For many years, the most densely populated country in Europe was the Netherlands, but now that ambivalent honour goes to Malta, the historical island in the Mediterranean.
It’s not difficult to see why people are attracted to the island. It is one of the few countries in the EU to use English as its first language and now the UK is leaving the EU as part of its Brexit ‘plans’, it may become the most important one. A great climate, a party atmosphere and easy access to the rest of the continent only add to the attraction.
In Latin, Mediterranean means ‘middle of the earth’ and after years out of the metaphorical spotlight, recent tumultuous events in Europe and smart innovations means that it may be ready to become the centre of Europe, if not the world.
Its tech ecosystem is booming, especially with last month’s launch of Silicon Valletta (not difficult to see where that particular phrase came from) which has been set up to connect the country’s emerging startup scene with the Government and investment sectors, as well as bringing together the CEOs of Maltese-based digital businesses.
Its initial team of 40 members will meet face-to-face in a social setting every month to encourage cooperation between all stakeholders in Malta’s digital community and act as a fulcrum for government decision-making and discuss the current challenges of the industry, based on open dialogue and so-called transparent communication.
“Despite its geographical size, Malta’s tech scene is growing, particularly within gaming and FinTech, as well as non-regulated industries. Silicon Valletta was set up to represent the founders and investors on the island that are challenging the status quo and need to lobby for support, as well as brand the island’s many attractions,” said Simon Azzopardi, president of Silicon Valletta.
Until now, Malta has had the reputation of being a hub of both the gaming and gambling sectors, but interesting startups such as Thought3D are beginning to redefine the startup sector, as well as financial institutions such as Ariadne Capital putting its support behind young Maltese companies.
Thought3D is an example of the thriving start-up ecosystem in Malta. The company has been incubated at local accelerator TAKEOFF since late 2014 and 12 months later it received a Government seed fund award to commercialise its innovation product Magigoo – an universal glue stick for 3D printing.
“Since we received the Malta Innovation Award for Best Technology and WIPO IP Trophy, we have been able to grow our team, attract seed investment and update our branding, products as well as coming up with tester sachets.
“We are also teaching 3D printing at local schools, printing cast for broken limbs that naturally accelerates cure and we also support Habibi Works, a cross-cultural FabLab where skilled refugees can realise their potential in collaboration with global experts,” said Keith Azzopardi, Co-Founder, Thought3D.
No tech hub is complete without a well-attended tech conference and the ZEST conference held in early summer on the island is excellent. The two-day conference brings together interested parties from across the region for a series of talks, panels and keynote speakers.
With other established tech hubs in the Mediterranean region in Tel Aviv and Lebanon as well as a nascent tech scene on the island of Cyprus, ZEST has strong competition, but differentiates itself by the energy of its younger-than-usual audience and the madcap parties that follow the show.
As the startup tech hubs of Europe jostle for position after the surprising decision of the UK to leave the EU, Malta seems well-positioned to take advantage of the vacuum, not least when attracting young people who like to code, work and party hard.
As the most densely populated country in Europe, space may be at a premium and rents may be as expensive as any major city, but the advent of Silicon Valletta is a huge step in the right direction. The future’s bright, the future, indeed, may be Malta.