Why I Think That The Estonian Startup Community Is The Coolest In The Universe  

Today marks exactly 2 years since I joined Startup Estonia as a Startup Community Development Manager. I had some ideas, but I never imagined, where this journey would take me and the whole ecosystem. A week ago, Startup Estonia launched the Startup Sector 2020 Statistics, where you could see that the startup sector is still the fastest-growing in the Estonian economy. But, there is a whole community participating in the success of this thriving ecosystem. So, I decided to give you an overview of the activities, accomplishments, and developments of the Estonian startup ecosystem, to celebrate how far we have come and what the future holds for us. 

Discussing the next steps of our ecosystem in autumn 2021
Last community gathering and discussion in Pärnu


Looking back to the beginning


Joining the Startup Estonia team was definitely one of the best decisions of my life. I mean, have you met these people? Having had experienced the New York startup scene and worked in an Estonian startup for a year, on top of being one of the head organizers of the legendary Startup Week Tallinn 2018, joining the team was the only logical choice. Things seemed blurry at first, but soon I understood that I was given the opportunity to connect with the coolest and foremost unique startup community in the world. 


The concentration of support organizations 


What makes us unique, you may ask? As of today, we have 1117 startups in the Estonian Startup Database, which also had its anniversary last month. It is remarkable, but what is more surprising - having over 146 organizations supporting the startup ecosystem. That means we have a support organization for every 7,6 startups. I don't know many other ecosystems with that kind of power. Let that sink in for a bit. 

At the end of 2018, we counted 103 organizations, so the growth in two years has been 41,7%. Of course, the support organizations are just a little bit like startups - some of them stop and some of them start, but this is how life in our sector works. And what do we mean by support organizations? In Estonia, we have many different startup incubators & accelerators, conferences & event organizers, mentoring & business consultation services, investment funds, public sector & NGOs, co-working spaces, R&D centers & universities, and networks like EstVCA, EstBAN, and Estonian Founders Society. You can get the best overview of the organizations from the ecosystem page.


People are everything 


Numbers are important, but what matters to me the most are the people behind all of those organizations. Brad Feld says in his book "Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City" that there are four key elements to building a successful startup ecosystem.
  • The startup community must be led by entrepreneurs 
  • You have to be in it for a long time 
  • Be inclusive of everyone at every level
  • Organize regular events to engage people 
I'd say Estonia can say check-check-check-check ✅ on all of them. We can even add our own layers - like having a small but almost 100% digital country, being extremely innovative because we have to, and keeping our community active and friendly by always supporting each other. We are lucky that our ecosystem is truly led by entrepreneurs and many of them have been in it for a long time. As a community manager, I can say that we are inclusive of everyone and events... well, I'm going to tell you about the events! 🤩 

Startup Week Tallinn events were full of happy people


Did someone say live events?! 


Oh, yes, please! If you show me one person (from the startup scene) who says that he/she loves online events more than physical live events with networking, having fun, and actually seeing each other face-to-face, it is really hard for me to believe you. I know we're in the midst of an interesting era, where we have to get used to the fact that live events will never return in the same format they used to take place, but that makes me appreciate the times we've had even more. Some of my highlights from 2019 and 2020 include:
  • all the 11 community meetups, where you people always came with a smiling face and with important news to share. My extra favorite community meetups have been in Pärnu in August 2019 together with the Moonshot workshop, and October 2020 - the community development days. 
  • sTARTUp Day 2020 was so lucky to be the last event before the pandemic hit, and it definitely gave us the high energy to survive the quietness that followed. Can you believe it - 4400 people under one roof? And how well everything was organized! I hope we can do it again in August 2021!
  • Latitude59 has always brought the real vibe of the startup ecosystem to Tallinn. 2019 was crazy - so many people, so many delegations (from everywhere!), and a lot of fun! 2020 was definitely challenging, but the team succeeded so well, that people started calling them to give expert advice on how to pull off that kind of hybrid conference. Boom! 💥
    Startup Estonia team (missing some members) at Latitude59
  • Estonian Startup Awards 2019 & 2020. This event was something we started with Lift99 and last year the Estonian Founders Society joined the organizing team. I am sure this tradition will continue and keep developing in time, because we need to celebrate the startup successes and inspire future founders! 
  • Startup Week Tallinn is also something I can't go without mentioning. Organizing this event brought me to the community and I'm forever grateful for that. It's pretty unbelievable that in 2019 we had over 75 events, 4 tracks, 69 event organizers, 46 different locations, 4000+ attendees, and 6 cities taking part in that madhouse. What a team behind it! 

    Startup Week Tallinn team and Andra from Techstars at the afterparty
  • Last but not least our community study trip to Berlin and Tech Open Air in 2019. Oh, the times we could travel! I'm always emotional with this one, because when you organize something for 25 people to spend time in one place for a week, then you most definitely get to know them more. This was a highlight of my two years in Startup Estonia and I hope we can repeat the experience soon enough. 

Estonian Startup Community visiting Berlin and its startup ecosystem in July 2019

Clearly, there were more events happening. Only with the support from Startup Estonia, we know that 126 events took place in 2019 with 12 178 participants and 64 events in 2020 with 11 567 participants. So you can imagine what the total number of events might be. 


Projects brought to life 


In addition to the conferences and events mentioned, we have had a lot more going on. The community organized and Startup Estonia supported projects like UX TartuStartup Speed Dating Night, Demystifying Virtual Reality, movie "Unicorn" premiere, Cognitive Electronics for Smart Environments hackathon, Raising money webinars, Global Founders in Estonia meetups, GreenEst Summit, Hüppelaud, Salto Growth Camp Emergency, Ettevõtlik Pärnakas Hackaton, Female Founder Meetups, Baltic Electronics Conference, eGA Conference, Future of Wood hackathons, Cyber Security hackathons, Edtech hackathons, Latitude44 and the list continues with all the events and projects organized in Ida-Virumaa, in Cybertech and Edtech sectors. 

Community meetup in December 2019 at UMA co-working center 

Two years in a row we've also had public tenders called the Development of the Estonian start-up ecosystem and development programs for startups where we've supported 14 organizations in total with 290 000 euros. Organizations that have shined the most with their projects are Trinidad Wiseman OÜ, Tehnopol Startup Incubator, Quantitas OÜ & Rethinkers OÜ, Metropolis MTÜ, EstBAN, Cleantech ForEst MTÜ, Sunly OÜ, Civitta Eesti AS, Estonian Health Economy Association, HK Unicorn Squad, VIVITA Estonia OÜ, Tartu Science Park, Prototron MTÜ, Lift99 OÜ. If you've read through the long list, you understand why I am so proud of our ecosystem. Huge applause to all of you! 

Look at those smiling faces! This is why I love community meetups. 
 


What's next for our community?


That is a good question and either I or the Startup Estonia team can't entirely answer that alone. What we can do and what we've already done is to set the tone and directions for the next years to come. Thanks to the Moonshot Ideation Day mentioned earlier, the community gave us the first insights so that we could start compiling the Startup Estonia White Paper 2021-2027, which was launched in November 2020. 

We've come a long way to get to where we are. We know that the Estonian startup ecosystem contributes to the country as a whole and that we have a lot to offer. We know that we are thriving and the community is growing. So, I think we should enjoy it for a bit because I know we, Estonians, have a hard time doing that sometimes (you know, who has time for that if you can always do better). But after that, we can go on with a fresh set of ambitious goals for the whole startup community. 

Startup Estonia team is extremely grateful to all the people, who have put their time, efforts, ideas, and vision into the whole process of developing the ecosystem. From the input we've got from the discussions, different workshops, and the startup community survey, we can already see that the future looks great because we're on a right track. Now we just need to move forward together with the same direction in mind. Let's continue doing that together!

I am beyond honored to be part of this community. Thank you, people, who I've met in those two years. You have made my days, my weeks, my months, my years so much cooler. You know you rock! I hope we can meet soon, but until then be safe and let's keep reaching for the stars! ✨




Blogpost & stats by: Liisi Org, Startup Community Development Manager at Startup Estonia 
Graphs by: Kristjan Prik, MadeBY
Photos: Ann Vaida, Maido Parv, Marie Rosalie Hanni, Laura Oks. 

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