One of the European Union’s top three regions for starting and sustaining businesses is looking to foster ties with Georgia’s ascendant film and gaming industries.
Soon after being named one of three European Entrepreneurial Regions in June, the Czech region of South Moravia (a jurisdiction similar to a U.S. state) is spending the next year working to capitalize on this rare recognition.
The award may be new, but the success was two decades in the making, said South Moravia Gov. Jan Grolich, who is leading a delegation to Atlanta this week.
Twenty years ago, when the Czech Republic was in the process of acceding to the European Union (it gained membership in 2004), structural funding was set aside to create the South Moravian Innovation Center, known as JIC.
The vision was to link the regional government, the city of Brno (the regional capital and country’s second largest city), local universities and the private sector to make the region a “home for globally successful entrepreneurs.”
That applies to homegrown startups pursuing international markets, such as structural software firm Idea Statica, as well as outside companies setting up shop in Brno to take advantage of its well-trained workforce and ample university research.
“It’s important for us, because we are the first region in the Czech Republic to get this award,” Mr. Grolich told Global Atlanta during a visit to the Advanced Technology Development Center, itself a decades-old startup incubator at the nexus of corporate innovation and academia within Georgia Tech.
As South Moravia’s innovation center grew, Mr. Grolich said, its globally competitive sectors started to take shape. Beyond its key niche in electron microscopy, they map well to Georgia’s: cybersecurity, film, video games and information technology.
Czech Honorary Consul Monika Vintrlikova, who hails from South Moravia and has lived in Georgia for about a decade, saw the parallels and helped the governor realize he could prospect for partnerships here.
Brno, Mr. Grolich said, is where the Czech government decided to seat its national cybersecurity hub. Georgia in 2010 was awarded the U.S. Army Cyber Command at Fort Gordon in Augusta. Both are working to train the next generation to better defend their nations’ critical digital assets.
But video game development and film production is where the governor is inviting Georgia, one of the top movie-making locales in the world, to bring its “know-how” to his corner of the Czech Republic.
“It’s a very good inspiration for us,” he said of the state’s film and gaming sectors.
The South Moravian Innovation Center, he said, has a “daughter company” focused on creative industry that is soon to be enlarged, inviting local students and startups to commercialize their gaming ideas. The graphics, visual effects and animations created should also spill over into Brno’s budding film and TV sector, Mr. Grolich said.
The governor pointed to the city’s privately run Television Institute, another testament to what Mr. Grolich called the “mutual trust of the local innovation community” in his acceptance statement to the EU.
With the help of universities, the institute has created courses for content producers, aiming to position local storytellers to fill global studios’ ravenous appetite for content in the streaming age.
Each year, it hosts the Serial Killer festival, a celebration of Czech and European TV and Web series, to close out the summer. This year’s event takes place Sept. 19-24.
“There is a big opportunity for Brno to become a place where Eastern European TV production meets the West,” Mr. Grolich said.
While it’s too late for Georgia to be featured this year, the governor has invited the Georgia Department of Economic Development to become the “ambassador state” for next year’s event — a would-be first.
“Every year it’s a European state, but the founders are open to to idea that it will be outside of Europe and would be would be honored if it could be Georgia,” he said.
For Mr. Grolich, economic development trips abroad are a rare endeavor. Czech states, he said, are disincentivized from recruiting foreign business because any additional income tax revenue they generate will be put into a national pool that will be redistributed to all regions equally.
As in Georgia, such trips also carry political risk, as locals question the wisdom of public spending for sending leaders abroad. He understands the skepticism.
“I don’t like political business trips which are formal and all about cultural collaboration,” he said.
But past missions to Georgia have yielded business success for Brno companies, he said. Now the 39-year-old governor is selling the city and the broader South Moravian region as a more livable Silicon Valley, a bustling innovation hub that nonetheless remains affordable relative to other European cities, offers a more measured pace of life and retains a distinct cultural heritage.
Soon, the Czech version of Forbes magazine will release a special section on South Moravia, which the government paid to have translated into English to boost its profile in Brussels and in the U.S.
“I’m interested in how it will look,” said Mr. Grolich, the sole governor from the Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL) across the Czech Republic’s 13 regions.
He’s also working aggressively to boost the region’s role in semiconductor supply chains, acknowledging that it may not win current votes, but that it will sow seeds of prosperity for future generations.
The former lawyer, first elected first to his South Moravian town council at 26 and jumping straight to the governorship 10 years later, now shares his perspectives and activities to tens of thousands of social media followers, joining podcasts, taking interviews and now even traveling to the U.S. for the first time.
“I think is good when there are young people in politics, because I can see energy; they can give great efforts and are pro-change,” he said.
In addition to their visit to Georgia Tech, Mr. Grolich and the university officials traveling with him toured the Georgia State University’s Creative Media Industries Institute, discussing ways to connect faculty for future collaboration.
They also took in the Atlanta Falcons home opener, witnessing the spectacle of American football in one of the NFL’s flashiest stadiums.
“In our country, it’s only about sport — or sport and beer,” he said, noting that hockey and soccer games at home lack the same nonstop entertainment factor. “But here, every minute there’s something happening in the stadium. It’s great.”