Quick Stop in Estonia

Today we had the opportunity to hear three different speakers share three different perspectives on the Estonian education system and business model. The first speaker represented Tal Tech University Metkory department, the second was CEO of the university’s Tehnopol Science Park and lastly, we met with a representative from The Datel Group. After observing all three of the environments and presentations, we concluded that three main themes exist amongst the Baltic economic model and their respective company environments: nationalistic pride, entrepreneurial motivations and technology driven practices.

Nationalistic Pride

It was evident that the speakers and those around them were proud of their Estonian heritage. At this point, they have abandoned any and all relation to their past oppressors. The way they spoke of their country made it clear that they have embraced their recent independence to the fullest. This was evident most notably at the university tour, when we learned that only Estonian citizens are given free education. This is not honored to all European Union citizens, as is the case in the other countries. The justification is that Estonians pay significantly higher taxes than anyone in the world, therefore only their citizens deserve this right. Education is only taught in the Estonian language, with the only exception being English. Their country’s national language is Estonian, however, they have recently been considering English as the second official language. They pride themselves on being educated, especially in the fields of technology, science and engineering.

Additionally, there is much transparency and trust between the government and the people. Estonians are granted complete access to their personal records, including who has viewed it and why. Everyone’s information is available, putting each person on the same level of vulnerability. They are also extremely proud of the design of these systems, such as the fact that there is zero duplication of personal information, with each specific piece of information stored only on one server each. This enhances efficiency for their e-systems.

Entrepreneurial Motivations

The entrepreneurial attitude of the Estonian population as a whole is truly noteworthy. There are currently 550 startups in Estonia, with approximately 300 new ones created each year. This attitude is so prominent, in fact, that approximately 40-50% of the population has this desire to be an entrepreneur. In fact, we learned in our last visit of the day that most types of professional training in Estonia is not typically “training for a new job,” but rather it is training to be an entrepreneur. However, there is an argument that it has gone too far. With such a low unemployment rate, our speaker expressed a mild frustration frustration: “there is no one to hire for anything here.” Everybody wants to start their own businesses.

The Estonian government also plays a role in making entrepreneurial ventures more feasible for startups, specifically by putting restrictions that cap the number of pages for various legal documents to 1-2 pages. By doing this, everything must be hyper-simplified, and as a result, people do not shy away from it. This is a significant contrast to the United States, where the general public is being trained to enter certain fields or career tracks, and legal documents are so complex that one cannot typically start a new venture without significant legal consulting first.

Another interesting note that we learned during our time at Tehnopol Science Park was the fact that students are beginning to prefer working over education because the technologies being used are changing at such a rapid pace. Hands on experience is becoming an invaluable aspect of students’ education, which is why internships are typically required of students as well.

Technology Driven

The Estonian Government is almost completely an E-government, meaning they function totally through digital paperwork. 98% of medicines are prescribed electronically, 99% of bank transfers are performed electronically, and 100% of schools and government organizations have broadband connection. The way this works is that everything is made a simple as possible. As previously mentioned, forms are only allowed to be one page long and other contracts can be two. The government is only allowed to ask for your address one time total, leading to a central form system. According to the speaker from Datel, “the only thing you are not allowed to do online is get married.” They are an extremely sophisticated technology driven society, so much so that they have robots operating around the city making package deliveries.

When babies are born, they are assigned a number that is theirs for the rest of their life. It is added to the online database by a nurse, and they suddenly have a online presence in the database.

Additionally, their elections are all online, and you need your phone to vote. This again, emphasizes the trust that is evident in their society.

One issue that arises in this tech hub is the issue of replacing workers with robots. We learned that it is a common perception in the workplace that people have accepted robots as being part of society. We learned that at Datel, when a new policy is released in a company, low-skilled workers must learn the new technology or they are out of a job. In Datel, when they introduced a new system, they gave their workers 60 days to learn it or they had to leave. It is clear that there is a low tolerance for being outdated. However, it is something the people are used to. Each speaker came off as one who does not tolerate any nonsense.

Overall, these companies shed a light on the attitudes and approaches to doing business in Estonia, and we are excited to see how this compares to the rest of our stops!