Firms looking east can bridge the gap to Estonian market
If your company is interested in expanding to eastern Europe, there are good reasons to consider Estonia. Business people in Ireland and Estonia share a positive attitude, making both tech scenes fun and collaborative. At home, TechIreland gathers the community. Estonia has a similar catch-up with the cheeky hashtag #estonianmafia. While Irish companies are particularly strong at sales and networking, Estonians rank very well in mathematical and engineering skills.
Last month, Enterprise Ireland organised the Ireland-Estonia Tech Bridge event to encourage collaboration between businesses in both markets. Estonian companies - including Cybernetica, Paytailor, Estate Guru and Guardtime - travelled to the two-day event in Dublin to explore joint opportunities in fintech, e-government and cybersecurity, areas of strength in both economies.
Tech Bridge arrived at an opportune moment, with business between Ireland and Estonia already on the rise. In 2016, Irish CSO data showed a 65pc increase in exports to Estonia, when compared with 2015. Enterprise Ireland clients generated over €8m of exports to Estonia in 2016, with food representing 48pc. It's encouraging that companies like MalwareBytes, Arvato Financial Services and TransferWise are already active in both countries. It's also great to see the first example of a UK/Estonian startup, Travatar, establishing its head office in Galway. One of the goals of the Tech Bridge visit was to encourage more Estonian companies to consider Ireland as a leading alternative to other European locations. Updates on that development are expected within the next six to eight weeks.
The economic profile of Ireland and Estonia is also similar. Both are small markets, making it essential for home-grown businesses to be export-focused. Tech Bridge is one example of Enterprise Ireland's eurozone strategy in action. The plan offers clients multiple supports with the goal of increasing exports to the eurozone by 50pc, to €6.15bn, by 2020.
Many companies in eastern Europe look at the support clients receive from Enterprise Ireland with envy. From a Polish and Estonian perspective, it is very impressive that an agency is so active as an investor and that its processes are so efficient and client-friendly.
Enterprise Ireland has supported firms like Combilift and Novareus to grow internationally. Combined with a record of attracting overseas startups and entrepreneurs, Ireland is in the top league in the competition for tech talent. I see a hunger to emulate that success in many eastern European countries.
There are also great reasons for Irish companies to look eastwards to Estonia. Most obviously, there are opportunities in cybersecurity - Nato has its Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallin. Estonia's state-of-the-art eGovernment infrastructure is a clear example of strategic, long-term planning combined with tech savvy spirit and a capable talent pool. Estonia also makes a great base for Baltic and Nordic export activity in general. At Tech Bridge, we connected clients with Estonian counterparts and pointed them towards business opportunities in the Baltics. The outcome of those collaborations will be seen within the next three months.
If your business has an eye on Estonia, there are some practical challenges you should consider - like how key staff will travel. Right now, there are only two direct flights a week between Tallin and Dublin. That's not very convenient for business travellers. While details like this might seem minor, it's crucial to make sure they're built into export plans.
There is help available for these challenges, big and small. The Irish Estonian Business Network will support any firm thinking of moving from one market to the other. Together with Enterprise Ireland and The Embassy of Ireland, IEBN is forging new business relationships. These supports could help your business to thrive in the east.
Bartosz Siepracki is director of Enterprise Ireland's Poland office
Sunday Indo Business