July 5, 2018

Tech-savvy Estonia wants you to know it has 1.3m people — and 4 unicorns

After adopting a number of policies to encourage tech development in the ’90’s, Estonia has emerged as a surprising tech powerhouse -- and it’s not shy about announcing it.

Over the weekend, the president of Estonia went on a spree of not-so-humble bragging about her tiny country’s 4 unicorns.

Some literalist readers asked for photos of mythical beasts and recommended putting them in a zoo — but, trolls aside, the tiny tech powerhouse does have the world’s most digitized government and a disproportionately strong tech industry for a population of just 1.3m.

From Soviet bloc to e-Estonia

Just 5 years after gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia launched a program called ‘Tiger’s Leap’ to invest in computer and network infrastructure.

By 2000, Estonia made history as the first country to make internet access a human right. Since then, it’s incubated a number of highly successful tech companies under the banner of its ‘e-Estonia’ program.

Eastern Europe’s self-made unicorn pasture

In a country where kids learn to code by the first grade, it was only a matter of time before startups began to sprout. 

Estonian-born Skype kicked off a startup boom when Microsoft bought it for $8.5B and its founders reinvested all of their profits in their home country. 

Since then, 3 other companies have achieved $1B+ ‘unicorn’ valuations — Playtech (gambling software), Taxify (ride-hailing), and TransferWise (money transfer).

Meanwhile, Estonia continues to invest in itself. The country continues to attract tech investment with e-residencies and protects its national IP with a countrywide municipal blockchain network and a ‘digital embassy’ in Luxembourg that safeguards data from cybercrime.

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