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President of the Republic at sTARTUp Day 2017

sTARTUp Day 2017 Tartus
sTARTUp Day 2017 in Tartu, Estonia
© Raidu Vint


I know it took several years to set up a Startup Day for Tartu, but now you have already made it happen a second year in a row so in the Estonian mindset we can already call it an old tradition. I am convinced that new entrepreneurial environment for Tartu has already been born.

I have also heard that the idea for this day was born in a sauna, also something very Estonian. We embrace new technologies and do it in a radically disorganised way, in a way that a normal country would never do. But planning long ahead was so 20th century. In the 21st century the technology changes so quickly.

As we all know, industrial area jobs are vanishing quickly. As McKinsey`s newest study shows, digitalization and automation have the potential to rebuild a major growth path, within a resilient job market. It is very important to be an innovator and a frontrunner in the field of digitalization. We think that by the end of 2030, 27% of all current jobs in Estonia will be replaced. And this will all come from the fact that we use our digital society to promote our economy, to promote our entrepreneurs and enterprises. Otherwise, if we suddenly started to be afraid of the future and to complain that all this cyber thing is so dangerous, then we would end up with a net loss of jobs by 0,4% during this period. The same dynamics apply to everybody, a developed or a developing country.

When Estonia started to go digital it was not a rich country. On the contrary. Estonia realised that since we were a relatively poor country we had to do things differently. This is a very encouraging sign that you can be innovative at every income level, GDP per capita does not matter. What matters is courage, the ability to cooperate between private and public sector and the states readiness to create a legally permissive environment for investment. Actually the first time we did it was when we created a really good tax system and year later we repeated it when we created a permissive environment for the Estonian Genome Foundation. Estonia and Iceland were the two countries that created such an environment for gene technology development and they managed to get private companies involved. You know what happened then? Other states joined the market. They paid public money to get things done. Let`s make sure that the same thing doesn`t happen with digital innovation.

We need to make sure that we have enough space for free spirit. In Estonia we are discussing how to regulate artificial intelligence. We have already had a traffic accident where a car ran over a robot. The car was found to be the guilty side. But it is a good example, because our traffic code was already ready and could regulate this kind of situation. And we realise we need to move ahead. We have a discussion – what if an artificial creature creates an accident. What will happen, who will be the guilty party, what kind of insurance will you need? I hope this demonstrates that we are not falling behind.

I do not believe that we can move ahead with the EU with the same speed. I think that technological acceptance in Europe goes this way that some smaller countries like Finland and Estonia, Luxembourg start to accept the change and they act as catalyser and then the big ones will follow. This is really good news for the startup community, because you can use us as your sandboxes to develop and perfect your innovation.

I believe that Estonia, despite now being considered as a frontline for innovation in EU has much more to offer in the future. Not only inside EU, but also outside.

Our companies are already expected to export our digital development and they are doing relatively well. Some of them are finding their niche in a global market that can pay, like Transferwise. Some are dealing with e-government projects in countries, which can pay, like the Gulf countries. There are numerous examples where small projects started here have already been enhanced and gone through public or private innovation elsewhere globally.

Of course all ideas do not fly the first time. As Edison once said (and this has not changed in digital or analogue world): “My success meant that I just learned how many ways there are to fail”.

Good luck!