Noted entrepreneurs set up education innovation fund

Transferwise founders Taavet Hinrikus (left) and Kristo Käärman, two of the figures behind the Good Deed Foundation education fund.
Transferwise founders Taavet Hinrikus (left) and Kristo Käärman, two of the figures behind the Good Deed Foundation education fund. Source: (Startup Estonia)

A philanthropic fund has been set up by well-known Estonian entrepreneurs, including startup and tech leaders such as Sten Tamkivi (Teleport cofounder), Martin Villig (taxi hailing app Taxify founder) and Taavet Hinrikus (international payment platform Transferwise co-founder).

The fund, administered by the Good Deed Foundation (Estonian: Heateo Haridusfond), aims to offer seed capital for innovative solutions, principally in secondary education in Estonia, with a target spend of over €1 million, which it already has to hand, over the next three years.

Good Deed Foundation education funds can be both a one-off contribution and several years'-worth of support, according to manager Pirkko Valge.

"We await ambitious initiatives seeking to rock the educational system in a good way,'' said Ms Valge.

Existing examples

''There are already several great examples for such initiatives, including the Youth to School (Noored Kooli) program, the New School for Teachers NGO (Alustavat Opetajat Toetav Kool) and the Bullying-Free School initiative (Kiusamisvaba Kool). To achieve best possible outcome, it is our desire to cooperate with leaders in Estonian education, the Ministry of Education and Research, businesses, universities and other interested parties," she continued.

The fund focusses on initiatives to solve bottlenecks in Estonia's education. Issues those behind the fund have highlighted include an ageing and unreplenished teaching staff, the undervalued nature of educational leaders' work, and fewer pupils going on to get a high school diploma than could be the case.

Developing students' knowledge in the sciences, creativity and their ability to work in a team, which are the key competences of modern economy the foundation says, are also a focus of the program.

All-star lineup

In addition to Martin Villig, Taavet Hinrikus and Sten Tamkivi, founder members include Ahti Heinla (one of the developers behind Skype), Transferwise's other co-founder, Kristo Käärmann, businessman Rain Lõhmus, and travel company CEO Annika Tallinn.

Businesses financing the fund include Civitta, Contriber, Eften, Helmes, Lingvist, Monese, Pipedrive, Superangel, Taxify and TransferWise.

"Local accelerators, business angels and risk capital funds fulfil their roles. A similar road now needs to be travelled in social innovation,'' said Martin Villig of the fund.

''Education is the backbone of a society. The goal of this fund is to give more motion to societal educational start-ups by financing pilot projects. That way, the state does not need to take any risks by spending the taxpayer's money on product development, but receives a finalised tailor-made product. If a pilot project proves itself, the state can then decide whether to grant the initiative continuous support and/or how to expand its positive effect to all schools in Estonia," he continued.

Blazing trail in education investment

Taavet Hinrikus said that a second objective of the fund is to send the public a clear message, namely that contributions by the state and society into education must grow.

''In the third quarter of 2018, TransferWise and Taxify paid the state a combined sum of nearly three million euros in employment taxes alone,'' said Taavet Hinrikus.

''We could recruit a lot more Estonian people in our companies and contribute even more via taxes, but there are only so many people who have the necessary qualities. If we expect that one day, the Estonian sector of technology might rival Silicon Valley, with a cultural field as diverse as Paris and as technologically advanced an industry as in Germany, the only way is [to create] the smartest society in the world ‒ in terms of knowledge, digital literacy as well as social intelligence. We will not conquer these peaks with PISA scores alone," Mr Hinrikus continued, referring to the international student assessment standard, which Estonia routinely ranks very highly in.

The Estonian government's aim is also to increase R&D investments to 3% of GDP by or in 2020, with contributions split between private and public sectors, though this concerns higher education and beyond.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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