We have been referred to as the European Silicon Valley in light of the number of unicorns we’ve spawned.
Yes, one could say that because people are familiar with the image of Silicon Valley. I would go one step further – Estonia is better than Silicon Valley because Estonia is Estonia. We do not have to copy Silicon Valley. We have our own culture, environment and traditions. Perhaps we can do better than the Americans. Silicon Valley is a part of USA, while Estonia is already ahead of the States. Therefore, must we emulate Silicon Valley or can we find a better way?
What could this better or more original approach entail?
It seems to me that our tight-knit community has served us well so far. It has to do with our small size – people know and trust one another, dare test ideas on colleagues without fear of them being stolen. It seems to me that the “stepping over dead bodies” style of competition is less prevalent here. Our trump card is being able to expand our grasp. For instance, once you get your company up and running, you start paying attention to whether we have schools producing new talents.
If startups currently contribute around 3 percent of GDP, what could that figure be in the future?
Our ambition is for it to be 30 percent in a decade’s time. It sounds daredevil, but why shouldn’t it? Ambition is what has been driving the startup sector forward. We need to make sure organic growth that could give us those 30 percent is ensured in terms of labor and other types of resources. We need investments to be able to develop tech-intensive fields sporting a long perspective.
Startup Estonia has not counted companies not registered in Estonia among local unicorns in the past. Why the change?
Our ecosystem has given the world two new unicorns this year, which is why we decided to revise our definition. We found that because we are dealing with strong global influence from the Estonian startup ecosystem, it would make sense to count such unicorns as our own in recognition of their founders and Estonia. The practice is widespread elsewhere. In other words, the company needs to have an Estonian development center, be registered here or have at least one Estonian among its founders.
Is it a public relations ploy?
There are various lists and ways to count unicorns. It is clear that because founders can be from several different countries, a unicorn can be on several lists. I believe that mathematical precision is not the most important thing here and that we must demonstrate the strength of our startup ecosystem and the people it has produced. We need not split hairs here.
What is needed to turn a startup into a world-renowned unicorn?
A lot of things have been done right in Estonia. Starting with our strong digital state and trust in the startup sector. People have become more entrepreneurial and believe that startups are no longer about “kids messing around in a garage.” Skype’s success and status as the first unicorn laid the foundation for what has followed. It gave rise to the next generation of businessmen and investors. They have produced over 50 successful companies. I’m sure the next wave will repeat this feat and on much grander scale.