While Estonia has a lot of startups, major success stories are from several years ago, TransferWise cofounder Taavet Hinrikus said on ETV's Esimene stuudio program. He believes Estonia's reputation as that of a digital country has suffered lately.
Hinrikus said on the program that Estonia has as many startups per capita as Silicon Valley today. These achievements should not be underestimated. He attributed Estonia's startup environment and success stories to the Tiger Leap program from a few decades ago.
The startup entrepreneur believes Estonia has gambled away a part of its reputation recently. "I believe we could always do more. Our recent successes – whether we're talking about e-governance, e-residency – are from five to ten years ago, while we are seeing much less positive news about Estonia these days, with people asking what is happening," Hinrikus said.
Asked whether the new government has tarnished Estonia's reputation, Hinrikus said, "I believe it has been tarnished by things we haven't done."
The TransferWise cofounder said that recent foreign trade and IT minister Kert Kingo, who resigned last week after it turned out she had misled the Riigikogu, did very little.
"I believe it is difficult to speak of any work having been done here. Very little has been done and the bar has been set very low. Thinking back to the coalition agreement that reads that the government wants to promote Estonian exports and the primary role of the IT minister would be helping Estonian companies abroad, I believe that work has not been done. I sincerely hope we can find someone to take over and really fulfill that role," the businessman said.
He believes Estonia definitely needs a minister for information technology. "Looking at the relative importance of startups in Estonia, having a minister think about the sector is crucial. I like the idea that if something is doing well, we should invest more there. We have 5,500 employees in the startup sector alone whose average salary is two and half times the national average and grows by 30 percent a year. Estonia's economic growth is around 3 percent. Simple arithmetic suggests the startup sector is growing ten times faster than the Estonian economy, and it's possible the latter wouldn't be growing at all without the former. I believe it is clear we need to contribute more into growth of the startup sector, and a time when 10 percent of our GDP could come from the sector is not far away," Hinrikus said.
Taavet Hinrikus finds that the new IT minister could be an entrepreneur. "Someone who is happy to travel, speaks English, helps open doors and engages in marketing the Estonian state and its IT success story," he said
He added that while Estonian startups still attract investments, investors can also see changes. "On the one hand, investors are pragmatic and attracted to the best companies. Estonian startups are still seeing investments, but investors read the headlines and think about where Estonia is headed after having had a very progressive government for a long time and might reevaluate their risks. We will see the consequences of the current government's omissions a long time from now," Hinrikus said.
Editor: Marcus Turovski