Exploring Estonia: The land of zebracorns and digital innovation

Submitted by Kristiina Libe on 23 October 2023


Estonia, a small yet mighty country nestled in Northern Europe, has been making waves in the world of innovation and technology. It’s a place where the mythical meets the digital, and where government collaboration takes on a unique approach. Visitors from Poland, Germany, Luxembourg, Lithuania, and Turkey had the pleasure to visit Estonia as part of the GreenTech 2.0 project cluster exchange initiative.

The 3-day journey into the Estonian innovation ecosystem started at Tehnopol Science and Business Park, a place where one of the Estonian unicorns – Skype – began its operations. This country is a hub for start-ups and 50% of them are supported by the Tehnopol Startup Incubator.

Estonia, known for its remarkable number of unicorns per capita in Europe, has now set its sights on a different breed – the zebracorn. The zebracorn is a symbol used for companies that go beyond mere financial growth; they are dedicated to making a significant positive impact on the environment and society.

But Estonia isn’t just about zebracorns; it’s a place where government and technology collide in a unique and forward-thinking manner. Unlike traditional govtech models where government institutions identify challenges and seek entrepreneurs to solve them, Estonia takes a bottom-up approach.

Julija Maslinskaitė from DocLogix said that what really caught her eye during the visit was Estonia’s unique take on tech and government collaboration. “Instead of the conventional govtech model, where government institutions identify a challenge and seek entrepreneurs to solve it, Estonia is rewriting the playbook”, she emphasized.

Ground-breaking entrepreneurs with innovative ideas held back by systemic barriers can contact Accelerate Estonia, a governmental institution bridging the public and private sectors. This approach breaks down regulatory roadblocks, creating new market opportunities that benefit both entrepreneurs and the country. As a result, new market opportunities are created that benefit the entrepreneur, country, and the world.

“Estonia’s approach to innovation and regulation is truly inspiring. There is definitely a lot to learn from”, Maslinskaitė added.

Estonia’s digitalization journey began more than a quarter of a century ago when the country invested in infrastructure and the digital education of their youngest citizens. The results are evident, with Estonia now reaping the rewards of its early initiatives. Visiting Estonia’s e-Estonia Briefing Centre, the guests explored how the country facilitates interaction between citizens and the state using ICT solutions.

Dolores Daniel from EstBAN (Estonian Business Angels Network) gave an overview of the greentech trends that spark the investors interest. The City of Tallinn shared their experience with collaborating with companies, as well as the role of the Green Capital of Europe, which Tallinn currently holds. The final day of the visit was spent in Tartu, European Capital of Culture 2024, where the Sparkup Tartu Science Park and the City of Tartu gave further insight into Estonia’s innovative landscape.

Umut Ogur from A Arti Mühendislik said that his main expectation was to learn about the Estonian innovation ecosystem regarding green technology solutions. “It was an incredibly well planned and smoothly run programme. It was amazing to learn about the green tech opportunities in Estonia in a nutshell”, he added. Ogur recently received his e-Residency status and is planning to seize the opportunity and grow his business here with the contacts he met during the visit.

Some call Estonia the Silicon Valley of the Baltics, but it’s so much more. It’s e-Estonia, a leader in electronic technologies and digital innovation. Estonia’s zebracorns, unique government collaboration, and thriving start-up ecosystem paint a picture of a country that’s not just embracing the digital age, but reshaping it.

European SMEs, clusters, research institutes and other scale-up organizations have a fantastic opportunity to apply for the Cluster Excellence Initiative CXC visit to Tallinn on 13-15th November that takes place during the Tallinn European Green Capital 2023 Culmination Week. To register your interest or get more detailed information about this visit, please click HERE!

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