which must grow and that's primarily fuelled by young people who decide to stay and work here after graduating from university. Another issue is accessibility, in both the literal and figurative senses. Tartu needs to be well connected to Riga and Tallinn and therefore to Europe as a whole. Then there's the issue of our elderly and disabled residents feeling like truly valued members of society. Another key issue is the environment: Tartu is a green city, but we must be capable of maintaining the nature here sensibly in the future.

As for the Capital of Culture budget, we have examples from the 2017 titleholders, tiny Paphos on Cyprus and Denmark's second-largest city, Arhus. The former had a budget of 8 million [euro] whilst the latter had one of 61 million [euro]. Tartu's budget will fall somewhere between the two.

Tartu has held numerous high level international conferences such as the EU data protection reform that will be put into practice in May 2018. How does Tartu market itself to attract international conferences, and what events will be held in Tartu in the future?

To support conferences we have the Tartu Convention Bureau, which assists and advises [potential] conference organisers. Moreover, starting in 2018 Tartu City Government will be supporting local conference organisers twice a year through a support measure for conferences. So far one round of applications has already taken place and support has been distributed. The impact that this has had is already being seen.

New conference venues are appearing in the city each year, too. The V-Spa spa and conference hotel opened in late 2016, boasting a long-awaited hall accommodating 500 people, whilst the University of Tartu will be completing an extension to its sports building this year that will enable conferences to be held there for as many as 2,000 people.

The University of Tartu and the City of Tartu have worked together to establish the Startup Day business festival, with 3,000 participants, which won the Most Innovative Conference Solution of the Year title in 2017. It's an excellent example of the kind of event and/ or conference that can be organised in the city.

How important is tourism to the city's tax revenue? How are the city's finances? Do you know how many tourists visited Tartu in 2017? And what's the forecast for this year?

Unfortunately, no uniform statistics are gathered in Estonia on how much individual tourists spend in cities on things such as accommodation, transport, catering, attractions and souvenir), so it's impossible to present a specific figure. However, tourism plays a very important role in Tartu. Since the city boasts a lot of new attractions, and as it also hosts a lot of conferences due to the numerous institutions of higher education based here and its influential scientific and research landscape, we consider the marketing of both fields equally important.

In the last two years the number of visitors to Tartu has grown by almost 100,000, peaking in 2017 according to official accommodation statistics at 283,895. The main rise occurred last year, when the figure increased by more than 75,000 visitors. The reasons for this are the emergence of a number of new attractions including the Estonian National Museum, V-Spa and the rapidly developing Aparaaditehas as well as many new accommodation providers of which around 900 have sprung up in Tartu in recent years.

For many years Tartu has primarily been a cultural holiday destination, but in the last few years its image as a family holiday and business tourism destination has also strengthened significantly. Further growth is expected in 2018, although it's likely to remain within 10 per cent.

What major technological developments/tech start-ups have been setting up in Tartu?

One major new technological initiative is the launch of the city's European Space Agency business incubation centre. The City of Tartu is financially supporting the operations of the centre so as to offer exciting opportunities for our companies to develop highly innovative products and services. In addition, this will help create more value-added jobs in the region.

Another initiative we have high expectations for is a joint complex called Delta for the Institutes of Economics and ICT, including computer science, robotics, mathematics and more, at the University of Tartu. In order to foster university-industry cooperation we'll have offices for high-tech companies within the complex itself (If there are companies that are interested in working with the University of Tartu and joining our ecosystem, please contact Mr Erik Puura, Vice-Rector for Development of the University of Tartu (

There are many tech start-ups operating in Tartu. For example, one of our brightest stars, the mobile payment solution provider Fortumo, is working with Spotify, Google, Electronic Arts, Tencent and others. Mooncascade is a rapidly growing IT company which provides software solutions to high-level companies like Transferwise, which is shaking up the banking industry, and the world-leading life science company Merck. Click&Grow, the creator of the innovative Smart Garden, helps anyone grow fresh food, flowers and herbs in a 100 per cent natural way. ToxInvent is one of the incubation companies in the Tartu Biotechnology Park and they're developing smart cancer treatment in cooperation with the University of Tartu. Velmenni, which has developed ground-breaking data transmitting technology and that's now among the top five most valued organisations in the world of wireless data transmission, was accelerated in Tartu by Buildit.

What recipe did Tartu, which is dubbed as Estonia's Silicon Valley, follow to develop its local start-up community?

The key to success, as always, is the presence of smart, pro-active people. Our aim has been to encourage such people to work together and bring their crazy ideas to life. A great example of this is the sTARTUp Day business festival, which involves all of the major players in the ecosystem including companies, universities, business support organisations, the city government and national agencies. Thanks to this, the festival has grown to become one of the largest early-stage start-up events in Europe. The next edition will take place between Jan. 23 and 29, 2019. It will be amazing! I invite everybody to come along and enjoy the event.

Another great example is the development of two tech hubs in the heart of Tartu, namely the sTARTUp Hub and the SPARK Hub. These hubs house around 50 start-ups and tech companies and enable access to the local start-up community. They also provide meeting rooms and co-working space and host a variety of events.

Do you have any information on foreign investment in Tartu? What areas interest foreign investors? And why is Tartu a great city to live and invest in?

The greatest interest from foreign investors towards Tartu originates in three sectors, namely ICT, medicine and the bio-economy. Tartu is home to several large and internationally successful ICT companies which have functioned as excellent references and sparked foreign interest in the city. Spinoffs from these companies and universities, as well as the rapidly growing start-up community, have also attracted investors. This has led to various success stories including, of late, ZeroTurnaround and Ecofleet.

Medicine and biotechnology have always been trademarks of the city due to the reputation and success of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Tartu. Research and findings in this field such as genomics, screening and diagnostics have resulted in a wealth of know-how that's caught the attention of large pharmacy developers. Moreover, the combination of the IT infrastructure solutions available in Estonia, comprehensive and longitudinally recorded electronic health records and prescription data and the genetic information available in the Estonian Genome Centre forms an exceptional basis for the development of Personalised Medicine solutions, which has also been noticed abroad.

Whilst ICT and medicine rely almost completely on the talent pool of Tartu, the bio-economy also benefits from the natural resources the region has to offer. Forests and agricultural resources have created opportunities for companies from wood processing to biofuels, biomaterials and cleantech. This new economy is a motivating challenge for Tartu, which as the capital of the region has plenty of natural resources nearby. Combining these resources with the talent pool from universities and research organisations in the city is a value proposition which is being exercised more and more.

The driving force behind successful companies has always been talented people, and as the intellectual capital of Estonia we've lived up to expectations. We've got one of the best universities in Europe, with more than 16,400 university students and 7,000 in vocational studies. Intelligent, hard-working people generate smart ideas, which is why start-ups and smart manufacturing companies are booming here. We've also got some of the most liberal trade and investment laws in the world. The Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom 2017 rank Estonia as one of the freest economies in the world and the most tax-competitive country on the planet.

Caption: Tartu Mayor Urmas Klaas: One of the major new technological initiatives in Tartu is the launch of the European Space Agency business incubation centre
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Title Annotation:DECISION MAKERS
Author:Mustillo, Michael
Publication:The Baltic Times (Riga, Latvia)
Geographic Code:4EXES
Date:Feb 28, 2018
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