4 Lessons You Can Learn From Estonia's Tech Unicorns - Entrepreneur

4 Lessons You Can Learn From Estonia's Tech Unicorns - Entrepreneur

4 Lessons You Can Learn From Estonia's Tech Unicorns - Entrepreneur

Posted: 17 Oct 2020 11:15 AM PDT

Companies from this small nation been able to make a global impact because they keep possibilities in mind.

4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you're like most Americans, you may not have heard of or even be able to place it on a map, but you might just be using a product created there without even knowing it. Despite being a small European country of just 1.3 million people, "the government boasts it is home to more , private companies valued at more than $1 billion, per capita than any other small country in the world," according to CNBC.

Naturally, each of these companies began life as a startup. This is no accident. Estonia has more than a thousand startups, and it is well-known that the country has successfully fashioned itself into a digital paradise. Government services can be accessed online from anywhere using a secure digital identity that is issued to all citizens and residents, allowing a variety of activities to be done online, from taxes to voting. Likewise, an Estonian company can now be established and managed entirely online with minimal hassle and costs through the country's e-Residency program.

The Estonian digital transformation project began two decades ago, with internet access being declared a basic human right for all citizens. These digital foundations have made a big difference and reverberated throughout both the public and private sectors. The country has a supportive culture that leads to innovation, collaboration and a willingness to take risks.

From startup to ubiquitous

Let's learn a bit more about four of Estonia's tech unicorns.

  • Bolt: This is a European competitor to Uber. Users can hail cheap rides from an app on their phone or on a laptop. This startup's mantra is simple: Be the cheapest ride in every city. In May 2020, the company raised 100 million euros and is now valued at $1.9 billion. 
  • : Nearly everyone has heard of this Estonian startup, which is now owned by tech heavyweight . The software was originally developed by three Estonian entrepreneurs and has become one of the most popular video and voice call hosting applications in the world, able to connect you with up to 25 people at once.
  • TransferWise: This online money transfer service supports more than 750 currency routes across the world, but (you guessed it) the tech was originally developed in Estonia. The founders came up with the idea while working borderless and developed the software to help combat the challenges of being paid in different currencies. The company now boasts more than 4 million customers and 11 offices across four continents. 
  • PlayTech: This software development company was founded in 1999 in Tartu, Estonia. Playtech provides software for online casinos, poker rooms, bingo games, sports betting and more. It is used by millions around the world every day. 

Lessons from tech unicorns

Since Estonia leads other countries in its digital-first approach and in tech unicorns per capita, there are some lessons that the rest of the world can practice as we move forward in these unpredictable times:

  • If you see a void, fill it. Estonian tech entrepreneurs saw that something was missing in the marketplace. In some instances, the solution was new (Skype), and in other instances the founders thought there could be a better way to do something that already exists (Bolt).
  • Hire the best people, no matter where they are. Since Estonia is a small country, it's often had to look beyond its borders to find the right people for the job. Sometimes those workers are non-Estonians who have relocated to the country to get a firsthand look at its innovative culture; in other cases, Estonians have taken their talents to other countries.
  • Find a supportive network for collaboration, inspiration and innovation. Estonia has a tight-knit community of tech workers that support each other and help push others to always strive for something better or to take a different look at how to overcome an obstacle.
  • Don't get in your own way. There might be challenges in your way, either real or perceived, but that shouldn't stop you. Estonians have had to overcome challenges at nearly every turn, from fighting for their place on the world stage to building their country back a generation ago. Estonian companies have been able to make a global impact because they believe they can succeed and they have a can-do attitude. If one way doesn't work, they try another way. They don't think what may be against them, they just think what is possible.

These Estonian unicorn traits might help you and your company survive and thrive in these unpredictable times.


Vermont startup collective builds virtual community for entrepreneurs - vtdigger.org

Posted: 16 Oct 2020 11:51 AM PDT

Burlington, VT (October 15, 2020) – The Vermont Startup Collective is a new platform that offers entrepreneurs a dedicated virtual space for building community, advancing business ideas, and connecting with other startups, remote workers, small business owners, freelancers, investors, and mentors. Supported by more than 35 Vermont organizations, the platform is free of charge and designed to be accessible and inclusive to all.

"When COVID-19 hit, we feared we would lose our 'special sauce'— the connections made, opportunities discovered, and problems solved through casual, daily interactions," said Dave Bradbury, president of the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies ( VCET ). "But in fact, the opposite happened. More than ever, entrepreneurs sought community—for camaraderie, to problem solve, or just for a laugh. The Collective takes all that entrepreneurial energy, focuses it in a trusted digital space, and makes it widely available to everyone who needs it."

Born from requests by innovators, consultants, and business leaders seeking connection during COVID-19, the mobile/desktop platform surrounds active and aspiring entrepreneurs with constructive guidance from advisors and mentors, thought-provoking conversations with peers, and critical tools and resources to start and scale.

"Innovation in Vermont has always been driven both by creativity and necessity. The pandemic has brought home the ways our businesses can use technology to adapt their operations and how they connect with the broader business ecosystem. Thanks to the work of VCET and its partners, businesses will have access to this powerful tool that brings the essential benefits of Vermont's startup ecosystem into a digital space," said U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy.

Soft-launched in September, early signals from users indicate that the fresh, effective approach of The Collective has helped them to connect in new and exciting ways.

"Being an entrepreneur can be isolating in the best of times," said Stacy Huffstetler, founder and managing director of WidgetBrain . "You're facing a really unique set of challenges, questions, and opportunities. Building and leveraging a community is a key part of successful entrepreneurship. It's awesome to have a space dedicated to the shared experience of starting, funding, and running a business with others who are eager to engage."

Posts on the platform range from a discussion around customer insights to the promotion of an upcoming innovation competition. Users can join groups curated by topic, such as Dismantling Racism, Sustainability, Building a Team, and Capital, and join relevant "circles" including Young Professionals or Female Founders.

"The Collective allows information-sharing and networking beyond the four walls of any individual organization," said Bradbury. "It invites expertise from anyone and everyone committed to successful entrepreneurism in Vermont and that's where we start to see a flywheel effect for the innovation ecosystem."

More than three dozen entrepreneurial support, economic development, and higher education organizations across Vermont have come together to contribute to The Collective. These launch partners include: 12-22 North, Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC), Black River Innovation Campus (BRIC), BTV Ignite, Burlington Code Academy, Burlington Community Economic Development Office (CEDO), Center for Women & Enterprise (CWE), Champlain College, Do North Coworking, FreshTracks Capital, The Generator, Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation (GBIC), Hula, Instig8VT, IoT Conduit, LaunchVT, Mercy Connections, The MINT, Reconciled, The Lightning Jar, The Space on Main, The Sustainable Innovation MBA – University of Vermont (SIMBA), UVM Entrepreneurship Club, University of Vermont, Vermont Bioscience Alliance, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, Vermont Business Roundtable, Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET), Vermont Community Foundation, Vermont Council on Rural Development, Vermont EPSCoR, Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC), Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF), Vermont Technology Alliance (VtTA), Vermont Technology Council, and Vermont Womenpreneurs. The Collective is curated and moderated by VCET.

To learn more or to join The Collective, please visit www.vermontstartupcollective.com.

Press Contact
Sam Roach-Gerber, Vice President
Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies
(e) [email protected] (m) 413-519-6251


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