Meet Estonia, the land of unicorns

Tara Johnson
Tara Johnson
Meet Estonia, the land of unicorns

Announcing Sesamers on Tour Stop #3: Estonia, in collaboration with Latitude59 on April 27th.

Check out the program below, including insights on the Estonian tech scene from our interview with Martin Villig, co-founder of Estonian unicorn Bolt and president of the Estonian Founders Society.

Join us on Tuesday, April 27th at 2pm CET to learn about Estonia, the land of the tech unicorns.

The Program

Deep dive into the Estonian startup ecosystem

  • Sander Sillavee, Startup Estonia

Masterclass: Startup journey into the land of unicorns.

Together with their partners from Invest Estonia and EstVCA, they'll take you on a journey through all the key steps and phases of a startup in Estonia, from establishing and building your company to raising capital and conquering the world.

Speakers include:

  • Marten Kaevats, National Digital Advisor
  • Martin Villig, co-founder of Estonian unicorn Bolt and president of the Estonian Founders Society
  • Michael Noonan, Vice President of Operations at Clarifai
  • Margus Uudam, Chairman of EstVCA and founding partner at Karma Ventures

Latitude59 and sTARTUpday in conversation

  • Maarja Pehk, Latitude59 and Marili Vihmann, sTARTUpday

Interview with Martin Villig

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I have been an entrepreneur for 20 years, did my 1st exit in 1999 during the 1st internet bubble. After that I worked at Tallinn Stock Exchange, Skype and Fortumo. I have founded 5 startups,  2 failed, one is ticking, 1 smaller exit and one unicorn. Bolt is one of the fastest growing scale-ups in Europe.

Could you explain your involvement in the Estonian Founder Society?

We started Estonian Founders Society back in 2009 with just 7-8 founders, it was very early days of our local ecosystem. Initial idea was just to mingle, share experiences and connections as we were all learning to build startups and went through similar challenges. Today we have 150+ members, most of active Estonian founders belong to our society. Now we also help define the ecosystem, share our feedback to legislation and run round-tables with Estonian prime minister to solve ecosystem challenges. It’s important to recognize the best founders and startups on annual startup gala to motivate young and upcoming founders. I am also curating a crowdsourced spreadsheet of Estonian Startup Funding (since 2006) which makes the whole ecosystem much more transparent.

Besides entrepreneurship, I am also passionate about education initiatives. Together with Taavet from Wise, we co-founded Good Deed Education Foundation in 2018, philanthropy fund of €1 million to boost innovative education projects - so far we have funded 10 projects.

Estonia is a small country and to empower our startup ecosystem, we need much more programmers, both locally and to relocate to Estonia. Recently we co-founded Jõhvi Coding School, an innovative platform based learning without teachers. We open applications in May and will start educating 200 software engineers per year in eastern part of Estonia. We hope to get 70% students from all around Estonia and 30% of students from abroad.

What is your company (Bolt) and how is it relevant to the local ecosystem?

Bolt is the leading European mobility platform that’s focused on making urban travel more affordable, convenient and responsible. Our services range from ride-hailing to micromobility with scooters and electric bikes to food and package delivery. Bolt has more than 50 million customers in over 40 countries across Europe and Africa. We work hard to make people's lives better by saving them time and money, reducing stress and improving cities. All Bolt rides in Europe are 100% carbon-neutral as part of Bolt’s Green Plan, a long-term commitment to reduce the ecological footprint of the company.

Bolt is the only Estonian unicorn that has its legal headquarters in Estonia. We have raised over 500 million in funding, so we try to inspire other founders and investors to prove that Estonia is a stable legal environment to fundraise from global top investors.

I am currently driving Bolt’s Sustainability efforts, including several education projects (Education Foundation, Jõhvi Coding School etc), mitigating our footprint via Bolt Green plan and designing sustainable modern cities.

Why do you think Estonia could be Europe’s new tech hotspot?

Estonia has 7 unicorns and over 1100 startups, which puts us in TOP per capita, considering we have just 1.3 million people. We have a supportive and fast growing ecosystem, which has been growing 30% per year for the last 5 years. Estonian founders are so determined and resilient that we have probably the lowest fail rate of startups globally.

You can start a company online in 18 minutes, sign agreements in seconds or declare your annual taxes in 3-5 minutes. Those are just a few examples of our digital society and government verified online ID card system.

Estonia is open for foreign talent and many fast-growing startups are looking for product managers, growth hackers, software engineers, data scientists etc. Check over 500 offers from WorkInEstonia website.

I personally really like a great life in Tallinn and Estonia, from reasonable rental prices (2 room apartment from 400-700 Euros), lively cultural life and hundreds top level restaurants and (craft beer) bars. Tallinn is a relatively small city with 500k people, where you can manage your commutes by walking, 10-15min biking, taxi or free public transport.

And Estonian nature - 50% country is covered with forests, bogs and over 2200 islands. Take a rental car and you will be out in the wilderness in just 20-30 minutes, where you can enjoy walking or hiking, swim in lakes and camping in nature trails and not seeing other people throughout your day. Our famous white summer nights, when it almost does not get dark at all - you just need to experience those yourself!

Why is Estonia attractive to startups? Investors?

Estonia is well known for our digital society and direct access to supportive government. Startup community has regular roundtables with prime ministers to review challenges in legislation and adapt the laws to support innovation.

We have been opening up those opportunities for remote founders and nomads via our e-Residency program. Great startup founders and teams are welcome to relocate to Estonia via our Startup Visa program and receive support from the lively English speaking community.

Estonian legislation is simple, stable and transparent, which is attractive to various fund managers, who are establishing their funds in Estonia, because of online services and no corporate income tax.

I haven’t heard of any other country, but in Estonia almost all top founders belong to Estonian Founders Society, with more than 160 members. We have lively Slack, regular 1:1 meetings and monthly meetups to share knowledge. We have healthy competition, we celebrate and support each-others wins and this inspires even more founders to establish startups to take on global problems.

We have an active angel community with 200 members and recently listed TOP60 most active angel investors of 2020. We invite all foreign investors to network with EstBan, EstVCA and join our 2 annual startup conferences - Latitude59 and Startup Day.


What are some key players in the Estonian tech scene that our international audience should be aware of?

Estonia has many great startups, with Estonian and foreign founders:

  • Skeleton Technologies - global technology leader in ultracapacitor energy storage in automotive, transportation, grid, and industrial applications
  • Veriff just raised 58M as a leading online verification provider with a vision to become the online identity provider of the globe. What if your passport issued in 2030 would come from Veriff?
  • Katana MRP - just raised 11M for scaling their smart workshop software designed to revolutionize the way small manufacturers run their business and sell products to consumers.
  • Starship Technologies - as a global leader, just raised 17M for scaling and developing small self-driving robotic delivery vehicles for last mile food and package deliveries.
  • Glia - provides award-winning digital customer service technology for financial institutions


Read more from Startup Estonia’s startup database and come to visit us in person!

Register here 👉 ti.to/sesamers/tour-2021/



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