Tallinn University of Technology

Estonia has the highest number of startups per capita according to the State of European Tech 2022 report (1,090 start-ups per 1 million inhabitants). At the same time, there are different challenges that need to be addressed. The new GEM Estonia Team will be able to offer such insights. 

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“The results obtained from high-quality data will contribute to better policymaking, leading to a favourable business environment and the creation of the necessary conditions for sustainable growth,” said Dr. Sirje Ustav, GEM Estonia Team Leader and Head of Studies for Entrepreneurship and the International Business Unit at the Tallinn University of Technology.

Strengths and Weaknesses
According to Ustav and Dr. Helena Rozeik, Business Development Manager and GEM Estonia Project Manager, strengths of Estonia's entrepreneurial ecosystem include:

  • Advanced and efficient digital infrastructure, including widespread internet access and digital government services, which provides a favourable environment for start-ups and entrepreneurs to operate online. 
  • A well-educated workforce with a high literacy rate and strong focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education that provides a skilled talent pool for entrepreneurship and innovation.
  • Supportive policies for entrepreneurs, such as a simple and efficient business registration processes, favourable tax policies for start-ups and various funding programs to support early-stage businesses. 
  • Estonians’ global outlook that has led to a culture of internationalization and openness to foreign markets. 
  • A growing and dynamic start-up community, with numerous events, hubs and incubators that foster entrepreneurship, networking and collaboration among entrepreneurs. 

Ustav and Rozeik also note the following challenges within Estonia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem: small market size, access to funding, brain drain, lack of industry diversity and limited network effects. 

“While a small domestic market can be a trigger to have a global outlook, it can limit the growth potential of start-ups that rely solely on the local market,” the researchers said. “Estonia has a relatively small population, and talented entrepreneurs and professionals may be attracted to larger markets abroad, leading to a potential brain drain and talent loss.”

While Estonia has several funding programmes for start-ups, Ustav and Rozeik believe that access to funding, particularly for early-stage start-ups, can be challenging as venture capital and angel investment are relatively limited compared to some larger start-up ecosystems. Estonia's start-up ecosystem, while growing, is still relatively small compared to some larger start-up hubs. This can limit the network effects and synergies that can arise from a larger ecosystem.

Meet the GEM Estonia Team

The lead partner for the GEM Estonia Team is the Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech). The school’s mission aligns with the various aspects of GEM. TalTech is regarded as a key player in promoting entrepreneurship in Estonia by educating future entrepreneurs across all disciplines and schools. The institution hosts and supports several startup activities such as pitch competitions, accelerators and student placements. Researchers from the University of Tartu (UT) are also part of the team. 

Sirje Ustav, Jelena Hartšenko and Helena Rozeik

Pictured is GEM Estonia National Team Lead Dr Sirje Ustav and research team members Jelena Hartšenko and Dr Helena Rozeik. Other members of the team not pictured are Dr Merle Küttim, Dr Iivi Riivits-Arkonsuo, Professor Mervi Raudsaar and Basel Hammoda. The team is supported by Susanne Durst, Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at TalTech, and Mari Avarmaa, the Dean of the TalTech School of Business and Governance. All of the GEM Estonia Team members are experienced entrepreneurship and business researchers and educators who are leading business and entrepreneurship bachelors and masters’ programmes. They are also actively engaged in several EU and national entrepreneurship related research projects.

The GEM project closely aligns with research team’s interests: the entrepreneurial ecosystem and contemporary entrepreneurship (e.g. sustainable business models, social entrepreneurship), data analysis in business research, university-industry collaborations and technology transfer issues, among other areas. 

In addition, team members have been actively mentoring entrepreneurs and start-ups through several national and international incubators and accelerators. As a result, they have been able to forge strong ties with various Estonian business and innovation ecosystem participants in both the private and public sector, thus positioning the team to efficiently and effectively carry out the GEM National Experts Survey.

“Being part of GEM gives our team of researchers access to high-quality data which allows us to conduct academic research in the field of entrepreneurship and publish high-level scientific publications,” said Ustav.

Like many economies, Estonia is facing different disruptions to its entrepreneurial ecosystem and ongoing economic challenges. All the more reason why being part of GEM is important. 

Concluded Rozeik: “It is the time to thoroughly understand the changing business landscape and gain insights on the ability and potential of entrepreneurs to adapt by studying, comparing and learning from others.”