In a scenario where Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev is calling for austerity measures and a website aimed at young people came under fire for the €275,000 it received in grants, mostly from sources outside Estonia, ERR took time to look at the 2022 report from the Enterprise and Innovation Foundation (EISA) and the volume and use of its many projects and activities, generally taxpayer-funded.
EISA is a joint institution that came into being after the merger of Enterprise Estonia (EAS) and KredEx, is in Estonian terms a fairly large institution.
Employing around 360 people, and spent €56.6 million on its operations last year, not to mention hundreds of millions in grants.
Merging large foundations often leads to confusion and issues (the merger itself, its timescale, and who would be heading up the new organization, has been the subject of much speculation also – ed.), leaving room for plenty to be forgiven. For example, EISA's annual report for the past year does not provide an overview of how much the foundation has paid in support, where and using what funds; how much taxpayer money has been used and on what etc.
At the same time, this annual report contains nearly 100 pages of relatively eclectic text by way of an introduction to the financial results (including numbers and metrics that seem to be plucked out of thin air). There is no clear overview of what the EISA is doing with taxpayers' money, and for how much money.
Instead, there is a potpourri of items that the foundation says are important.
The foundation's activities could not be said to be transparent to the average citizen, while a comprehensive picture also cannot be had just by looking at the homepage, in tandem with the annual report.
There are certainly plenty, if not essential, at least practical uses of money in EISA's activities, but also a lot of questionable ones.
Some examples of this are those "successes" presented in the annual report.
Continuing with implementing a development plan for creative companies, EISA succeeded, for example, in providing support to video producer Cuba Films OÜ in order to make its brand structure clearer, better and more coherently communicated – by uniting four brands under the single logo.
It is not clear what benefits the taxpayer will be getting from this activity or how much money it will cost. You can't obtain the information from the list of supported projects on the EISA website, where all projects that have received taxpayer support should be listed either – since the website is down, leaving only a single somewhat laconic message: "The supported projects database is currently undergoing maintenance. We will be restoring the database as soon as possible. We apologize for any inconvenience."
As for the support of websites, the EISA says that, in cooperation with the ministries, it has succeeded in supporting the completion of a maritime industry union website, showroom.marineindustry.ee.
Tourism development support
As for tourism development, EISA has announced that, in addition to upcoming concerts from Depeche Mode and The Weekend, it has also been able to provide support for Tallinn Music Week, music festival Station Narva, Võnge, a cultural festival, PÖFF film festival, the Tallinn WTA tennis tournament, Tallinn International Horse Show and many other events.
It also found an opportunity to support the construction of a "cloud forest" in Tallinn Zoo. For those tourists who might want to spend their time in a little more relaxed way, restaurant Lee (former Leib) was also built with the help of EISA support, the foundation emphasizes in its annual report.
Outside the capital, EISA helped build Pärnu's Frost Boutique Hotel's shungite rest and recreation area, as well as work at the Villa Friedheim Boutique Hotel in Haapsalu.
Kvark Unicornland meanwhile got support for its Rakett69 science studio in Ülemiste (Rakett69 is a science and education competitive show aimed at young people and broadcast by ETV – ed.).
Thanks to tourism product development-related EISA grants, it will be possible to spend a night at a Saaremaa post mill and a glamping tent next to the Ahja River near Tartu in the future. New spa services are to follow with the help of the taxpayer, including a boutique spa at the Padise Manor house in Harju County, a "theater sauna," presumably at one time mutually exclusive activities, which will present cultural heritage, at the Mustamäe Spa in Tallinn, and spas in the fens of Harju and Järva counties.
A SUP board rental network, a light-show at a spa in Tartu, and virtual reality features such as at the PROTO Avastustehas, located in the Noblessner Quarter in Tallinn, and at Narva's town hall – the latter providing the opportunity to see the eastern border town in its pre-war glory – are also being based off EISA funds.
New tech for wildlife tourism, including night vision cameras is another support destination, and an eco-tourism vessel, the Wildexpress, is to ply its trade in the Emajõgi Suursoo marshland, east of Tartu.
Most of these taxpayer-supported tourism items will be completed by the fall of 2023.
How many such success stories have been supported by EISA is hard to say given the website interface to the grant database is offline.
Innovation, mentoring, masterclasses
With innovation, among other things, EISA has considered commissioning a large number of different focus group and applicability studies, but these have not been highlighted separately.
The analysis of future tech financed by the foundation could also be singled out separately; this has been eclectic, and there are some rapidly outdated reviews on various topics. Again, EISA does not state for whom these have been created, and why.
EISA also stresses the large number of applications for an entrepreneurship award it organizes – though this is not EISA's sole award; the foundation is seemingly also very proud of all its other award schemes.
Furthermore, EISA has held a large number of programs and mentorships, whose purpose, metric, benefit to the taxpayer etc. is, yet again, not separately stated.
For example, the top innovators program, where: "Ten ambitious companies take part in one group, and get the opportunity to develop an innovation strategy with the support of top experts and mentors in the field of innovation, from Estonia and abroad. With this support, they can then make their company's next development leap."
Another example: A digitization master class, whose purpose is to increase the company's competence in process innovation via data management, by introducing comprehensive tech solutions.
At the culmination of these master classes, each company will have been able to create a process innovation action plan with cost-effectiveness analysis, goals and key metrics. A total of 40 companies were involved in this.
Among these new master classes, EISA was able to set up a "circular design master class program" and a responsible investment (environmental, social, and corporate governance, or ESG) and sustainability master class. The first of these is supposed to be attended by 10 companies, the second, by a further 20. Some of these deal with environmental matters.
With respect to attracting foreign inward investment into Estonia, EISA notes by way of one curious example the publication of the Life in Estonia magazine, which the foundation considers to be highly successful.
"The impact of this magazine is evidenced by the interest from companies wanting to feature in it," notes EISA in its annual report.
Indeed, leafing through a recent edition of the magazine reveals it is bedecked from cover to cover with articles that are in fact infomercials for the featured firms.
Who the target group of this taxpayer-funded magazine may be remains a mystery.
Life in Estonia is not the EISA's sole media-related activity. Another instance is the EISA-organized "The Hype is Real" press trip, which was meant to forge relations with visiting foreign journalists.
In addition to meeting EISA employees and visiting selected companies, attendees were even able to meet the prime minister, and the minister of economic affairs and communications.
EISA also organized a press trip focused more specifically on financial publications, which led to a dozen Estonian companies and support organizations in the financial field receiving media coverage.
In addition, EISA places significance on its regular content creation (totaling 223 items) on the investinestonia.com website; this is in EISA's view one of the key ways of attracting foreign investment into the country.
EISA says that by advertising the page, it was able to attract 1.7 million unique visitors to it.
The evergreen topic of attracting foreign talent – often referred to in the English-language media in Estonia as "talents" – remains in sight in EISA's viewfinder.
This manifested in a charm offensive relating to Estonia which was picked up by around a dozen major media outlets, primarily in the U.K.
On tourism once again, last year, EISA conducted a survey among residents of Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Germany, France and in the U.K. (solely the Greater London area) to sound out whether they would be interested in visiting Estonia.
The outcome reveals that those who expressed the highest desire to visit Estonia or the other two Baltic states in the coming years are more to be found among those who have already been here, than those who have not visited, EISA reports.
The tourism field has not been overlooked in providing another master class, either.
Thirty companies that took part in the service design and digitization of tourism firms masterclass mapped the company's services and business model, in conjunction with a mentor, in so doing completing a design audit.
The mentoring service for tourism companies' business models has led to a little over 40 forms completing a comprehensive overview of their own business models.
Eight digitization educational videos, which introduce the foundations of the digital revolution such as digitization and digitalization, making data-based business decisions, cyber hygiene and digitization project management, have also been produced.
In order to attract tourists to Estonia, EISA organized campaigns within foreign markets. "Depending on the situation, we alternated between inspiring and smart marketing activities across digital and social media channels, and some very broad-based campaigns," EISA noted.
EISA highlights its running of Visit Estonia themed video clips on the Nasdaq and Thomson Reuters billboards in New York's Times Square, and also on screens located in Washington DC and the Atrium on the Bay in Toronto.
Closer to home, within the Finnish market, EISA considers its cooperation project with Universal Music and the Finnish band Teflon Brothers its biggest success. A Finnish rock song, "Eesti On My Mind," written by Juice Leskinen (1950-2006) got a reboot, in order, EISA says, to remind Finnish audiences that Estonia welcomes everyone from that country.
As part of the collaboration, three videos were made, where the band visits Tallinn, Pärnu and Tartu.
As for promoting Estonia in the Spanish market, fashion designer Duyos was paid to go with the team to Tallinn, Tartu, the Setomaa region and the island of Muhu, going on to create a fashion collection that was presented at Madrid Fashion Week.
The BBC World News Channel also carried a show promoting Estonia as a tourist destination, and a 30-second advertisement was also ordered – these were both paid for.
EISA also says its support for hosting WRC Rally Estonia is a national measure of tourism development.
EISA says it has bought advertising space in the Washington Post in order to promote the Estonian e-Residency scheme, now in its 10th year, and has flown in journalists from as far afield as Brazil, as well as European countries such as Germany, Spain and the U.K., to attend e-residency familiarization visits.
This led to just under 40 separate articles or other coverage items.
EISA also deems its own merged status of the former Enterprise Estonia and KredEx institutions a success, in reference to creating shared values, under the tutelage of its HR and administration department.
Joint meetings, workshops and discussions ended this summer with the formulation of the organization's values, characterized by the "JAH-laul" (English: "The YES song") and which is to apply to all staff. This was created together with singer Jarek "Chalice" Kasar.
Another major HR/admin project concerned the transfer of files requiring historical preservation, to the National Archives.
This is a two-year project and involved processing over 1,000 files, taking over 64,000 working hours – these are files in the old school sense, ie. each file needed systematizing, binding, labeling, removing staples and other appendages etc.
Data was also entered into the archive's Astra program and documented in the records list, documents were ordered from the archive while the remaining documents were destroyed (all actions had to be formalized via a deed to that effect).
This all entailed meetings with the director of the National Archives of Estonia.
The upshot was a total of 230 archive boxes were handed over to the National Archives of Estonia, in November 2022.
EISA last year also dealt with its own environmental footprint. For example, the foundation reports that it measured its own carbon footprint, while a total of 16 news articles about sustainability, appeared on its intranet, mostly relating to improving awareness, while the foundation organized six in-house training sessions on the topic as well.
Two promotional articles covering EISA's sustainability areas were published.
In order to educate companies on green issues, EISA organized a "Roheline laine" ("Green Wave") conference, which aimed to increase awareness among companies about sustainability.
A real-time webinar attracted 180 listeners, with a further 260 opting for the listen-again version.
EISA employs 368 people
The EISA employed 368 staff in 2022; the workforce turnover rate stood at 18 percent, with 81 employees joining and 67 leaving, through the course of the year.
By gender, 72 percent of EISA's staff are women; 10 percent of employees work in a managerial position.
The bulk of employees (82 percent) went through higher education, while several staff are currently undergoing higher education.
EISA's average monthly wage for its staff in 2022 was around €3,200.
Editor's note: EISA, in Estonian Ettevõtluse ja Innovatsiooni Sihtasutus, was branded as such in early 2022 after the merger of the formerly separate Enterprise Estonia (EAS) and KredEx had been unveiled. EISA's official English name is the Enterprise and Innovation Foundation.
Editor: Andrew Whyte