How the Estonian Startup Ecosystem is Battling Covid-19
Despite taking similar measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Estonia’s panic level of only 3 (a 10-point metric devised by Politico) sets Estonia apart from several neighbouring countries. In this article at NordicBaltic.Tech, a partnership between PUBLIC Denmark and the Nordic Council of Ministers, we highlight how the Estonian startup ecosystem is taking the lead in everything from e-services to cybersecurity – throughout and beyond the crisis.
Estonia – the eNation
With a strong presence in e-Governance and home to a host of vibrant tech startups, Estonia is globally known as a digital frontrunner. It is therefore no surprise that the country, after entering a state of emergency on the 12th of March, swiftly set the tone for a Nordic-Baltic tech response to Covid-19 with the launch of Hack the Crisis, hosted by Accelerate Estonia and Garage48. One of the ideas from the hackathon resulted in the implementation of a nationwide chatbot, Suve, developed by eeBot in cooperation with the Estonian Government Communication Unit.
Tech solutions and safe online services
A closer look at the Estonian infrastructure reveals the digital nature of a national model which may in future be credited with helping secure economic and social stability in post-lockdown Estonia. A National Patient Portal, i-voting and e-residency are but a fraction of the e-services already available to and adopted by Estonia’s population of 1.328 million. As safety concerns arise amidst emerging tech solutions, Estonian initiatives such as My Cyber Hygiene offer e-learning and training to both enterprises and governments. Cybersecurity also happens to be one of the top issues brought forward by Estonia as a recently elected member of the UN Security Council 2020-21.
A legacy of collaborative innovation
This integration of technology and government may explain why Estonian (and Estonian-based) tech startups are known to flourish. With the legacy of developing Skype, the ecosystem is intimately connected with societal needs. Take for instance Tallinnovation, a Smart City Innovation competition, as an example of cooperation between the country’s capital and innovative tech companies. Or, consider the webinars offered by Education Nation to crisis-affected students, affirming Estonia’s broader ambitions in EdTech. While Estonia officially exits a state of emergency (effective May 18th), the ecosystem is already looking ahead.
Leaving lockdown and looking ahead
Nonetheless, returning to work remains a logistical challenge, even for this digital nation. For Estonian workers employed by Finland (and reversely, Finnish workers employed by Estonia), the issue of cross-border travel raises concern. For some sectors, self-quarantining on either side of a cross-border journey simply isn’t an option, nor is the feasibility of social distancing while on the job. Digital immunity passports may be one way of safely transitioning out of a nationwide lockdown. Estonia is one of the first countries to test the concept, pioneered by the founder of Transferwise, among others. The technology enables a digital passport holder to share their immunity status with a third party using an authenticated QR-code.
In summary, both the Estonian tech ecosystem and the government are backing a continued response to the crisis. In her opening remarks at Estonia’s 6th e-Governance Conference, President Kersti Kaljulaid addressed the necessity of digital solutions. The strong coalition between the Estonian government and the Estonian startup ecosystem upholds the country’s reputation of world class innovation and digitisation.