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STANFORD UNIVERSITY – In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to throw a rock and not hit a startup founder at Stanford or in the surrounding Bay Area, but the same cannot be said of many other places in the world. Latvia, which recently experienced a devastating economic crisis, is one of the many nations eager to expand its ties with Silicon Valley and emulate the startup model.

To that end, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis visited Stanford on July 15, speaking at the Stanford Graduate School of Business Knight Management Center as part of Latvia @ Stanford 2011. The event was hosted by the Latvian American Business Association of California and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“Our GDP fell by 25 percent between 2008 and 2010,” said Dombrovskis. “This was possibly the worst [economic] crisis in the world, but industrial production and exports are [now] lifting Latvia out of the recession.”

With a strong academic background in economics and physics, Dombrovskis has been an active proponent of increasing funding for education and research, and this theme was echoed throughout the afternoon’s discussions.

Burton Lee of the Stanford Mechanical Engineering Department described the importance of national culture. “Strengthening the role of universities has to be part of national strategy,” he said. “Having the prime minister talk about the importance of innovation sends a signal that change is coming.”

Lee suggested that increased hands-on experience working at large global companies could be beneficial for European students, and that countries such as Latvia could benefit from having permanent personnel in Silicon Valley to assist with networking.

John Roberts, director of the business school’s Center for Global Business and the Economy, said he was not overly concerned about a potential Latvian “brain drain” as a result of increased ties with schools such as Stanford.

“People want to live where their parents live, where the language is theirs, if the economy will permit that,” he said.

Roberts reaffirmed Stanford’s interests in global collaboration and becoming a “third-generation university” – one that is “connected into business, the community, and the world.”

“We’re better researchers and teachers as a result of our connections to the real world,” said Roberts. “The ivory tower is a rather sterile place.”

- Stephanie Liou is an intern at the Stanford News Service.

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