GSD's #GoGlobal Tour Fuels Innovation In Estonia

From Nigeria to South Africa and Finland to the booming tech startup and Baltic-state nation of Estonia, GSD Venture Studios continues its trek around the world in search of bold, resilient entrepreneurs who have the grit that it takes to #GoGlobal.

The #GoGlobal tour thus far has resulted in a dynamic portfolio of 100 companies hailing from 45+ countries, with 45% minority-led/from an emerging market and 15% women founded. The GSD team was thrilled to land in the thriving country of Estonia to learn more about their fascinating startup culture in their search for the country’s top talent building the next unicorn.

You Might be Wondering, “Why Estonia?”

According to the World Economic Forum, Estonia is the most entrepreneurial country in the world. It is the birthplace of more unicorns per capita in Europe than any other country, boasting 10 in total since 2005. These unicorns include Skype, Playtech, Wise, Bolt, and PipeDrive, to name a few.

Additionally, Estonia is proudly known as the world’s first digital society with the best internet connection. They have successfully become a top performer of digital public services and recently ranked first in Europe with well-developed e-government systems to include all central government functions and municipalities providing their services online.

Now you might be wondering; how did Estonia accomplish such great success?

Entrepreneurs in Estonia benefit from a wide array of resources such as education facilities, initiatives, funding opportunities, and support from state services through the government’s Startup Estonia platform. Startup Estonia's mission is to “supercharge the Estonian start-up ecosystem to be the birthplace of many more start-up success stories in the future.”

There aren’t many countries where you can establish a startup online in just 15 minutes and file your tax returns with just a few clicks of a button. Their taxation regime is transparent and straightforward - 0% income tax on retained and reinvested profits, clear stock options regulation, and double taxation treaties on file in at least 60 countries.

The startup scene in Estonia also holds innovative events such as the world-renowned Lattitude 59. This flagship event of “e-Estonia” takes place in Tallinn every year and recently took place in May 2022, boasting pitching competitions, networking, and in-depth discussions with top players in an intimate environment. As a result, investors gain access to the region's most promising and fastest-growing startups, creating a collision point between the Baltics and the Nordics.

We are thrilled to connect and forge new partnerships with the thriving entrepreneurial community of Estonia. - Gary Fowler, CEO, and Co-founder of GSD Venture Studios.

Additionally, Estonia became one of the first EU countries to pass legislation regulating and controlling cryptocurrencies, making it one of the first in the world to develop a framework to facilitate crypto entrepreneurship and innovation. This, combined with the country’s progressive tax system and a digital-first economy, has made Estonia one of the most popular destinations for startups, specifically in Decentralized Finance (DeFi) and investors alike.

Estonia Has The Talent And Experience To Use Silicon Valley As A Portal To The World

According to global statistics, it is estimated that a startup only has a 0.00006% chance of reaching a billion-dollar valuation. And somehow, there are ten unicorns for a 1.3 million population in Estonia. Furthermore, Estonian startup revenue totaled 196.5 million euros in Q1 of 2020 alone, with an impressive track record of 66% growth year-over-year.

This Baltic nation first landed on the map with Skype in 2003. What began as a small startup eventually became a global business with a whopping 300M + users. The company was later sold to Microsoft but still has offices around Tallinn.

Considering they are one of the smallest countries in the region, another impressive stat is that they also lead in the number of investments per capita. When it comes to venture funding, Estonia ranks third globally with $1.19B in total funding in 2021, according to Crunchbase.

A significant driver behind why Estonia ranked in third place last year for global funding is due to fast-growing Bolt, founded in 2013 and rose to unicorn status in 2018. Bolt became the country’s multinational ride-hailing platform for delivery and microbility, headquartered in the nation’s capital of Tallinn. It raised close to $700M in its last round of funding in August.

Other successful unicorns include Pipedrive, a leading CRM for sales and marketing teams named the top ICT company of 2021. Pipedrive has grown from a single sales pipeline tool to a full-lifecycle business platform. Unicorn ID.Me is a secure, digital identity network now used by 38% of adults in the U.S.

Another interesting fact is that Estonia has more startups per person than Silicon Valley, currently holding a world record!

The Estonian entrepreneurial culture combines the digital competitiveness of China with the ambition and resilience of Silicon Valley - a deadly combination that is already putting a dent in the universe. It was fascinating to see.

The Intriguing History of Estonia

The fairytale-esque Old Town and UNESCO world heritage capital Tallinn was granted city rights by the King of Denmark in the 13th century. Since then, the nation’s capital has been in the hands of many world powers, from the Swedes and Danes to Germans and Soviet Russia.

The Republic of Estonia became an independent state in 1918, interrupted by the 50-year-long Soviet occupation after World War II. Estonia later restored its independence in 1991, coined the Singing Revolution, inspired by their song festival tradition. Filled with medieval homes and historical sights, Estonia’s rich architecture holds many legends and stories to tell.

GSD Supports Startup Growth In Estonia

A GSD trip wouldn’t be complete without hosting an event at the famed Latitude 59. Derek Distenfield joined up-and-coming unicorn Treebuddy.Earth, Thomas "TJ" Jackson, and other Estonian entrepreneurs for a fireside chat about Sustainable Innovations on May 20th.

The fireside chat theme ironically aligned with Derek’s love language; purpose-driven companies. Beyond providing solutions to the world’s most pressing problems and turning a profit, how can startups make a global impact and leave the world a better place than they found it?

Treebuddy is a Unicorn in the Making That Stands Above the Rest

Treebuddy is a rising unicorn out of Estonia with a mission to combat climate change by planting millions of trees and providing long-term care by local communities. Treebuddy.Earth is a ‘purpose-driven transformational company with a mission to heal the planet through reforestation in a radically new way.’

“By investing in purpose-driven innovations that have established roots throughout the world, our mission to build bridges for global startups continues in fast-growing Estonia.” - Derek Distenfield, COO and Cofounder of GSD Venture Studios.

TreeBuddy has found an innovative business model whereby corporations and consumers pay for tree plantings. Additionally, Treebuddy has built a community-driven initiative around climate change that incentivizes locals to care for the trees and the planet.

Partnerships, Partnerships, Partnerships

GSD previously announced Thomas “TJ” Jackson as their newest partner to lead GSD efforts in Helsinki; however, based on this fantastic trip, we are expanding his duties to both the Nordics and the Baltics as both regions have tremendous potential.

Although American-born, TJ is a long-time Helsinki resident dialed into local startups and resources and will help GSD find local bold, resilient entrepreneurs to #GoGlobal.

GSD Labs & Baltics Fund

We will continue to invest time and effort in Estonia, and with the progress this small country in the Baltics has made, we can’t wait to return. My trip further solidifies our belief in GSD’s thesis: there is nothing magical in the water in San Francisco. When you leave the bubble of Silicon Valley, you just might find exceptional talent and unicorns chomping at the bit to become a global force to be reckoned with.

While many initiatives support Estonian founders, we believe our accelerator, GSD Labs, adds unique value by building bridges to Silicon Valley and helping founders to #GoGlobal. In addition, we are establishing a Baltic-specific fund just as we started in Nigeria and Finland to raise money for the most promising ventures in Estonia. More to come.