Often labeled “Europe’s Silicon Valley,” Estonia has a special relationship with technology. Beginning with its renowned Tiigrihüpe (Estonian for Tiger’s Leap) Foundation, the nation now aims to develop its own cryptocurrency, the EstCoin.
Estonia’s journey from Soviet independence to one of the most technologically forward-thinking countries in the world begins in the mid-1990s with the country’s ambitious Tiigrihüpe Foundation. The goal of this initiative was to integrate computers into every school in the country, and by extension, the internet.
Inspired by his experience in an experimental math program in New Jersey, now ex-president Toomas Hendrick Ilves spearheaded the program. Initially met with some resistance, the idea quickly gained popularity among political elite and tech visionaries in the country. Ilves notes: “I got trashed completely for several years, but my thinking was that 3-5% of the children who get to a computer — even if they are just a poor kid in the countryside — will have the innate curiosity to tear it apart.”
Now, programming is a part of every young person’s education, with some even beginning in kindergarten.
Ilves most assuredly paved the way for the E-Stonia we know now.
Internet as a human right
With the incredible success of the Tiigrihüpe Foundation and strength from Estonians, the next step for the country was a groundbreaking declaration. In 2000, the country passed a law which stated that internet access was a basic human right, the first nation in the world to do so. Estonia then rolled out a massive program to connect its citizens in every corner of the country.
In 2001, Estonia launched its first public wifi area and a system of mobile data networks which enabled widespread access to the internet.
With widespread access to the internet, and a computerized population, the country launched its digital national identity card. The card, backed by blockchain-like technology, facilitates government services. Citizens of Estonia are able to vote online, access online banking, health and prescription services, and provides discounts at retailers, supermarkets, and gas stations.
This initiative set the groundwork for the country’s e-Residency program in 2014, which has even been expanded to non-residents – a groundbreaking revelation in the digital world. Allowing non-residents to partake in this program was seen as a means of creating a borderless, digital society which could fuel enable non-residents to conduct business in the country while ensuring transparency and inclusion.
President Ilves’ vision has been an integral part of Estonia’s journey to becoming one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world. Ranked number one on FreedomHouse’s “internet freedom” list for three years in a row, creating an open and fair platform for citizens to participate in has always been a priority for Ilves. Ilves has chosen to put the needs of citizens first, choosing a path which he has labeled the “little sister” approach, starkly opposing that “big brother” mindset of other countries’ web-monitoring organizations, such as the NSA or GCHQ. Ilves’ platform is becoming increasingly popular among the private sector as a method of targeted and mutually beneficial marketing.
“Privacy and data integrity are fundamental security issues but it is the government’s job to protect the security and the rights of its citizens – offline and online,” Ilves noted.
In creating the “perfect storm” for internet-focused business, Estonia has become a hub for startups.
The most notable startup coming from Estonia is, of course, is Skype. Founded in 2003 by Niklas Zennström, from Sweden, and Janus Friis, from Denmark, Skype’s platform was built by Estonians Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, and Jaan Tallinn. By 2011, the application had gained so much popularity that it was purchased by Microsoft for a whopping US$8.5-billion.
Today, “Europe’s Silicon Valley” is making an even stronger push to secure itself as Europe’s startup go-to startup destination. With the addition of the country’s e-Residency program, entrepreneurs from across the globe have gained interest, especially from Britain since the controversial Brexit vote.
Since the introduction of the program, over 800 British citizens have applied for e-Residency in Estonia, many of whom plan to create their own tech startup. With access to banking and the most competitive tax rates in the EU, it is not hard to see why.
Estonia’s established digital infrastructure and web-savvy citizens have led the country to begin the process of creating their own cryptocurrency.
As an extension of the country’s e-Residency program, one of Estonia’s goals in creating “EstCoin” is to offer a digital venture capital program, enabling participants to obtain financing for businesses.
Kaspar Korjus, managing director at e-Residency, Enterprise Estonia noted: “A government-supported ICO would give more people a bigger stake in the future of our country and provide not just investment, but also more expertise and ideas to help us grow exponentially.”
An advisor of the project, and co-founder of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, stated: “An ICO within the e-residency ecosystem would create a strong incentive alignment between e-residents and this fund, and beyond the economic aspect makes the e-residents feel like more of a community since there are more things they can do together”.
While the idea is still young, there is significant support from both government officials and citizens alike. As the cryptocurrency boom enters full swing, Estonia may have some competition in the crypto race.
Feauted image from Pexels