International friends still excited about Estonia
At the end of last week, a few hundred movers and shakers from all corners of the Earth gathered in Tallinn for the Estonia’s Friends International Meeting.
This high-profile gathering was first initiated in 2010 by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, entrepreneur Margus Reinsalu and the management of Enterprise Estonia (EAS).
The aim of the event is to recognise international investors, politicians and artists, whose activities and advice have helped Estonia develop into a European country with a dynamic economy and vibrant culture, but as always when foreign guests are invited over, another goal is to spread the message that Estonia is successful, interesting and open to investment.
When introducing Estonia, Reinsalu has found that when someone simply talks about Estonia to foreigners they will politely listen but will soon forget: “However, if these same people can visit Estonia and see for themselves how successful Estonia is, what great opportunities are here for investment and how beautiful the environment is, then they will remember a lot more and will be likely to return,” he said.
“So we have two main objectives: first, to make sure that the positive message about Estonia gets across to as many and as far as possible; and secondly – to have as many Estonia’s friends in the world, as possible. In the latter sense we see them like our own, personal friends – just like in our personal lives, we don’t always expect something back from our friends, but rather that they are always there for us in difficult moments, for example,” Reinsalu said.
Every year a slightly different selection of international friends are invited to Estonia and the two-day program includes seminars as well as entertainment.
At the EAS-organized seminar, “Estonia – Where Stuff Happens First”, it was clear that the country has many wholehearted advocates on the global stage.
If Estonians themselves may already be slightly bored of hearing and reading the articles on how “wired Estonia is” or that “how you can do everything online here” - it's everyday routine and life for the country's inhabitants – then many foreign investors and business people are still sincerely excited and amazed about “e-Estonia”.
Damir Tomicic, the co-founder and managing director of Axinom Group, a dynamic and fast growing IT company with subsidiaries in USA, Germany, UK and Estonia, gave a passionate presentation from the investor's perspective and brought up many advantages Estonia has, compared to for example, Germany. To prove his point, he projected a terrifying maze on the screen, contrasting that with an image of serene beach – a symbolic illustration of respective tax systems in Germany and Estonia.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas met with the delegation from Japanese giant Mitsubishi, led by its long-term President and current Honorary Chairman Mikio Sasaki.
Estonia's cooperation with Mitsubishi goes back some time – it began from the sale of CO2 allowances in 2010 to the company, in exhange of 507 Mitsubishi electric cars, used by social workers of local governments, and an extensive network of 250 charging stations.
The Parliament's bulding in Toompea hosted a more forward-looking symposium, called "Quo Vadis, Estonia?" where President Ilves raised the question of free movement of digital services in Europe and expressed his concern about continent's long-term entrepreneurial future. Ilves cited Hardi Meybaum – the Estonian founder of Boston-based GrabCAD – as an example of what is possible in the United States versus Europe. Meybaum founded his startup in Tallinn, but soon relocated to the US where he managed to attract most of the capital. He sold the company last year for over 90 million euros (100 million dollars). “He could have never done it in Europe – not in Estonia, not in Europe. Our biggest worry is not to fall behind in Europe,” Ilves said.
Besides discussions about Estonia’s development, innovation and investment opportunities, the international guests also enjoyed a cultural program, the highlight of which was a concert by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by renowned maestro, Neeme Järvi.