As reported by the Hartford Business Journal, October 20, 2008.

Baltic Reps Tout Region’s Tech Savvy

By Jason Millman

Dalia Giedrimiene said she has seen the future — and it’s in the Baltics.

Since starting up the Baltic-New England Development Network Inc. (Baltnet) less than two years ago, Giedrimiene has been touting the technological developments in the Baltic region — consisting of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — and trying to find working partners in Connecticut.

Some technologies that may seem new in the United States have already become standard in the region.

“People are paying for parking meters through their cell phones like it’s no big deal,” Giedrimiene said.

And it was a team from Tallinn, Estonia, that developed the software that enables people to make Skype international phone calls over the Internet. The group was acquired by eBay in 2005.

Still Hesitant

The region’s advances in technology, especially in biotechnology, laser and pharmaceuticals, have given Giedrimiene an obvious link for her to market in New England, with its large concentration of academic institutions and biotechnology companies.

If successful, the trade network will make Connecticut and New England one of the first regular U.S. trading partners for the Baltics, a region still coming into its own economically almost two decades after becoming independent states following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 2004, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania received a boost when they were granted admission into the European Union, an association that gives the Baltic countries additional trading resources and benefits. Last year, the three countries combined for $31.3 billion in exports and $40.6 billion in imports.

The difficulty, however, remains in convincing Baltic companies to engage in U.S. trade, Giedrimiene said. The rules and regulations are still unknown to many, though they now have access to EU trade lawyers. she added.

“They want to know there will be the protection of their innovations,” Giedrimiene said. “We’ve got lawyers on board.”

Though Baltnet’s ultimate goal is to include the entire New England region, Connecticut is a logical first step because many of the network’s board members are located in the state. To get the network off the ground, Giedrimiene said she has been relying on established groups in the region, such as the MetroHartford Alliance and the Biomedical Engineering Alliance & Consortium, or BEACON.

“We want to connect with existing networks,” Giedrimiene said. “We don’t want to rediscover things that already exist.”

Baltnet last month had an opportunity to boost its profile at MEDi2008, a medical device conference and exhibition held at the Connecticut Convention Center. Several companies from the Baltic countries showcased their work, and representatives from Latvia’s Riga Technical University were in attendance.

University interaction has been one of the main focuses for Giedrimiene as she looks to bolster the group’s base in Connecticut. The medical device conference provided the chance for members of Baltic countries to meet with doctors from the University of Connecticut Health Center.

Dr. Harris Marcus, who met with some members of the Baltic delegation, said the meeting showed that the region has taken significant steps toward furthering economic development.

“That area, of course, was a whole hotbed for problems, so they’re just coming out of it now in the last 20 years and starting to become competitive again,” said Marcus, director of the UCHC Institute of Materials Science.

Affiliation Agreement

Marcus said he noticed there were some obvious overlaps in the areas of biomaterials and nanotechnologies. The UCHC and Kaunas University of Medicine in Lithuania wound up signing an affiliation agreement to develop collaborative opportunities between the two academic institutions’ researchers and faculty members.

Dina Eglite, deputy director of investment and development for Latvia’s embassy in Washington, said Baltnet has taken impressive steps toward creating business opportunities.

“My cooperation experience with Baltnet and personally with Dalia has been really great, especially during the MEDi exhibition,” Eglite said.

Dr. Jon Golberg, UCHC director of the Center for Biomaterials, said embassy involvement would be key to expediting further collaborations with the Baltic countries.

“It helps us both consider and think about ideas we might be able to do with the other as a partner,” he said. “That’s often the most beneficial because it expands the potential for both of us.”