First MBA Study Trip to Estonia

In April 2024, a group of MBA students who specialized in Digital Transformation and some alumni from GBS went on a trip to Estonia that was organized by the Estonian Business School. Throughout the journey, the group learned a great deal about the successful digitization of Estonian society and visited several inspiring startups. Additionally, they participated in workshops and took the opportunity to explore Tallinn.

Our aim is to provide our students with a comprehensive understanding of the European business landscape. To achieve this goal, we have partnered with the Estonian Business School (EBS) to meet with industry leaders and pioneers representing tech giants and innovative startups in Estonia. These companies are driving the digital and sustainable future. In the following section, we will outline a few reasons why Estonia is such a fascinating place and also provide an overview of our 3-day study trip.

A high number of startups and unicorns

Did you know that Estonia has the highest number of startups and unicorns per capita in Europe? Estonia's emergence as a hotspot for startups and unicorns in Europe can be attributed to several factors:

  1. Digital Infrastructure: Estonia's advanced digital infrastructure, including its e-government services, digital ID system, and X-Road platform, provides an environment for startups to innovate and operate efficiently. The ease of business, access to digital services, and streamlined administrative processes attract entrepreneurs to establish in Estonia.

  2. E-Residanency Program: This initiative allows non-residents to access Estonian digital services and establish and manage a business online without physically being in the country. It attracts entrepreneurs worldwide seeking to leverage Estonia's digital ecosystem and access the European market.

  3. Startup Ecosystem Support: Estonia has a vibrant startup ecosystem supported by various initiatives, including startup accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces, and funding opportunities.

  4. Investment Environment: Estonia offers an attractive environment with access to venture capital, angel investors, and government grants for startups. Additionally, the country's favorable tax policies, including a flat corporate income tax rate and tax exemptions for reinvested profits, incentivize entrepreneurship and startup investment.

  5. Education and Talent Pool: Prioritizing education in technology and entrepreneurship has produced a skilled workforce with expertise in software development, engineering, and business management. The country's universities and educational programs focus on fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, supplying startups with a pool of talented professionals.

  6. Culture of Innovation: Estonia has a culture that values innovation, creativity, and risk-taking. The success stories of Estonian unicorns such as TransferWise, Bolt, and Pipedrive inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs. This culture of innovation encourages experimentation and entrepreneurship, driving the growth of the startup ecosystem.

  7. Global Outlook: A small domestic market encourages startups to think globally and target larger markets beyond Estonia's borders, contributing to their rapid growth and success.

All these factors collectively contribute to Estonia's status as a leading hub for startups and unicorns in Europe, attracting entrepreneurs, investors, and talent worldwide.

Successful digital society

Estonia is often heralded as a digital society due to its innovative approach to incorporating technology into various aspects of governance, business, and everyday life. It also serves as a model for other countries seeking to embrace digitalization. Here are some reasons why:

  1. E-Government: Estonia has implemented a comprehensive e-government system that allows citizens to access a wide range of public services online. This includes services such as e-voting, e-tax filing, digital signatures for legal documents, and access to personal health records.

  2. Digital ID: Estonian citizens have a digital identity card to access government services and securely sign documents. This digital ID system is widely used and has helped streamline administrative processes.

  3. X-Road Platform: Estonia's X-Road platform is the backbone of its digital infrastructure, enabling various databases and information systems to exchange data securely. This facilitates interoperability between different government agencies and minimizes the need for citizens to provide the same information multiple times.

  4. Cybersecurity: Given its heavy reliance on digital infrastructure, Estonia strongly emphasizes cybersecurity. It has developed robust measures to protect its digital systems from cyber threats and has emerged as a leader in cybersecurity expertise.

  5. Efficiency and Transparency: Digitalization has increased government processes' efficiency, reduced bureaucracy, and enhanced transparency. This has improved the overall quality of governance and made it easier for citizens to interact with their government.

First GBS study tour to Estonia

On the first day of the trip, the students were welcomed by Estonian Business School's rector, Meelis Kitsing. Kitsing held a workshop on future digital ecosystems. His workshop focused on government-business, government-citizen, and government-government relationships in the digital era, emphasizing Estonia's position in the global digital ecosystem. After presenting their results, the students visited the 5th floor of EBS, where the B2B incubator Wise Guys has been investing in and accelerating startups for over a decade, playing a pivotal role in the European startup accelerator scene. Finally, the group took a guided tour through Tallinn's beautiful old town before concluding the first day with a delightful dinner.

On the second day, we had the opportunity to meet with Starship Technologies, the global leader in autonomous delivery. Their innovative delivery robots are revolutionizing local delivery, with operations in over 60 locations worldwide, delivering groceries, food takeaways, and packages. Our students asked many questions and gained insights from this inspiring startup. Later, we visited the International House of Estonia, which provides information and counseling about relocating, working, and living in Estonia. We were pleasantly surprised by the E-Estonia Briefing Centre, which is part of the public sector and showcased the mechanisms behind digitizing Estonian society, including major success stories, challenges, policies, infrastructure e-solutions, and services. After the briefing, everyone had free time to explore other options, such as visiting the Estonian Parliament or guided museum tours. Some of us also took the chance to see one of Estonia's oldest pubs.

During the third day of the trip, Anu Ruul, a startup and innovation expert and innovation consultant, conducted a workshop on validating business models. After the workshop, we visited SEB Bank, one of Sweden's leading IT employers. SEB Bank has a rich history of 160 years of prioritizing technology and innovation. They attract problem solvers who want to participate in a sector change. Our next stop was Veriff, Estonia's latest unicorn. Veriff is an identity verification service company based in Tallinn. They offer services to online businesses to mitigate fraud attempts and assist regulatory compliance. Veriff uses AI to automatically analyze various technological and behavioral indicators to verify a customer's identity. Later that day, we attended a networking event with EBS master students and reflected on the exciting days we had experienced. After completing their international study trip, some participants returned home while others kept exploring and caught the ferry to Helsinki before heading towards Germany. We are already eager and excited for our next visit in 2025 as part of the Goethe MBA!