This page features posts and information about different startups and startup service providers in Estonia (accelerators, co-working spaces, incubators, networks, training providers, etc) as well as best international reads on starting and managing a startup.
Companies and entrepreneurs do not
start their activities in a void. Production may be split across countries,
head offices located in more favourable business environments. However, a basic
point not to forget is that context matters. Where founders decide to
establish their ventures has an impact not only on their own opportunities for
growth but, in return, on the way companies shape the economy and labour
markets as well.
With this respect, societal and
economic frameworks wildly differ across geographical areas. Some environments are
more prone to enhance entrepreneurial initiatives, while others present harder
obstacles to overcome in terms of firm creation. It seems there is a two-way
correspondence between two elements: the aggregated contribution of
companies to the economy of a country, and the state and market institutions
largely contributing to a firm’s success or failure. We are all well aware of
the advantages of choosing Estonia to start a business, but how do startups
participate in shaping the economy of a country? What is their contribution?
Entrepreneurship and shifting
paradigms in the global economy
Let’s take a few steps back. A
crucial phenomenon that has taken place during the past forty years in Western
countries is the transition to a post-industrial setup of economies and
societies. Three main elements triggered this widespread transformation – technological
change, the radical growth in female employment, and an increased global
integration of previously closed national markets. One of the constituting features
of this emerging model is the tertiarization of the economy, marking a shift of
focus from industrial growth to productivity and employment in the service
sector. Many small-medium enterprises (SMEs), and startups more recently,
became part of this dominant slice of the economy as a whole.
On par with such dramatic
transformation, the failure of some Western labour markets to adapt to these
changes brought up a number of challenges. Unemployment and the reshaping of
modern economic landscapes pre-eminently figure among these issues, in
particular after the recent crisis of 2008. Since then, European governments
showed a renewed interest in start-up programmes as one of the measures
to balance the drawbacks of dysfunctional labour markets, fostering self-employment
and advocating a rise in entrepreneurship. Founders and startups became
a resource worth trusting and, in this perspective, an innovative way to
kick-start new trends of job and growth creation.
Beyond numbers, startups in the
Creating a favourable business
environment emerges as the premise for startups to rise and flourish. Entrepreneurs
are not isolated actors in the economy, but integral parts of a micro- and
macro-context with its specificities. Looking at the factors favouring this
development is crucial to understand what can push growth at the corporate
level, and the strategies to generate coherent economic development in a
given country. Startups are born from the vision and courage of a private
initiative, but they also contribute to redefine the rules and balances of a
For example, based on OECD evidence, institutional obstacles
to startup creation pose a fundamental threat to job creation. In the
crucial phases of the transition to a service economy, countries with high
start-up costs show lower employment in the service sector and higher
unemployment. When doing business is a complicate and painful process, and
barriers to international trade and investment are in place, the potential
for entrepreneurship decreases dramatically. In Western labour markets, in
the past years, this has represented a strong determinant of growth in
Founders should be free to pursue
their dreams and goals, letting ideas compete for economic support and success
in the market. But an environment that multiplies the strength of individual abilities
with enriching network contacts can give entrepreneurs more
confidence to successfully start a company. Eurostat data shows how effectively communicating
opportunities and creating supportive business networks help entrepreneurs
recognize chances, as well as being a consistent predictor in the decision
to start a business. Social capital is important, as a further
confirmation that context matters in entrepreneurship.
Towards a distributed economic growth
We have been working on creating a fertile environment for founders to establish their
ventures, and for startups to contribute giving shape to the economy while
aiming for global markets. Providing an environment founded on the ease of
doing business and the removal of pointless obstacles hindering growth, Estonia
is one of the best places for startups to emerge and make an
impact. Over 550 startups are currently active in the country, employing
more than 3700 people in their offices in Estonia (+26% on 2017) – all
while the general unemployment rate has been constantly declining since 2010. Startups paid 45,5M EUR
to the state in employment taxes in 2018, generating an annual turnover of
almost 300M EUR and raising funds for over 320M EUR.
Startups make a significant contribution to the Estonian economy
at large, a clear sign that potential can successfully be expressed in
the country. Spotting talents is, indeed, one of the proudest features of our
system. Founders can easily meet and talk to established entrepreneurs
and colleagues, ready to provide tips and advices. Investors and funds
are on the lookout for the next moonshot idea, while networking events
ensure chances to get the word out on what’s cooking in the scene.
It is based on this experience that Startup
Estonia is now active in the North-East of the country as well. We believe that
distributed economic development does not originate from geographical head
starts, but from widespread opportunities and supportive business
environments. As shown at the national level, entrepreneurship can
contribute to lift economic performance, quality of jobs and living standards. Estonia
has benefited from a strong startup ecosystem, and in equal way this can take place across regions. When entrepreneurs are
given the chance to grow, the returns do not only translate merely into
profits, but in social development and international recognition as
In the fifth episode, we are focusing on financial technologies, covering the topic with Kaidi Ruusalepp, the CEO of Funderbeam and Norris Koppel, the CEO of Monese.
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Kaidi Ruusalepp is the founder and CEO of Funderbeam, the global funding and trading platform of private companies built on blockchain. Kaidi is a former CEO of Nasdaq Tallinn Stock Exchange and the Co-Founder of Estonian Service Industry Association. She is also an Ex Member of Startup Europe Advisory Board at European Commission.
Norris Koppel is the founder and CEO of Monese, an online banking platform that offers quick current account opening for all EU residents. Norris founded Monese after his first-hand experience of the hassle involved with opening a bank account in a new country. Prior to starting Monese, he built multiple FinTech companies in the UK.
The Estonian Startup Ecosystem is flourishing with hard-working and talented founders who last year raised more than 330 million euros and grew at an astonishing pace. The successes of the giants are celebrated throughout Estonia and act as exceptional role models for future startup leaders. But who is the next generation of Estonian based startup superheroes?
Startup Estonia has now enabled hundreds of International founders to work shoulder to shoulder with other players in the ecosystem. This has helped to turn good ideas into great companies and truly ingenious products.
What makes Estonia’s Startup Visa so special?
The Startup Visa’s superpowers lie in it’s ability to supercede normal foreign worker quotas and provide easy access to the country for outside startup founders. Non-EU Founders with legitimate and high potential companies can apply for acceptance by the Estonian Startup Committee. Once accepted, they go through a normal visa issuing process and can be issued a visa or a residence permit for up to 5 years. Moreover, founders with established startups approved by the committee in Estonia can more easily bring in talent from abroad. Estonia’s international founders may be the ones to drive the next wave of unicorn successes. But who are they, and what exactly is being built here?
Integrated in your Slack workspace, a simple /kipwise command allows team members to search for answers to their questions on the fly. If there is no answer in the team’s knowledge base, they can quickly and easily ask the correct person. This process also automatically builds the knowledge base, which greatly eases onboarding pains as teams grow. Kipwise has recently found that customer support reps can answer 20% more tickets with the help of /kipwise. All the while building a knowledge base for the future.
Traction: 30,000 users in the Originalmy ecosystem
Originalmy is a regtech startup using blockchain protocols to certify identities, signatures and digital content rights.
With the Originalmy framework, Edilson's team have developed several tools enabling companies to follow compliance regulations in various regulatory environments. For example, Originalmy offers decentralized identities. This enables companies to store user data securely and follow the necessary rules and regulations of GDPR. More, because Originalmy can verify identities digitally, there is no longer a need for passwords or form filling in order to verify their identities. Originalmy certified over 100,000 registries in 2018 and has effectively saved people over a million hours moving through typically bureaucratic processes.
XR Gaming is a mobile app that allows its users to play any game in VR. Most games are not optimized for VR and are not possible to play in true virtual reality. The unique technology powering XR Gaming could be a game-changer in the virtual reality space.
Optimizing content for VR is time-consuming and expensive. That usually means it just never happens. Youssef seems to have the key to unlocking digital media space to be capable of easily turning any standard video into virtual reality.
Introwise is a pre-networking app for events. With one click, event participants can personalize their experience by joining group discussions or starting conversation circles themselves.
Introwise helps event organizers to drive engagement through meaningful networking and helps attendees have the discussions they are hungry for. Networking is why people go to major events. Attendees are hopeful they can foster meaningful relationships around topics they care about and Introwise helps to encourage and facilitate that process.
Traction: 560+ Physical locations using Qminder system
In normally confusing and stressful waiting environments, Qminder saves the day. Their smart queue management system helps create a great customer experience in physical locations around the world.
Qminder does this by answering the questions of people waiting in line, offering them opportunities to shop and even engage with customer service people to make sure they’re prepared when it’s their turn. This experience reduces customer complaints by 90% which is a massive reduction for their customers like Uber, Verizon and Johns Hopkins University.
Modash is a self serve platform connecting marketers to hundreds of millions of social media creators. Finding influencers on Instagram and Twitch is a frustrating task. Modash allows marketers to build audience targeted influencer campaigns and manage influencer relationships all in one place. It is also developing the first tool to offer conversion rate attribution for influencer campaigns.
Modash helps marketers scale with influencers and drive huge ROI on influencer campaigns. One example showed that Modash reduced campaign management time by over 91% and Veriff watched their application traffic quadruple with a micro-influencer campaign they launched with Modash.
Zubax has invented a new method of motor state estimation that reduces energy losses (like heat rejection) by approximately 10% compared to the current industry standard. This innovation allows electric vehicles to increase the range while relying on the existing battery tech.
Zubax manufactures and supplies integrated circuits that implement the new algorithms, allowing third-party hardware engineers to take advantage of their innovation.
The global founders community is growing more and more every year. Applications for the startup visa have covered the milestones of having applicants from 80 countries and now over 1400 applications.The next step? I think it’s time to add some unicorn companies to the list of those built by foreigners in Estonia.
In the third episode, we are focusing on the future of mobility, covering the topic with Martin Villig, the co-founder of Bolt (formerly Taxify) and Ardo Reinsalu, the CEO and co-founder of Stigo.
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Ardo Reinsalu is the CEO and co-founder of Stigo, a B2B scooter share company. Stigo has also launched the world fastest folding electric scooter and is leading the last-mile transportation development. Ardo's previous experience includes management of high-tech and med-tech companies. Martin Villig is the co-founder of Bolt (formerly Taxify), leading ride-hailing platform in 100+ cities in 30 countries across Europe and Africa with over 25M passengers and 500K drivers. Martin has 20+ years of experience, either founding and working with software and internet related businesses (eg: Nasdaq Stock Exchange, Skype and Fortumo) and he is the co-founder of Estonian Startup Leaders Club and Garage48 Foundation.
AccelerateEstonia or aEstonia is a new project initiated by Ministry of Economic Affairs and powered by Startup Estonia. It is a filter for new public-private sector ideas that solve societal challenges in a way that creates new business opportunities in Estonia.
It may mean turning a market gap into a policy or process (think Startup visa), but it can also mean building and improving upon solutions that already exist (think e-Residency). One of the kickstarters of aEstonia and Deputy Secretary General for Economic Development Viljar Lubi explains: “One could find plenty of good ideas with a global ambition in Estonia, as our success with e-gov initiatives and startup community has proved. Many ideas are still in the pipeline, but need our focused approach and cooperation among different parties both in the public and private sector. Lack of resources is our basic constraint - not always financial resources, rather a lack of political attention. This is the blessing and the curse of the public sector: everything is equally important. Unfortunately, in time-sensitive market situations that is not satisfactory. With AccelerateEstonia we will create a highway for selected new market-creating ideas to be fully implemented.”
aEstonia’s ambition is not only to create a filter to prioritise ideas that need attention of policymakers. As a country we are in the process of creating a vision for the long term - what kind of Estonia we want to live in 2035. In that context, aEstonia is a tool for becoming a trendsetter in solving global challenges. The solutions created here deal with global issues such as climate, demography, security and aim to benefit the society at large.
Secondly, we have all the assets - a quite lean government and a booming startup-sector - it is now the question of building a close cooperation and turning it into something even more valuable. Project lead Mikk Vainik concludes: “The mission of AccelerateEstonia is to turn wicked problems into economic development for Estonia. In close collaboration with the tech ecosystem, the Estonian government is exploring the public domains which are ripe for disruption and build models that would bring about that disruption.”
In practise, it means exploring different policy fields and identifying problems that have the requirements to be built into an actual solution. For example, how could we turn lack of attention to circular economy into an ambitious marketplace that will help to preserve our planet? What if we take a deep look at our social welfare issues so that socially-driven entrepreneurship will become the next wave of innovation in Estonia? What will be the ambition of Estonia to build cyber-solutions that will keep our internet safe in the IoT and 5G era?
In the pilot phase, we aim to choose up to five concepts that would help create new markets and that solve the wicked problems in our society. These five concepts will go through a custom-made incubation program that includes business support as well as legal help and close cooperation with the policymakers.
The program has been kickstarted with topic-specific meetups where anyone could present a problem-statement to be discussed in groups. The events have covered RTE (Real Time Economy), living environments, social welfare and work force and most recently the general issue of data collection, literacy and usage. All the problem statements have been collected to the Guaana platform for further comments and reviews and are available to everyone. The next step is the official launch during this year’s Latitude59 conference. Our keynote speaker Evan Burfield, author of “Regulatory hacking”, will be going more in-depth into the topic of government innovation and how to scale a business in an industry deeply intertwined with government. It will be the drive for skill-specific workshops during summer and an upcoming concept hackathon in autumn.
If you are serious about the future of society and want to make a change, then join the AccelerateEstonia community. Follow us on Facebook and/or Eventbrite and get the freshest updates on our events and activities.
The AccelerateEstonia program is powered by Startup Estonia. ‘’Startup Estonia is happy to cooperate with the new and exciting aEstonia project and to launch innovative public-private cooperation ideas together,’’ says Maarika Truu, the Head of Startup Estonia. ‘’Estonias success in developing our e-services and the strength of our startup ecosystem are a good foundation for a successful pilot program, from which we hope to find ideas on a global scale, comparable to E-Residency.’’
Latitude59, the Estonian flagship tech and startup event taking place on 16-17 of May, is introducing new formats, intriguing discussions, quality pitches and inspiring keynotes. Startup Estonia will also be there, focusing on CyberTech, EdTech, the recent Startup Genome Ecosystem Report and introducing our startup ecosystem at #meetestonia area.
This year, the programme of Latitude59 is combining a total of 100+ speakers on 4 stages in 15 topic tracks and 2-days full of inspiration. Just to bring out a few topics - innovating STEAM education, leadership skills, ethics and challenges in health and data, future cities, a reality check on the state of cybersecurity, sustainable development goals, Sub-Saharan business environment, new business models in creative content. And being in Estonia, the world’s first truly digital nation, Latitude59 will also be covering the latest trends in govtech and public sector innovation.
Startup Estonia will be in the middle of all of it. We are hosting panels and discussions on two of our focus areas - CyberTech and EdTech. Also, we are introducing the latest Startup Genome Ecosystem Report and sharing information about our startup ecosystem and services in the #meetestonia area.
Creating awareness on cyber security
Cybercrime is one of the biggest threats to every company in the world. According to an estimate by McAfee, the damages associated with cybercrime stand at over $400 billion, up from $250 billion two years ago. Digital devices are attached to our life and with cyber threats being an everyday reality, awareness is essential. The aim of our cyber security session on 16th of May at 11 am is to give some food for thought to the startup ecosystem players about the essence, value and purpose of cyber security.
The panel consists of industry experts: Andre Loesekrug-Pietri (Joint European Disruptive Initiative - the European Darpa); Kieren Lovell (TalTech CERT), Taavi Must (RangeForce), Clare Lain (NATO CCDCOE). Each speaker is addressing the topic from their personal perspective, which will be followed by a panel session and Q&A in the Ask Me Anything area. Some of the questions addressed during the session are: What is cyber security? Why does meeting privacy requirements not make my app secure? Why does it matter to me? What are future financial implications for me as a startup? And why as an investor should I care? Are there examples of success out there? Join us!
Clare Lain (Nato CCDCOE) during Latitude59 2018
Education - focusing on STEAM
This year, Startup Estonia is focusing also to highlight the importance of education. Future jobs are changing, presenting major challenges with specific skills. Therefore, for some time now, the focus has been on the areas of STEAM (an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking) that support and guide young people to make more informed choices about future work.
On 16th of May, at 2 pm Transferwise is presenting in session "Improving STEAM-Ed" how to ensure that the next generation has the skills to develop new scalable innovations and solutions for our digital society, offering insights into the latest study and recommendations done by Tartu University about teaching STEM skills in Estonian schools. The session is moderated by Ede Tamkivi, CEO of non-profit Eesti 2.0 and Taavet Hinrikus, Co-founder and Chairman of TransferWise.They will be joined by Sanna Reponen, CTO of Mechanit and Saku Tuominen, Founder of HundrED from Finland as well as Natalia Simonenko, Founder & CEO of Oyster.
Kaidi Ruusalepp (CEO of Funderbeam) and his son Hendrik on the stage of Latitude59 2018, talking about foundership
On the following session “Preparing education for the era of AI”, we will have a look at the ways of how artificial intelligence influences the future of education with a focus on the challenges, capabilities and opportunities of AI. The session will give an insightful overview of current practical use cases of how AI has given superpowers to educators; detect possible threats of using AI technologies in education and discuss AI's potential impact for learning and teaching. Especially welcomed are educators, teachers, entrepreneurs, data scientists, analysts, developers & business developers. The session is lead by Triin Mahlakõiv, the co-founder of North Star AI and the speakers are Heli Aru-Chabilan, Chair of the Management Board in Estonian Information Technology Foundation for Education (HITSA) and David Kelver, Senior Manager at Education Business Department of Rakuten, Inc.
The educational focus day ends with a STEAM-Ed pitching session, where five STEAM initiatives from Estonia will pitch their vision for education that delivers both science and collaboration. The initiatives compete for funding from the Good Deed Education Fund, a venture philanthropy fund founded by the new generation of Estonian entrepreneurs.
Presenting the Startup Genome Ecosystem Report 2019
The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2019 (GSER) is the world’s most comprehensive and widely-read research on startups based on data from thousands of startup founders and research on millions of companies. Featuring new and exclusive content, the 2019 GSER provides insights and guidance to public and private leaders in dozens of countries and cities — from Bahrain to New Zealand— about how to cultivate vibrant startup ecosystems. The report outlines key success factors for startups, constituting the new science for entrepreneurial ecosystem development. Startup Estonia engaged Startup Genome to benchmark Estonia against more than 50 ecosystems globally. Estonia’s #GSER2019 highlights are:
Top 10 Global Ecosystem for Affordable Talent
Top 5 Activation Ecosystem for Fintech
Created $1.2b in Ecosystem Value with $69m in early stage funding over last 2.5 years
Regional sub-sector strengths are Fintech and Cybersecurity
The report was published on May 9th with a launch at The Next Web. On 17th of May at 1 pm, The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2019 will also be presented at Latitude59.
Together with e-Residency, Invest in Estonia and e-Estonia Briefing Centre we are joining forces and inviting you to #meetestonia area of Latitude59! You will have a chance to learn more about our governmental initiatives, supporting the entrepreneurial, digital and startup ecosystems of Estonia. Startup Estonia is introducing the Estonian Startup Visa programme and answer all of your questions about our startup ecosystem.
See you at Latitude59! Team Startup Estonia Photos by: Annika Haas
As Estonia is one of the most digitally advanced societies in the world, strengthening the cybersecurity startup ecosystem has been a governmental focus area since 2017. Seeing the market trends, Startup Estonia and Estonian Ministry of Defence decided in 2017 to experiment with two national strengths - CyberTech expertise and startup mindset. CyberTech focus area at Startup Estonia was established to cooperate on developing the CyberTech startup ecosystem. The insights of the two years working with the ecosystem are shared by Marily Hendrikson, the Cyber Defence Project Lead at Startup Estonia.
Our CyberTech Startup Landscape
When I started off as CyberTech project lead at Startup Estonia a bit more than two years ago, I knew that the CyberTech competence in the country is very high (read the bonus section below about the roots of CyberTech in Estonia) and also our startup community is strong. But we only had a handful of CyberTech startups, so I started off with a belief that joining the existing two strong communities is the most sustainable approach to build the CyberTech ecosystem. My role is to bring the different communities and competencies together, paving the way for creating new startups & ensuring the smooth growth of existing ones.
In order to grow the number of new startups we have four vital approaches:
raise awareness of the opportunities in CyberTech sector
onboard new people and support organisations into the CyberTech community
support the establishment of new startups
support the sustainable growth of existing startups.
We consider a startup belonging into the CyberTech sector, when one of their core value-added factors comes from cyber security (read more from our CyberTech focus page). Our CyberTech startups are rather diverse - working on identification, verification, authentication, fraud, threat and data breach prevention, VPN, cyber hygiene, skills upgrading, access management, log file analysis and many other solutions.
Today, we count more than 60 companies and startups in this domain. Several governmental institutions and over 40 critical infrastructure service providers play a vital role in keeping Estonia's cyberspace. The leading private players in the Estonian cyber security industry are Cybernetica AS, Guardtime and Clarified Security.
During the last two years there have been some great changes in the CyberTech startup ecosystem. We started with mapping out the landscape, identifying the key members of the ecosystem and potential future developments. Starting from 2017, fifteen new startups were established and the total number of CyberTech startups reached 26 by the end of 2018. This doesn't include teams who have not yet registered their companies, nor teams being developed as startups inside bigger companies. CyberTech startup sector makes up 6% of our startup scene when we take into account government and employment taxes, turnover and headcount. And as the CyberTech startups numbers are growing, then it is clear that Estonia is up and coming cybersecurity country.
The people's number employed by CyberTech startups grew during 2017 and 2018 notable 325% - from 59 people (2017 I Q) to 192 (2018 IV Q).
CyberTech startups paid €2,1M in employment taxes in 2018, which meant 118% growth in a year (€1,1M in 2017).
The largest CyberTech investment so far happened in 2018, when Veriff raised 6,6M EUR. Offering online verification services to companies around the globe, they are currently one of the fastest growing and the most desirable startups in Estonia. They increased their staff by 325% within 6 months and are still growing. The startup with the highest turnover is Messente Communications, offering authentication services since 2013. Last year, they managed to create almost 7M EUR turnover with just 13 people. Another notable startup is Threod Systems, developing outstanding unmanned aircraft and sub-systems for intelligence collection and surveillance tasks. Most of the CyberTech startups offer B2B services and products with one exemption - Seguru focuses on B2C market, integrating intrusion detection and prevention into a users mobile devices. The startup with the fastest turnover growth (2408%) during one year is SpectX. Their solution can instantly analyze raw logs in their current location, without any data preparation and the volumes are unlimited.
The core of every startup ecosystem are the skilled people, a number of startup support organisations and the willingness to grow together. It is a pleasure to see that ecosystem responded to Startup Estonia initiative quickly and during the two years five new support organisations with cybersecurity focus were established and there are also several other support organisations, adding cybersecurity competencies to their side focus. In January 2018, a new hackerspace/makerspace k-Space opened up in Tallinn near the TalTech and Tehnopol incubator. In the beginning of 2019, Startup Wise Guys accelerator opened their first cybersecurity, defence and AI batch CyberNorth in Tallinn. Since this spring, Forwardspace together with Web application security platform WebArx Security is organising Capture The Flag exercises and trainings for the youth in Pärnu. Hedman Partners, a law firm is offering its expertise across the spectrum of corporate legal services, has established a special lawyers position consulting in cyber security legal matters. Find the full list of support organisations with CyberTech expertise here.
Klaid Mägi, Executive Vice President at CybExer Technologies: “Looking from the maturity perspective, Estonian cyber security ecosystem is getting better every day. It’s not fast, but it is important to know that it is improving. The awareness and knowledge is on the rise and as proof, we see that more organisations and agencies using Cybexer e-learning platform to educate their employees about cyber threats. Currently one third of working aged Estonians should have a way of accessing this platform, and this number is also increasing. On the other hand it is great to admit that Estonian private companies and public agencies do more different trainings and exercises to build internal capacity and preparedness for possible upcoming incidents and crises. CybExer Technologies, as a leading cyber awareness company, is always happy to help anyone improve their capabilities and knowledge.”
There are several international CyberTech meetup groups like Let's speak about cyber security @, Let's speak about cyber security @Tartu @ and TallinnSec, gathering more than 900 people in total. At the Estonian flagship startup and tech event Latitude59, we are going to have a CyberTech session to compliment all of that. Speakers will be addressing the most burning questions in cyber security. Why does meeting privacy requirements not make my app secure? Why does it matter to me? What are future financial implications for me as a startup? And why as an investor should I care? Are there examples of success out there? All of these questions will be addressed on 16th of May, at Latitude59.
e-Governance Academy annual conference 2018: Governance for Digital Citizens
Raul Rikk, the National Cyber Security Policy Director at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications: “In today’s complex digital world, smart cybersecurity solutions are not born in isolation. Innovation and business development takes place during the interaction between needs, knowledge and money. Supportive ecosystems for customers, businesses and academia are no longer an exception, but a prerequisite for global competition.”
The number of CyberTech startups and teams has reached 39 by the end of April 2019. The growing numbers show that Estonia is up and coming cybersecurity country. This is also the very reason why CyberTech focus is one of the strategic focuses in Startup Estonia until 2022. During the four years we will place Estonia's CyberTech sector on the long-lasting startup mode together with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.
Please find all the cyber security-related events in Estonia and in the region here.
BONUS - The roots of CyberTech in Estonia
The actual roots of Estonian cyber security expertise lay in 1960s, when the applied research unit of the Institute of Cybernetics of the Academy of Sciences of Estonia was established. Officially, Estonian government started off with digitalisation already in 1997. The driver behind it was a necessity to provide better public services for all of the citizens. Estonians developed and implemented the x-Road, which allows the nation’s various public and private sector e-service information systems to link up and function in harmony. To ensure secure transfers, all outgoing data is digitally signed and encrypted, and all incoming data is authenticated and logged. It has a versatile security solution: authentication, multi-level authorisation, high-level system for processing logs, and data traffic that is encrypted and signed. Six years after Estonia gained independence, electronic-governance (e-governance) was launched; e-taxation came in 2000, digital ID in 2002 and so on.
Estonian Incident Response Department (CERT-EE) has been operating since 2006. Its duty is to assist Estonian Internet users in the implementation of preventive measures in order to reduce possible damage from security incidents and to help them in responding to security threats. In 2007 Estonia faced cyber-attacks that have been widely acknowledged as the world’s first cyber war. That was the turning point for Estonia’s internal cybersecurity policy and dynamic digital ecosystem development.
Because in cyberspace there are no country borders and the solution to 95% of cybercrimes is in essence international, then international cooperation and competence raising vital parts of any digital ecosystem. This is also the reason why we have NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCD COE) in Tallinn since 2008. It is an independent international military organisation that focuses on research, development, training and education in both the technical and non-technical aspects of cyber defence. In 2008 Estonia was one of the first countries in the world to create a cybersecurity strategy. The current strategy is in place until the end of 2022.
Today there are several organisations that develop the cyber security competence in Estonia - universities, public sector institutions, organisations who provide critical infrastructure services in Estonia and private sector. Cyber security is thought at Master's and Bachelor's level at TalTech and University of Tartu since 2010. Volunteer-based cyber army was established in Estonia in 2011 and Cyber Command in 2018.
In the second episode, we are focusing on AI & Machine Learning, covering the topic with Triin Mahlakõiv, the co-founder of North Star AI and Kristjan Korjus, Head of Data at Starship Technologies.
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Triin Mahlakõiv is the co-founder of machine intelligence community North Star AI, that unites ML practitioners, supports AI education and raises awareness of applied ML solutions in business. She is also an advisor on fundraising, partnerships, community growth, strategic sales and marketing.
Kristjan Korjus is the Head of Data at Starship Technologies. He has led a successful GitHub project where they were first to replicate the notorious Atari playing AI by DeepMind and he is a co-author of the 3rd best selling book in Estonia in 2014 “Bedside Reading About Mathematics”. Kristjan has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Tartu.
Startup in Estonia podcast is back! In the second season, we are In the second season, we take a deeper dive into verticals of startups such as Cyber Security, Educational Technology, AI & Machine Learning, Financial Technologies, Talent/HR and more.
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Ralph Echemendia is a world-renowned cyber security expert, known internationally by his alter ego “The Ethical Hacker.” For over 20 years, Ralph has delivered training on hacking and other security information to corporations including the US Marine Corps, NASA, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, AMEX, Intel, Boeing, Symantec, and IBM. In the recent two years Ralph has been based in Tallinn, Estonia, working on his startup Seguru, world's first truly multifaceted security app for your mobile device.
Marily Hendrikson is the Cyber Defence Project Lead for Startup Estonia. Marily's role is to find the factors in the startup ecosystem which help to create new cyber security startups and support the growth of existing startups.
As readers and observers, we may sometimes get the feeling that being a successful tech founder is the only key to access the Mount Olympus of entrepreneurship. And it seems to work like that in certain environments, where only hype and outstanding accomplishments appear to give legitimacy to a startup story and the people involved in it. Instead, a rich startup ecosystem should build upon the real opportunities it gives to new founders to emerge and shine. When ideas are solid, they need to be supported. In Estonia, we believe in providing everyone with the tools to grow, instead of betting exclusively on the same old winning horses.
Think of the myth of Prometheus – yes, that guy, the Titan who went all the way up to Mt. Olympus to steal fire from the gods and give it to humanity. He was then severely punished for his outrageous action by Zeus, king of all gods, because fire and progress did not belong to humans, but only to the inner circle of celestial beings. Giving humanity the possibility to discover, progress, invent, was not contemplated by Those Up There, as it would’ve meant to provide everyone with the power not only to merely survive, but to grow and prosper.
Moving away from the religion of success
Last summer, an interesting article on the Wall Street Journal called for the age of tech superheroes to end. The main point of the piece revolved around the claim that treating tech founders as god-like creatures proved to be counterproductive for both investors and companies. Our introduction fits the narrative – as Christopher Mims writes, “the genius tech founder mythology has its roots in the pantheon of real-world demigods widely credited with revolutionizing industry, from Thomas Edison and Gordon Moore to Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.” And indeed, we’re not here to undermine the crucial, widely-recognized value that inventions and revolutionary ideas proved and still prove to have, today as in the past. But what happens when the celebration of a success story turns into cult-like reverence?
At this point, the article makes room for another question. If the worship of such tech gods plays into the common place of “only one in a thousand can make it”, how can we prevent the creation of oligopolies where the same old names always get the biggest shares of attention, credibility, and market legitimacy? A modest proposal – by giving fire to humans, by giving everyone the tools to succeed, supporting good ideas and pushing founders to create and pursue their plans of business. Then time, markets, investors, customers will have their say on whether a startup is going to be successful or not. In the beginning, however, it should only be a matter of opportunities, ambition and courage, rather than head starts.
A support system that lifts founders and great ideas
Let’s face it, being an entrepreneur requires also determination and self-confidence. But believing in your own ideas and projects might not be enough, especially when starting your activity in a pond with many predatory fishes. An ecosystem that cares about multiplying and distributing success, rather than investing always in the same big players, should work on pushing ahead new founders, attracting new talents, making sure that support organisations are effective in delivering what’s needed to generate growth and value.
Equality of opportunities means that if you have a good idea and the initiative to turn it into a business, you should be able to do it. That’s why in Estonia emerging entrepreneurs can count on more than 80 support organisations, ranging from investment providers to co-working spaces, both in the public and private sectors, providing startups with the help and expertise needed to start a business and see it flourish. 47% of these organisations focus on services relevant to early-stage startups, making Estonia the perfect place for founders to kick-off their businesses. From consulting and mentoring to trainings and workshops, entrepreneurs grow and give back, making our country much more than just a potential market – a community.
We are a community pushing for distributed growth
The beginning of 2019 also marked two years from the beginning of our Startup Visa programme. More than 1000 applications have been reviewed by the Startup Committee, opening the doors of Estonia to over 900 people, including 281 founders. And if entrepreneurs from all around the world choose to come here, there must be a reason – or more than one, actually, as key players and experts highlight in our insightful podcast series. Many elements got us to the point where Estonia can pride itself with such lively and supportive startup scene, for both Estonian entrepreneurs and foreign founders. Educational programmes, transparency, a dynamic business environment, funds and investors on the look out for new exciting projects, everything contributes to build a community that supports people and their ideas, in the making of the next success story.
To do so, barriers towards a truly inclusive growth must be torn down, and opportunities made available to those wishing to catch them. We should not refrain from being iconoclastic, from time to time – in order to succeed, sometimes you must defy the gods.