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CDL-Estonia will infuse an advanced startup ecosystem with global capital and expertise


CDL’s newest site is in Estonia, where integrated digital services are the status quo

Toronto, Canada; Tartu, Estonia, April 06, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Creative Destruction Lab is announcing a new site and program stream in Estonia, a country known as a startup’s paradise with the most technologically-advanced government on Earth.

The new Digital Society stream at the University of Tartu will integrate Creative Destruction Lab’s worldwide network of mentors, investors and entrepreneurs with Estonia’s globally renowned business and technology ecosystem. 

“Estonia is already home for 1,300 startups, which is kind of absurd for a country of 1.2 million people. As a society, we’ve considered things like ubiquitous digital signatures and secure, paperless governance a comfortable norm for several decades - while still so many business environments dream of this as science fiction. Being open to the world and giving back is a strong part of our entrepreneurial ethos. Estonian academia, founders and state coming together and actively plugging into the fantastic global CDL network is a natural way how to share our learnings with budding startups from anywhere,” said Sten Tamkivi, partner at Taavet+Sten and founding partner of CDL-Estonia.

Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) delivers an objectives-based, nine-month mentorship program for massively scalable science- and tech-based startups. Since its founding at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto in 2012, the program has now expanded to 11 sites in five different countries. 

There could not be a better location for CDL’s newest site than Estonia. The country in Northern Europe is a global leader in digital governance, with ubiquitous, easy-to-use digital identity and private key infrastructure. These systems offer real-world benefits to citizens, who can vote and pay their taxes online in mere minutes, and to entrepreneurs, who can register new businesses seamlessly. They also offer a world of opportunity for startups working in the digital governance space.

“Estonia's business environment and digital ecosystem are at the forefront of the world, and as a result, Estonia is today a world leader in numbers of unicorn companies per capita. The success of our technology sector is a major opportunity for Estonia, for which we must continue to contribute, to keep up with the rapid developments in the world of technology,“ said Andres Sutt, the Estonian Minister of Entrepreneurship and IT. According to the Minister, important steps have been taken in Estonia in recent years, to bring business and science closer together and to increase co-operation between companies and universities. “It’s a win-win situation – universities help give expert knowledge to growing start-ups and the technology sector offers opportunities for universities, funding or possibility to put research into practice. Therefore, I am very pleased to see that the CDL program has arrived in Estonia in cooperation with the University of Tartu. CDL gives our growing start-ups access to world-class mentors and their knowledge, as well as to international capital. My goal is to have 25 Estonian unicorns by 2025, and I believe that together with the CDL, we will take a big step closer to achieving that,“ minister Sutt said.

Estonia boasts the highest ratio of startups per capita on the globe, with startups making up one per cent of the country’s total employment and three per cent of its entire GDP. The country has produced ten unicorns in 15 years — including Skype, Wise, Bolt, Pipedrive, Veriff and Glia — a per capita rate comparable only to the San Francisco Bay Area and Israel. 

The University of Tartu is another draw for CDL-Estonia, with its four centuries of experience providing higher education. Founded in 1632, the university is the oldest and largest institution of its kind in Estonia, attracting many of the country’s top minds. The school is home to the Estonian Biobank, a genotyped database of about 20 per cent of the country’s adult population, and the Center of IT Impact Studies, an integrated teaching and research center that uses big data generated by Estonian public e-services to study the impact of those services and to design new e-governance solutions.

One of the University of Tartu’s strategic goals is to be an accelerator of the smart economy. The university stokes a spirit of enterprise in its students, and fosters a constructive environment for start-ups and cooperation with businesses. “Joining CDL is an excellent way to boost this commitment, with its rigorous program and superb network of professionals,” said vice rector for research Kristjan Vassil. “CDL’s strong network will perfectly complement the research strengths of UT, and the strengths of Estonia’s digital governance community.”

For participating ventures, CDL-Estonia is providing an unprecedented opportunity to access global capital and expertise. CDL offers the chance to connect with seasoned mentors and investors in the United States, Canada and across Europe, increasing the visibility and impact of the ideas taking shape in Estonia.

CDL-Estonia’s Digital Society stream is designed for founders who are exploring commercial opportunities predicated on creatively, securely and responsibly fusing data from public and private digital registries, in order to create business models that accelerate the digitization of human societies.

The Digital Society stream is particularly suited to startups working in the fields of governance, health, genomics, elections, privacy, data science and regulation. Participating founders at CDL-Estonia will have an opportunity to develop and pilot their business models on real data produced by its digital government ecosystem. The program’s three focus areas are smart state, cybersecurity, and citizen genomics.

CDL-Estonia’s founding partners include: 

  • Estonian entrepreneurs and investors Taavet+Sten: Taavet Hinrikus, formerly Skype’s first employee and the co-founder of fintech giant Wise, and Sten Tamkivi, also a former Skype employee, co-founder of Teleport and former entrepreneur in residence at Andreessen Horowitz,
  • Vabamu, the largest active non-profit museum in Estonia.
  • And Estonia’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

“Vabamu’s mission is to promote freedom. Economic development and connections to the global economy are important ways to help expand the benefits of freedom to more Estonians who seek to participate in entrepreneurship. CDL-Estonia is a superb opportunity for our country to join one of the pre-emminent global networks that supports the growth of innovative technology-based start-ups,” said Karen Jagodin, director of Vabamu.

Estonia is the place to create solutions-focused ventures in digital governance. And now is the time. Cities around the world are competing for tech investment and talent. Recent developments in data science, big data analysis and AI are accelerating the digitalization of societies. 

“There’s a growing need for the type of innovation that has transformed Estonia into the world’s most digitally advanced society,” said Sonia Sennik, executive director of Creative Destruction Lab. “We are so pleased to be welcoming University of Tartu to the global CDL community; our structured objectives-focused model will offer the mentorship and capital that startups need to share this innovation with the world.”

Are you interested in digital governance and digital societies? Learn more about CDL-Estonia. Get in touch with at CDL-Estonia or apply for CDL-Estonia’s inaugural 2022/23 program.

About Creative Destruction Lab

Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) is a nonprofit organization that delivers an objectives-based program for massively scalable, seed-stage, science- and technology-based companies. Its nine-month program allows founders to learn from experienced entrepreneurs, increasing their likelihood of success. Founded in 2012 by Professor Ajay Agrawal at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, the program has expanded to 11 sites across five countries. Participating ventures have created $19 billion (CAD) in equity value.

About Vabamu

Vabamu is the largest active non-profit museum in Estonia. Vabamu’s mission is to educate the people of Estonia and its visitors about the recent past, sense the fragility of freedom, advocating for justice and the rule of law. It was founded by Olga Kistler-Ritso, an Estonian-American refugee, in partnership with the Estonian government, to support her wish that Estonia never again be occupied by a foreign power. Vabamu's Patron, President Lennart Meri, declared Vabamu to be “Freedom’s House”.

About University of Tartu

The University of Tartu (UT) is Estonia's leading centre of research and training. Established in 1632, the UT remains the nation's only classical university where research is conducted in a wide variety of fields from medicine to philosophy and genetics to computer science. The University of Tartu belongs in the top 1% of the world's most cited universities in 13 fields of research, including clinical medicine, chemistry, biology, biochemistry and microbiology. The 1% most cited researchers in the world include more than 60 researchers of the University of Tartu. The UT places great importance on international cooperation and partnerships. The UT engages with more than 70 distinguished research universities in 26 countries from the Baltic Sea region to North America, East Asia and Australia.

About Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications

The objective of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications is to increase the competitiveness of Estonian companies and thus the prosperity of people.


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