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4 posts categorized "BAFF"

Transporting to the Future: How a Young Latvian Entrepreneur is Changing How We Fly

"BAFF gives you an opportunity to learn entrepreneurship, to see the world from a different point of view, and to create a network of skillful and talented international friends who you might cross paths with again in your future ventures."


The Alum of the Month for March is Elviss Straupenieks, former participant of the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation (BAFF) and creator of AirBoard, the world’s smallest manned aircraft. The young entrepreneur enrolled in the BAFF program to gain experience practicing and understanding the relational aspects of leadership on the path to pursuing his personal and business goals. For Elviss, participating in BAFF was the perfect opportunity. “Learning how to focus on gaining concrete leadership tools enabled me to create transparency and direction while at the same time involving individuals and groups of people in meaningful dialogues about goals associated with my business,” he says. “The most important factor that made me interested in BAFF, however, was creating a network of skillful and talented international friends for my future ventures.” Coming to Portland, Maine on the BAFF program offered Elviss an opportunity to make connections and gain the leadership skills needed to take his inventive idea one step further. But that’s not where his story begins.


Elviss’ interest in entrepreneurship and revolutionizing personal transportation started at a young age. He was only twelve years old when he began to recognize the lack of creativity in personal vehicles and contemplate the future of transportation. In an interview, he tells us, “It was obvious that on top of safety, functionality and ergonomic improvements over the last hundred years, a car still continues to be a metal box with four wheels and the fundamental way we move around has not changed for the better. In fact, many of the roads we used 100 years ago are still present, thus limiting the transport time from point A to B with countless relief projections and ground obstacles. It was clear to me that the future of personal transportation is going to be some sort of flying transport. For such an air transport to be mass-used it should be as simple as possible. Thus, the idea of an intuitive aircraft controlled by shifting the person’s weight (AirBoard) was born.”


Though technology on the consumer market wasn’t quite yet advanced enough to support Elviss’ idea, he patiently followed advancements in technology such as flight controllers, speed controllers, batteries, small brushless motors, and radio controlled vehicles until, two years later, he recognized that key parts reached a point of advancement and economic viability that would allow for his aircraft to turn from concept to reality. For years, Elviss spent all of his free time after school, on the weekends, and during summer breaks learning about aerodynamics and the engineering principles necessary to develop the aircraft. Then, things started to get serious. “I started computer-aided design (CAD), aerodynamic simulations, stress simulations, renderings, and lift-off calculations with hundreds of different iterations and virtual prototypes.” Elviss considers this determination and strong focus on his business to be the keys to success in his journey creating the world’s smallest manned aircraft, among other entrepreneurial pursuits. However, that’s not the only element needed to be successful, he says. “Having a fast-paced and tremendous work ethic, combined with the ability to overcome obstacles, is hugely helpful in day-to-day challenges, but patience is key for achieving the long-term goals.”


Determination, contemplation, innovation, and patience. These are the makings of an 18-year-old CEO.

We asked Elviss what it’s like to run a company at this age when most of his peers are going off to college, travelling on a gap year, or just beginning to craft their futures. “In my opinion, being a young, risk-taking entrepreneur is a competitive edge. When you don’t have the baggage from the past, it’s usually much easier to look at things from a totally different perspective.” With this fresh perspective, AirBoard was born despite the odds. “After faced with the challenge to open a business in Latvia at the age of 16, where the legal age restriction is 18, I found civil law Article 221 that allowed me to gain legal majority in the court of Latvia. After 6 months of rigorous paperwork and long processes, I gained the legal majority that allowed me to receive investment, employ people, and sign contracts. To this date, it is the single only case in Latvia where the court has given a positive decision for entrepreneurial reasons.”

“AirBoard is a Segway crossed with a hoverboard” – Daily Mail

Here’s how it works:
“AirBoard is the World’s smallest manned aircraft. It is an all-electric personal air vehicle controlled by shifting weight. It moves in the direction you are leaning. The rider is standing in a vertical position with his feet on the board and both hands holding handles. When turned on, the aircraft starts to hover in constant height from the ground. Pilot can use a button located on the handle in a thumb reachable area to adjust the flight altitude and lean further to accelerate the vehicle. The more a person shifts forward, the faster the vehicle flies forward.”


“AirBoard Remote App shows important data like AirBoard’s battery life, flight speed, compass, and level. User can control flight level or altitude in which the multicopter is moving. The board can be locked and unlocked with a free mobile application. When the board is locked, power button is inactive and motion detection GPS alarm is turned on. Vehicle can be unlocked without ever taking the mobile device out of the pocket because the vehicle senses when the paired phone is nearby. App allows the customer to update the board software when an update that contains crucial fixes or new features are available.” Learn more about how AirBoard works.

Thank you, Elviss, for sharing your story with us!

Do you have a story to share? Email alumni@ciee.org to get started.

Expanding Horizons in New York City

By Laima Eglite, Baltic-American Freedom Foundation Intern

When I arrived at the beginning of my program, it was my first time in the United States. and from the minute I landed in JFK airport still everyday something surprising and new appears in American culture. The biggest difference from my home in Latvia was the size of everything. Buildings, cars and scale of everything that Americans do.

My first month here I visited MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to attend a Coldplay concert. I had never seen such an enormous complex built mainly for sport events. Also its not correct to compare to my home country because the population here is different by tens of millions of people.

I found that in America everybody I met was super friendly and open. People tend to give compliments on streets or on trains just to express their opinion. It’s much easier here to start conversations with strangers and find new fantastic addition to your friend group.

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In front of the Brooklyn Bridge

I have been in the United States for four months now, and I can truly say that I have become more open minded and accepting of different nationalities and their cultural background. I didn’t always have this before because my home country is not very diverse, I would guess only 5-8 nationalities living there. Here in U.S. it’s the opposite, especially New York. There are so many communities and international people. It’s always a big honor to meet new people and listen to their story about how they ended up in U.S. and what life they have now. I really hope that my story will inspire other young people to try this program.

I had several reasons for coming to the U.S. Mostly it’s in my character: I’m a person who cannot sit in place for long, and I love challenging myself. I love living out of my comfort zone and this feeling keeps me going. Since I was a little kid I have always wanted to spend time in the U.S., especially to New York, and try my luck here. The rest is history and I can truly say that every single day I have to pinch myself to believe that I’m really living my dream now. And I can only say that I love it and enjoy it very very much.

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On the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I feel very lucky to be working in my field, clothing manufacturing and fashion industry management. People I meet at my work are remarkably inspiring. I see how hard they work and how much they sacrifice to succeed. This feeling and the environment pushes me every day to be better person and never give up on my own dreams.

My main goal when I come back is to inspire people, mostly young professionals. So many young people are scared to try this opportunity, to step out of their usual work/study schedule. I want to be an ambassador and give public speeches at universities and schools sharing my experience and the intellectual growth of my journey in the United States.

What I would say to other students in my home country is, just apply! This experience will change your life for the better.

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On one of my trips outside the city

BAFF Alum Virginijus Sinkevicius Elected to Lithuanian Parliament

Former Baltic American Freedom Foundation intern, Virginijus Sinkevicius, has won a seat in the 2nd round of Lithuanian Parliament elections as MP for his personal constituency in Vilnius's Seskine district. He defeated his running mate, Audronius Azubalis, Conservative Party member and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a landslide victory. Virginijus ran as the 26th member on the list of the Lithuanian Peasant and Green Party for a seat in both Parliament and his personal constituency in Vilnius. Virginijus is the second youngest member of this newly elected Parliament and currently heads the Regulatory Affairs Team of the Project Management Department at “Invest Lithuania”.
Virginijus 1Virginijus is a graduate from Aberystwyth University, UK with a diploma in Bachelor of Economic, Social and Political Studies, as well as from Maastricht University, Holland, with a Master's in European Studies. He has also interned at the office of the Prime Minister of Lithuania in the Regional and Ethnic Issues Unit.

As a participant of the BAFF Professional Internship Program, Virginijus enjoyed his training period at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) from 2013-2014. During his year in the U.S., Virginijus became an active member of the Lithuanian-American community, and taught children at the Lithuanian Saturday School in Washington, D.C. He writes, “I am thankful to BAFF for the unique opportunity provided. I had an extremely positive experience in the United States capital Washington DC, which taught me exceptional lessons, boosted my self-confidence, and encouraged me to reach the highest goals in life. I am grateful that the people of Lithuania evaluated my experience and gave me a chance to serve them.”

During his time in the U.S. Virginijus was a frequent contributor to the BAFF blog, which you can read here. Congratulations, Virginijus!
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Love at Third Sight, Deep in the Heart of Texas

By Marta Lange, CIEE Baltic-American Freedom Foundation Intern

Admiring the statue of cardiac surgeon Dr. Michael E. DeBakey at Houston Methodist Hospital

It was a cold and windy December morning as I left my beloved, snowy Latvia and landed in sunny Texas. Houston greeted me with skyscrapers, palm trees with Christmas lights and a swimming pool in my backyard. In the so called Lone Star State Texas you can find surprises on every corner. At the beginning for me: a person who comes from a country of 2-million people getting used to Houston was pretty hard. Understanding people, their culture, the size of life, city and food portions was quite a challenge. At the beginning I stubbornly did not want to admit that I was experiencing culture shock, but now looking back I realize I had it.

At first I struggled with small talk in the elevators and the fake-smile "how-are-you" culture. To be honest, this positive attitude sticks, and now after a year I can say that I will miss saying "Hi" to complete strangers on the street. The Southern hospitality in Texas is something that a very Nordic person like me will never forget. That is one thing I could not understand at the beginning, but now I like it! That is one of the factors that really made me love Texans: being polite, and really meaning it, opening the doors for each other, saying "ma'am" and "sir" to everyone regardless the age. I fell in love with Houston only after two trips away from it. I had to leave it and come back to realize that I love it. The value and magic at the same time is the Texan people.

International experience enriches someone who has lived abroad, especially if you are in close contact with the locals and other foreigners. Tasting the culture, enjoying the adventure of something unknown. Then, leaving the place that has been your home for several months or years, you always leave and take something, so at the end your Home is everywhere. That is what the international exchange means to me: the inspiring people I meet and the feeling that I can find something to relate with, to feel like at Home in every place I visit. It feels like being a migrant bird that flies forth and back every season.

After the training of every Medical Engineer's dream: the Da Vinci Surgical System during the "Re-Evolution Summitt" at Houston Methodist Hospital

My internship took place in Cardiovascular Surgery Department of Houston Methodist Hospital. The main fields of research included radiation safety, robotic tele-presence systems and ultrasound diagnostics. Also, I have gained a whole lot more skills and strengths that cannot be measured, but have significantly improved, like leadership, management, language and networking skills that will help to develop my ideas in the future.

When I return home in Latvia, I would like to continue my work in the field of Medical Devices, innovations and research. Our current Healthcare system is about to experience a lot of changes, and I would like to give my input. I feel that we have to remember the simple things, the simple truth: that the priority is the patient and only healthy and happy, satisfied people can build a strong society in a country. Last but not least, my dream is to improve the conditions, environment, the system and funding for the Nursing homes and Hospices in Latvia.

Working together with colleagues for a radiation safety project in the Hybrid Operation Room at Houston Methodist Research Institute

I strongly believe that the young professionals from programs, like BAFF, HAESF and other organizations have the capabilities and the necessary skill set to become leaders and make a change for a better future!

The J-1 Visitor Exchange Program is a wonderful opportunity to experience The United States, immersing yourself into the life, the culture, the work, what is most important - the people. For sure, this program gives great opportunities for your chosen career path and even greater possibilities to network and share ideas!

Building bridges with Hilton Lam during Intern Leadership Enrichment and Development program (I-LEAD) in Washington, DC