By James Conroy; Journalist – former Assistant Psychologist – Contributor at . Inquisitor of user-experience, communities, perception & design.

The city of Tallinn played host to more than 2,000 international guests this weekend for the 10th anniversary of Latitude59 – the flagship start-up and tech event of the ‘world’s first digital society’. The 2-day conference (May 24th-25th) looked to the future of fintech, digital health, the Internet of Things (IoT), the future of funding, and Buildtech – ‘the next massive market to be disrupted and change the world’.

The event provided a range of talks – from Growth Hacking and Marketing to Digital Transformation and the Platform Economy – hosted by an impressive array of speakers  that included; Jon von Tetzchner (Vivaldi Technologies), Taizo Sun (Mistletoe Inc.), Ronald Goedendorp (NanoRacks LLC), Joyce Shen (Thomson Reuters) Sean Percival (Katapult Accelerator / ex-500 Startups), Cathy Rogers (IBM), Parag Mittal (Soracom), Ahti Heinla (Starship Technologies) and Peter Vesterbacka (Ligtneer/Ex-Rovio/Angry Birds)

To provide a brief account of the nation known as the ‘Silicon Valley of Europe’; Estonia was the first ever country to declare access to the internet as a basic human right in 2000 and will lead the creation of the world’s first data embassy in Luxemburg – a centre that will provide a complete backup of the countries data in the event of a cyber-attack [again]. Since its liberation from soviet occupancy in 1991, a revitalised, younger generation of Estonians have built a new society atop the medieval city of Tallinn, where innovation, technology, foreign investment and venture capitalism hold leading roles.

According to Startup Estonia, there are over 400 start-up companies in the country at the moment with over 90% in the “very early – prototyping, seed – or early stages of development”. That’s the most start-ups per person in the world. Beyond this, Estonia is host to the world’s fastest broadband and continues to promote and teach programming in primary schools. There has been over 370 million euro invested in Estonian startups in the last ten years with 80% coming from foreign investment. Peer-to-peer money transfer company TransferWise alone raised 48 million in 2015, and 23 million in 2016.

Estonia is set to take the helm of the rotating presidency of the European Union Council on the 1st of July this year where one of their top missions shall be surrounding digital development. Luukas Ilves – aged 29 – is Estonia’s counselor for digital affairs and a permanent resident in Brussels, and whose age and influence to date further highlights the ability and motivations of Estonia’s youth population. The role of Estonia as leaders of the EU council may play an important part in the Horizon2020 pursuit of a single digital market.

The Latitude59 conference was opened by Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia, who was in attendance to promote the country as a leading global ecosystem for businesses and start-ups. Estonia boasts a unique ‘e-Residency’ program that was further enhanced following a big announcement last Friday.

e-Residency is available to anyone interested in establishing a location-independent business online. You can read more about e-Residency here. The scheme was introduced to encourage the formation of a borderless–society. Using the issued card, e-Residents can register and establish a global EU company and remotely manage and administrate the company fully online.

It was announced at the conference that the e-Residency programme has partnered with the Finnish fintech company Holvi to launch a borderless digital banking system which shall allow e-Residents to access business banking without having to travel to the country. As stated in a press release;

“This partnership is the most significant milestone yet in the rise of location-independent entrepreneurship. It means a complete EU company combined with a fully digital EU IBAN business account can be established anywhere with an internet connection for the first time through e-Residency.”

Furthermore, on the 18th of January 2017, Startup Estonia partnered with the Estonian Ministry of Interior to implement a new ‘startup visa programme’ that would allow non-EU nationals to work for Estonian startups and even facilitate the relocation of startups. The option include a 1 year visa with the opportunity to extend for an additional year, or a 5 year startup entrepreneurship visa.

The majority of startups in Estonia – where companies like Skype and TransferWise were founded – are involved in I.T and B2B with a strong focus on hardware, developer tools, collaboration & productivity and fin-tech. There were over 3,500 people employed by Estonian start-ups at the end of 2016 and there has been a significant push toward technologies that can influence ‘social change’ beyond profit margins alone.

Antti-Jussi Suominen, Holvi CEO, says: “Entrepreneurship is on the rise and no matter the location of these businesses they all share one common problem; they are currently being underserved in their financial matters. Ever since Holvi was founded we have been helping small businesses manage their finances digitally. We have followed the e-Residency initiative since the beginning and see this partnership as an excellent match to help entrepreneurs around the world run their businesses successfully.”

As the Baltic and Nordic countries continue to expand in their influence on emerging startups as well as innovative fields such as robotics, energy, fintech and artificial intelligence, all eyes are on Estonia and the city of Tallinn who are quietly securing themselves as leaders in the expansive [and inevitable?] field of digital societies.


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