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A small country located on the Baltic Sea, on the shores of the Gulf of Finland and in the vicinity of Russia, Estonia is a global reference in information technology. Independent of the Soviet Union since August 1991, the country has focused on digitization as a way to progress, advancement and prosperity, and at the same time as a way out of poverty. Today it is the land of e-everything, a digital nation and a smart society–the digital pride and a role model for all Europe. Citizens can vote online, get a prescription from a doctor online, pay taxes online, sign documents using their smart device and access any public service online. In one interview the ex-president Toomas Hendrik Ilves says that there are only three things that citizens can’t do online–one is getting married, another one is to divorce and the third is to buy or sell property online. In addition to the Digital ID that represents a mandatory national card, you can also become e-Resident regardless of location and open your company in a few clicks.
Estonia is a country that’s in love with all things digital and if you are too chances are you will love their e-Residency program.
If you are based or are coming from a country that is not in the EU by getting your e-Residency you can establish and manage your EU-based location-independent company 100% online. The benefits include hassle-free administration with minimal cost, remote management, lower cost of business services, access to the EU market and access to a wider choice of e-services. In order to set up a company, one has to first become an e-resident of Estonia. The process is very simple, anyone can apply online and pick up his digital ID card once approved from the chosen pick-up point. Once you are an e-resident you can start your company.
In April during UNCTAD’s E-commerce Week in Geneva, I met Joel Burke, the Head of Business Development of E-Residency. I talked to Joel and Ott Vatter, the Managing Director of e-Residency to find out more about the program.
The program was launched in December 2014 and up to date, there are nearly 54K e-residents coming from 162 countries. The program constantly is growing in popularity, in 2018 even Pope Francis became an Estonian e-resident. A quarter of the e-residents come from Finland (10%), Russia (8%) and Ukraine (7%). Only 12% of e-residents are women.
There are almost 7K established companies from e-residents contributing to Estonia’s economy. How significant revenue stream is the e-Residency program for Estonia?
“The e-Residency programme was launched just over four years ago as a pilot project to open Estonian digital services up for foreign entrepreneurs. Even though back then we aimed high in terms of e-residents number across the globe, creating a rapid revenue stream was not the main goal. Instead, there were various challenges whilst creating a platform that is user-friendly, transparent and brings value to both Estonia and its e-residents. Today, the economic impact of e-Residency is 14 million euros. It is profitable as a programme, but the indirect value that the programme creates is much more significant for Estonia. Through e-Residency we share our expertise in creating digital solutions and making life easier for everybody. The growing network of e-residents’ companies and service providers are creating jobs for a variety of specialists both in Estonia and abroad. e-Residency is a platform to empower starting entrepreneurs and give them access to a hassle-free taxation system and a supportive environment. e-Residency represents the values of our economy such as transparency and resourcefulness, and the values of our nation such as openness, sustainability and cooperation.”, tells Ott Vatter.
Vatter explains that smooth cooperation between stakeholders is vital for its success. Their biggest challenges are rapid implementation of the forward-looking ideas and doing it all in concert. “While e-Residency 1.0 was an experiment of a kind, it clearly proved that there is a demand for this kind of platform and that it can create remarkable value for e-residents while also being profitable for Estonia.”
What are the future plans for the development and further promotion of the e-Residency program?
“Most of the Estonian public services have been available digitally for over 20 years. In this sense, e-Residency 1.0 was essentially the way to open up the same ways of doing business for all non-residents. E-Residency 2.0 will go further and aims to be a true forerunner in terms of digital transformation. We will focus on the quality rather than quantity, working to make e-residents’ business lives as hassle-free as possible whilst also providing them better networking options and giving them more tools to grow their average company value. For Estonia, it means exporting our knowledge, culture and way of life to like-minded people across the globe.”, he adds.
Joel has joined the e-Residency team a year ago. Despite he came from Berlin which is known for its vibrant startup scene and lived in San Francisco before that, he says he is amazed by the advanced digital society.
“In Estonia, projects like e-Residency aren’t exceptional, but rather, they’re the norm and citizens expect that their government does whatever it can to make their lives easier, whether it be through simplifying tax filing or automatically registering new parents for the benefits they’re now eligible for as soon as their baby is born. E-Residency is Estonia’s first major effort at extending their nation, digitally, to the rest of the world by giving everyone access to the Estonian digital infrastructure where 99% of government services are accessible online and access to the Estonian business environment which operates in the European single market, uses the euro, and is one of the most transparent in the world.”, says Joel Burke.
April 25, 2019 at 01:44PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs