Some people say, that developing a successful high tech cluster needs the weather of California. Obviously, it doesn't. Talents don't care about the weather, and also investors don't. You could even argue that a short summer and a long freezing and dark winter does the trick, by making your lab the only cozy place to be. But what ever it is, here we have a small country in Northern Europe, which started in the 90s by not even having telephones at home, re-gained freedom from Soviet occupation by The Singing Revolution, and headlines its heritage in its History Museum with "11 000 years spirit of survival". Welcome to Estonia.
A few weeks ago, sitting over breakfast in Palermo, an article on Estonia's start up culture caught my attention (The Economist, Jul 11th 2013), and I decided to go and have a look. Thankfully, Holger Weiss fueled my excitement and helped opening doors. And so I went there, had an an interesting time, met wonderful people, discovered challengers in the old industries, as well as the movers and shakers in the new ones. It is a distinct way of moving and shaking though. Estonians generally don't talk much. And only do it when they know what they talk about and when it makes sense. This is already the first difference to Silicon Valley, you will notice.
Feibai and I went together, but had different missions. She is looking for diversification options and potential investments for a large Chinese building material conglomerate. And I wanted to know how things work, in relation to my projects related to the set up of high tech parks. We had a week of back to back meetings, and talked to a wide spectrum of people, from "start up kids" to technology millionaires, from CEOs to advisors to the Prime Minister. We saw start up incubators, university initiatives to commercialize research, the Investment Agency and the EU's closest port to Russia, which has a free trade zone and transit facilities.
For my research on the success factors of Estonia as a technology hub, this was an excellent visit to form hypotheses. One of the most interesting paradigm discussed, was that if a country has a small number of citizens, it needs to make sure it has a large number of users. And technology is one way to achieve that. A thing to watch, is for sure the Estonian e-residency, which is also available for non Estonians in any country where Estonia has an Embassy. Just apply online by clicking here, puck up your chip card from the nearest Estonian embassy (does not have to be yours), and then register an Estonian company in 10 minutes online. Corporate tax only on dividend, income tax flat, no National debt ... Here we go.
Now the verification of ideas and the number crunching starts. And quite a few Skype calls to follow (the core code of Skype was made in Estonia). But we will be back in person also. Thanks to everybody for now.