The History of SPICE
How it all began
A gray and rainy day
In November 1991, the Annual Conference of the ADT, the "German Association of Innovation and Technology Centers" had something special to offer. For the first time, in addition to the "usual" international participants--most of the Central and East European countries were represented.
Just two years earlier, the Berlin Wall became obsolete (some say accidentally), and a new era had begun. A new time full of hopes, expectations, dreams, and visions. East and West met at this conference but still found it difficult to talk with each other. This was less a matter of languages than a matter of different backgrounds, experience, and definitions. The words were received and understood--but did the terms used mean the same in the different countries? The official conference did not offer sufficient room and time for a discussion, for learning more about each other, for beginning to develop an understanding. Therefore a "round table" meeting for the international attendees was organized after the conference.
Some twenty people were sitting around this "round table" (a famous term in those days, although with a different meaning) under the roof of the BIG Berlin, the first German business incubator and technology park (founded 1983). Most of the participants met for the first time. Therefore, everyone took the chance to report on his or her situation, plans, concepts, expectations, visions, and conclusions drawn from the conference participation. These country presentations became a tradition for the following meetings: An up-date on the recent developments in business incubation and entrepreneurship in the different countries. Now, the Country Reports of the ICECE News are continuing this tradition for a wider audience.
The round table meeting turned out to be one of the most interesting parts of the conference. The open and personal atmosphere was the key. The participants did not present a showcase but offered realistic information, asked clear questions, and listened carefully.
At that time, the "Westerners" were obsessed with teaching the "Easterners", not knowing much (if anything) about their situation and needs. The "Easterners" were overeager to learn from the "Westerners", and not used to insisting on getting their questions answered. An important result of the discussion was to understand that not only could the East learn from the West. The transfer of information was also needed in the opposite direction, as well as between the "Eastern Countries".
West-East and East-East
To give proper advice, the advisor should know about the situation and background of those who are supposed to receive and implement the knowledge. This is common sense, but during the first years after wide political changes not many people seemed to remember. You still can find the untouched business plans for technology parks or innovation centers in the desks of Central and East European institutions--business plans developed by Western experts without knowledge of and sensibility for the situation and needs of their Eastern partners. The West-East know-how transfer was not always efficient.
Most importantly, the discussion at the round table showed an obvious potential for an exchange of experience between the Central and East European partners. This East-East transfer was not very "fashionable" at the time. The keywords were West-East transfer and cooperation.
It was agreed to meet again as soon as possible to continue the discussion and learning process integrating all components: the West-East and East-West transfer, as well as the exchange of information between the Central and East European countries. "To meet again" is one of the most common conclusions of a conference. Therefore, to check the interest of the (future) participants, a rule was introduced: A "member" should take the initiative and invite. The guests should cover their travel cost themselves.
ICECE/SPICE meetings became a regular part on the agendas of the SPICE Group members. Slava Khodko took the initiative to invite the second and third meetings to be held in St. Petersburg (March and June 1992), and also organized the First ICECE Forum in St. Petersburg (January 1993). This was later followed by the Second ICECE Forum in Budapest (November 1995) hosted by Peter Nagy and Aniko Soltesz. The Third ICECE Forum was held in Kaunas (June 1997, invited by Pranas Milius). The Work Group helped organized the conference BALTIC DYNAMICS in Riga with the ICECE Forum IV hosted by Janis Stabulnieks in 1998 and the ICECE Forum V was held in 1999 in two parts. The fifth forum began in Tallinn with Raivo Tamkivi as the host, and concluded in St. Petersburg.
The year 2000 was very active for SPICE Group: 22 SPICE events in 14 countries.
An important step
In the sixth year of operations, the Work Group made an important decision. The most active and engaged members decided to establish the SPICE Group. With a minimum of formalities and financial contribution from the members, the SPICE Group (with members from 29 countries) was established in 1998 and has since become the organizational core of activities. The new name also reflects that the network became global. Not only did the Group widen geographically, it also integrated further professional fields: legal experts, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs have joined.
External partners have recognized this group and contributed to its projects. The German Marshall Fund of the United States, the German Federal Ministries for Economy and Technology / Education and Research, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation have all recently supported SPICE Group projects.
Even though the professional background of members has changed since the first meeting in November, 1991, and many new members have joined, the principle of personal participation and involvement with the lowest possible level of formal obligations has proved to be the strongest basis for maintaining and extending cooperation. A functioning network has been established, and we invite you to join.