Eastern Slovakia has the potential to become an inspiration for others

Interview

text: Nikolas Bernáth, foto: Mariana Bodnárova

When we talked with Marek Lavčák about the time and place of this interview, we suggested some closest work space. The answer was: “My office is the entire city of Košice.” Marek is interested in the development of the city through business and community. When not satisfied with something, he does not hesitate to make himself public. Take an open letter that he has hanged out as a status on Facebook and later has had 8,000 sharings for example. Learn more about his local patriotism.

When we were trying to set up a place for this interview, you told me that the entire city of Košice is your office. What did you mean by that?

That’s because I do many things. My full time job is marketing at Deutsche Telekom. It’s a very creative work that I really enjoy but I really need a quiet place outside the office for some calls. Sometimes I work from home and there are also days when I have many meetings with people from all over the world, whether at Eastcubator or in coffee shops. Within a single day, I cover the entire city and that’s why I see it as my office.

Tell us more about your activities.

In addition to my full time job, I spend a lot of time working for Eastcubator. Over the past three years, we’ve managed to organise many workshops, for instance about Jabra and various web platforms. We’ve realised that, instead of trying to compete with the many talented people who live here, it would be much better to offer them a chance to create communities. I’ve just had a meeting with a guy who works with WordPress and has a group of people with whom he cooperates. They invite speakers and offer courses at various levels, from beginners to advanced.

And then there are your events.

We were probably the first to start organising events in Košice. Prior to that, there had been coworking spaces but those were little more than huge open offices where one could rent a table. We, on the other hand, came up with the idea to put the community first. Start up Weekend at the Technical University was our first major event. Its aim was to bring young businessmen together, let them work for 54 hours on an idea of their own and present a complete business model, or even the product itself, at the end of it. The intense atmosphere and energy that we experienced was something we wanted to have in Košice all year long. Our next event was the Hackathon. We simply went and bought some refreshments and invited people to come along and take 24 hours to work on projects they’d been planning to finish for some time. Later, we started inviting businessmen to give lectures and somewhere along the way, a community of people eager to help us with future events was born. That’s when we started looking for a space of our own.

What year are you talking about?

That was before 2014 and it took us another year to find an adequate space. We were just students with very little money so we turned to the city and regional government to help us find a cheap place to rent. Finally, we found this space at the Old Town’s town-hall and remodeled it on our own, with the help of our friends. Once we were done, we were able to bring all our activities under one roof.

Did you call this place coworking right from the start?

We did, however, the concept was not so well-known in the Eastern Slovakia back then. Even though many people were already working from home, they could not understand why they should change anything about it and we were not ready to answer that question. It was only when we ourselves started working here that we realised how important it was to have a home and a separate workspace. All of a sudden, my girlfriend was no longer an annoying colleague and our relationship changed dramatically. We started talking about the concept of coworking with other people, some of whom decided to give it a try. Three years ago, when we first started, we had hardly any clients. Today, there are about 60.

What do you offer your clients?

Right from the beginning, we knew that the space itself was not a very interesting one. Therefore, we chose to focus on what’s inside. Anyone interested in renting a table has a month to try it out first. It’s important to have good chemistry with people who already work here. There are several coworking spaces in Košice and instead of competing for the same clients, we’ve each chosen a different group that we focus on. Halmi is primarily about freelances, Huba attracts designers, architects and other creative professionals and Co-šicke is home to a wide range of businessmen. Our domain is the IT sector and that’s great because our clients tend to prefer function and content over form and design. We invite speakers from abroad as well as people from major companies, from whom they can learn about new, interesting technologies.

How has your work changed since you first opened this place as a group of young students?

For instance, we all have families and mortgages now and considerably less free time. But what has not changed is the idea of creating a place where people can do what they like and create a community. That means we’re no longer the only ones who do all the activities and as new people join in, the quality of our events improves.

One of your recent Facebook statuses has recently attracted tens of thousands of reactions. What was it about?

It was an open letters to the leaders of our country. I simply had to say how I felt about the events of the past few months, especially the now legendary statement about there being nothing in Eastern Slovakia. I’m a huge local patriot so that really got me going!

I’ve lived in Košice for 8 years and became very fond of the city. It’s full of smart people, many of whom work on their own projects. There are big and small companies and many cultural events. The city and the entire region have grown so much in the last decade. When talking about Eastcubator, for instance, there’s one not only in Košice but also in Prešov and Bardejov.

In Bardejov? Tell us about it.

I once attended an event in Bardejov with 100 people, 90 of whom were freelance developers, who had recently moved back to Slovakia. That’s when I realised that location doesn’t matter anymore. Many people have returned to Eastern Slovakia where they can do practically anything.

In other words, we might not have highways but what we do have are people.

Exactly. And people are the greatest asset of all. Everyone has been complaining about the unfinished highway but a major IT company based their decision to come to Košice on an analysis, which saw this situation as a great advantage. For them, it means loyalty to the region, less heavy industry and more potential for the development of soft skills.

What would you say is the next step that the city of Košice should take?

We should focus more on working on our own projects. IT companies interested in coming to Košice often reach out to us first. Eastcubator has come to play a role that is similar to what Tabačka and CIKE have been doing in terms of culture. I believe that in future, we should start looking beyond this city and become an inspiration for those around us.

What has made your projects so successful?

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been crossing all the boundaries and was lucky to have very supportive parents. And that’s where my motivation comes from. Fortunately, I’ve never had to work on a project alone and the group of likeminded people that I’ve worked with has grown over the years. Currently, most of our activities are motivated by making the city and the country a better place and to show people good things that have been tried and tested elsewhere. My wife and I are expecting a child and that’s made our motivation to change things even stronger.

Book your room at The Invisible Hotel and with a local guide find out that the East is full of great things. Find inspiration at www.invisiblehotel.sk.


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