We’ve brought you guides to Riga and Lithuania before, and we know quite a few were looking forward to Estonia. With Slush just finishing up, we hope it will be particularly useful for those flying in for the event and willing to stay longer and explore #Estonianmafia startup scene. There’s one quote that has been widely circulated among Estonian and foreign investors:

“If I see a company coming out of Estonia I am reasonably assured that it will be executed well. For its size, Estonia is generating more high quality startups than you would expect.”

–       Naval Ravikant, Founder of AngelList”

Hottest startups

Estonia is known for Skype just like Finland is known for Nokia. However, there is much more the tech-savvy country has to offer. The Estonian scene can be explored in more detail on the #Estonianmafia wall of fame at Garage48, but here are just a few startup names that you should know:

GrabCAD – the cloud based platform helping mechanical engineers collaborate has made headlines in September as it was acquired by Stratasys, a large 3D printing solutions provider for over €70 million.

With Estonian founders Transferwise, a company facilitating international money transfers, has been placed on Europe’s top 10 hottest startup list by Wired and landed an investment by Sir Richard Branson.

Weekly productivity tool Weekdone won the Slush pitching event last year.

Pipedrive is another well-known Estonian company, it helps its customers manage their CRM and sales pipelines. Co-founded by Ragnar Saas, one of Garage48 founders.

There are also some well-known grown-ups like mobile payments solution Fortumo and retail management solution Erply whom some commentators do not see as being called startups anymore. This brings us back to the vague definition of startup which is another topic for another time.

Resources of the ecosystem

To get a quick holistic picture of Estonian startup ecosystem, see this Prezi by IndrekAit published in March. Additionally, an Estonian-Finnish initiative Start-Smart presents a neat map of initiatives in Estonian ecosystem here. If you want more crisp detail on particular players, read on.

Places to work and meet up

Garage48 HUB – a co-working space in the heart of Tallinn, founded by Ragnar Sass, Martin Villig, Priit Salumaa and Juri Kaljundi from Garage 48 Foundation and Startup Leaders Club. The place stands out on the street and all events take place in English, so international visitors will feel comfortable there.

Tehnopol Startup Incubator – an incubator and science park with a co-working environment hosting more than 20 high-growth startups. Its startups include Transferwise, Toggl.com, Defendec, Signwise, Fleep and others. Transferwise has grown and is now one of Tehnopol sponsors. Tehnopol is affiliated with Tallin University of Technology and IT College, currently hosting more that 180 tech companies from the Baltics, including , Fujitsu Estonia, Cybernetica and Karl-Storz Estonia.

Technopolis Ülemiste – an office space in the close vicinity of Tallinn airport. It is built at the territory of an old Dvigatel factory and its design is inspired by Estonian innovators throughout its history. Technopolis Ülemiste is known as home to several contemporary startups like Signwise and ZeroTurnaround that has grown out of their first and largest tenant Nortal. An office of WNB, an open-minded Estonian seed investor with a diverse portfolio of companies from Bulgaria, Ukraine and Brazil, is located there as well. The Startup Wise Guys accelerator started in Technopolis Ülemiste campus, they have hosted many startup events – Garage48 hackathons, Money Talks for startups and investors, Technopolis Business Breakfast and Meet Your Neighbors. They also offer a Business Lounge with flexible pricing options for getting your work done.

Estonian Development Fund (EDF) – a public institution supporting established by the Parliament with the goal of supporting Estonian startup ecosystem. EDF invests in Estonian startups and supports a range of initiatives fostering startup development.

Startup events

Latitude 59 – Estonia’s biggest annual conference for startups and venture capitalists. The two-day event is taking place each spring. In 2015 Latitude59 is organized on May 14-15 and expects to gather around 700 participants from everywhere around Tallinn.

Seed Forum Tallinn – an investor-startup matchmaking event organised by a netswork of national representatives in 40 countries. Seed Forum is taking place in Estonia at least once a year, you can reach out to the organisers here.

EstBAN events –  Estonian Business Angels Network hosts regular Coffee Mornings for its members on every second Thursday of a month. Last event took place at Transferwise office. There are also Monthly Pitch events to EstBAN angels on every first Monday of a month.

Open Coffee Tallinn– a monthly morning coffee meetup taking place at 9AM in Garage48 HUB. Attended by #Estonianmafia startupers, tech enthusiasts, investors, startup ecosystem stakeholders.

Event calendars

Tehnopol Startup Incubator event calendar

Startup WiseGuys blog on startup events in Tallinn coming out every week

Startup Leaders Club startup event calendar

Startup support programmes

Ajujaht (Brain Hunt) competition – Estonia’s biggest entrepreneurship competition. Started by SEB bank as an initiative for raising entrepreneurial motivation among Estonian students 8 years ago, the program has now grown into a national competition with the average participant age of 30 with more than 300 applications a year. Participants compete for 50,000 EUR prize pool and Ajujaht finals are livestreamed in a special show on Estonian television. Last year all three finalists – Taxify, GoWorkaBit and Timbeter had already obtained investment backing by the time the finals went live. The Ajujaht website is written in Estonian, but their pitching sessions are held in English together with EstBAN. Harri Tallinn is actively meeting with foreign activists willing to replicate Ajujaht concept in their countries, and additionally, Ajujaht always values potential mentors, ambitious startups and suggests fitting companies to investors.

Startup Wiseguys Business Tech accelerator – a Tallinn-based accelerator for early-stage startups started in 2012 by Elise Saas and Jon Bradford. Since 2014 they focus their efforts exclusively on B2B business models and admit teams from all over the world. The program provides each accepted startup with a seed grant of up to €30,000. Companies that prove themselves also receive a €30,000 – 250,000 follow-up funding after the programme.

Gamfounders accelerator – a Tallinn-based gaming accelerator founded by a group of angel investors in 2012. Having released 4 batches of a total of 28 accelerated startups since then, Gamefounders are now focusing on helping their existing portfolio teams grow and looking for partners ready to contribute towards taking on and supporting their next batch.

BuildIT accelerator – a hardware-focused accelerator based in Tartu Science Park with more than 90 mentors from 15 countries. BuildIT is accepting hardware startups from all over the world. BuildIT admits hardware startups from all over the world to its acceleration programme and invests €10,000-20,000 for 6-12% of equity. So far they have invested in 15 companies.

Accelerace Life – a Nordic-Baltic accelerator network focusing on science-intensive projects and operating in 13 countries. In Estonia Accelerace Life is represented by Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol. Accelerace Life takes in early stage knowledge-intensive startups and accelerates them until first scaling efforts and raining an A-round. They also provide funding in convertible loans and a dedicated coach for each team. They also organise 2-3 day intensive startup camps in Nordic-Baltic capitals.

TechSisters – Estonian NGO formed after first Finnish Rails Girls event in Tallinn. TechSisters aim to encourage and excite women about technology and support events and initiatives with the same goal, last of them was Garage48 Women Special in October.

Prototron – founded by Tehnopol, Tallinn University of Technology and Swedbank. Prototron provides prototyping money grant for prototyping about 10,000 EUR per project. They accept startup applications on their webpage and then organise several rounds of screening, pitching and expert evaluation until the best ideas (usually 2-3) receive funding. In that way Prototron claims to be achieving 100% success rate on their accepted startups (15 to date). Their most notable projects include language learning tool Lingvist.io, new type of weather station Shaka and an educational game Code2Kids.

Vega Fund – a new prototyping and innovative idea implementation fund launched this January by Tartu University and SEB bank. The deal primarily focuses on students from University fo Tartu and amounts to 150,000 EUR over the course of 2014-2016.

Enterprise Estonia runs a startup grant programme providing up to 5,000 EUR in startup grants if the business meets certain conditions.

Kredex – a state agency providing loans, venture capital, credit insurance and guarantees. It also serves as the Estonian partner of Baltic Innovation Fund – a fund of funds providing public co-financing for venture capital funds in the Baltics.

Startup Estonia – Startup Estonia is a government program of Estonian Development Fund focused on providing training activities and other relevant support to both emerging and growing startups. In November 2014 Startup Estonia is launching the Estonian chapter of world’s biggest startup founder program Founder Institute. Startup Estonia also promises that more initiatives will follow.

Start-Smart.me a joint project between Estonia and Finland aiming to raise awareness and readiness to start up businesses among the general population. The project organised numerous hands-on workshops in Estonia and the Helsinki region, gathered a database startups and startup ecosystem players in the respective countries and a startup ad space. The team is applying for renewed funding round and will continue its operations to stimulate more practical outputs, e.g., formation of joint startups between its Estonian and Finnish participants. You can see project output here.

Hackathons

Garage48 – an 48h long hackathon ran by the same founding team as Garage48 HUB. The team has organised more than 40 events since 2011 in places as diverse as Estonia, Russia, South Africa, Palestine, Georgia, Ghana, Ukraine, Oman and more. They also create thematic events, e.g. Garage48 Women Special in Parnu, Garage48 Enable solving real problems for the diabled on Nov 28-30 in Tallinn, Garage48 GameDev on Dec 5-7 in Riga and many others.

TeamLab – Estonian organisers of two-day StartUp Weekend hackathon initative. Created by LoovEesti, Tallinn Incubators, Estonian Academy of Arts, Ajujaht, Tallinn Technical University.

Rails Girls – a Finnish-born Ruby on Rails workshop focused on empowering women with interest in tech. With an impressive list of events worldwide, the event also had been brought to Estonia by Techsisters

Gamejam – a hackathon organised by Gamefounders accelerator and IGDA (International Game Development Association) Estonia.

Student focused initiatives

Summer of Startups program organized by Startup Garage. The program does not target student-only teams but requires that at least one team member must be a student so as to encourage student participation in entrepreneurial ventures.

Mektory business model competition organised by Mektory innovation and business center at Tallinn University of Technology.

Idea Lab an in initiative for University of Tartu students to foster cross-functional collaboration and develop ideas and solutions to challenges collected from students, faculty and industry representatives. Their main page is in Estonian but you can find an English intro and their contacts here.

DigiGirlz an interactive tech education initiative by Microsoft aimed at high-school girls

Business incubators

Tallinn Incubators – located in three premises and offering services to general businesses and startups in creative industries. Support is tailored depending on startup’s development stage.

Tartu Centre for Creative Industries – provides training and pre- and post- incubation services to startups in creative industries from Tartu and Southern Estonia.

Tartu Biopark Incubator – an incubator for science-intensive businesses providing the necessary equipment, infrastructure and a business support program.

Tartu Science Park – a general business incubator in Tartu, one of BuildIT accelerator co-founders.

Startup investors

EstBAN –  Estonian Business Angel Network , established in 2012 by Ivar Siimar and grown to more than 80 members today. They have published a neat summary of network’s activity here. [Picture from: http://estban.ee/about/2013-review ] Besides Ivar Siimar, the most active EstBAN members are Marek Kiisa (first investor in GrabCAD), Herty Tammo, Riivo Anton and Hardi Kampus. Besides their own portfolios they have also invested in Startup Wise Guys Accelerator.

Most deals are made in IT/mobile/software and range from 50,000 EUR to 500,000 EUR, both in equity and convertible loans. Larger rounds are made in syndicates. EstBAN members are very interested in working together with the business angels of FiBAN and other neighbouring networks to co-invest together into Finnish, Nordic and CEE companies with a lead investor close to the startup.

EstVCA – Estonian private equity and venture capital associationm, supports training initiatives for its members.

Astrec Invest – one of the most active early stage funds in Estonia, investing in both IT and life sciences startups. Astrec was one of the first investors in GrabCAD. takes active role on board of its portfolio companies and complements the provided funding with mentor and advisor networks, and outlines their focus industries here. They are also open to investments in less familiar industries but prefer to co-invest with an industry expert in such cases.

Smartcap – investment arm of Estonian Development Fund always co-investing on equal terms with private investors. Operating since since 2007 Smartcap has 17 companies in their portfolio, predominantly in technology field.

WNB – active player in early stage finance with very practical approach, led by EstBAN founder and godfather Ivar Siimar and investing mainly outside of Estonia.

Spring Capital – seed investment funt focusing on Baltics and Scandinavia. Spring Capital office is in central Tallinn, about 300 m from Garage48 Hub, SmartCap and Estonian Development Fund. Spring Capital is led by Henri Treude with 15 years of marketing, IT and leadership experience in telecommunications and has been investing in seed stage companies for the last 5 years. Spring Capital takes active approach to their investments and usually serves on supervisory or advisory board of its portfolio companies. Spring Capital investments are not limited to specific industries. Main investment criteria are solid business model and team’s ability to execute it.

Ambient Sound Investments (ASI) – founded by four Skype co-founders Toivo Annus, Priit Kasesalu, Ahti Heinla and Jaan Tallinn in 2003 as to hold a minority stake in Skype and then transformed into an investment vechicle after selling the stake to eBay. ASI current portfolio has 13 active investments in Europe, Asia and USA.

Poohtech – a private investment company focusing on electronic payment solutions. Poohtech was founded by the founder of StartupWiseGuys and president of Estonian Startup Leaders Club Herty Tammo and Skype and Ambient Sound Investments co-founder Toivo Annus. PoohTech currently has three startups in their portfolio.

Mobi Solutions – founded in 2000 in Tartu as a mobile services provider, Mobi has since then evolved and is now an active investor in mobile and B2B. Mobi Solutions serves as an investment arm of Fortumo led by their CEO Rain Rannu.

Wiser – private investment vechicle focused on 30,000-150,000EUR investments in early-stage and seed stage startups with B2B models. Wiser is founded by two business angels, Riivo Anton (the founder of Civitta) and Gerri Kodres (VP in Fortumo) who are well connected to local and regional business angel and startup ecosystem. They may take on lead angel responsibility but always prefer to invest in a syndicate with other investors. Wiser portfolio includes compaies such as VitalFields and Timbeter, they are also co-investors in StartupWiseGuys accelerator.

We had covered some of Estonian VCs earlier here.

We thank Rivo Riistop from Estonian Development Fund for his help with the article and connecting us to relevant people in Estonian startup scene.

Viru gate in old town image by shutterstock

Marija Odineca is passionate about Baltic startup scene, visiting interesting Baltic startups and gathering their stories. She also coordinates the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Latvia.