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Photo Credit: Siim Verner Teder

With the most startups per capita in Europe, Estonia’s leaders are clearly on to something; here’s what a study by the University of Tartu found.


In 30 years, Estonia grew its economy from the scratch, and faster than any other formerly Soviet-occupied country. Nothing illustrates this success better than Estonia’s vibrant startup scene. According to The State of European Tech 2021 report by Atomico, Estonia has the most startups, unicorns and investments per capita in Europe.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Estonia was even among the fastest growing economies in the European Union. How? To solve this particular riddle, a study by the University of Tartu took a peek inside the minds of Estonia’s leaders.

Since 2005, Estonian researchers have been regularly analysing the trends in local business leadership. Their latest report, led by the economist and psychologist, professor Maaja Vadi, and funded by the governmental organisation, Enterprise Estonia, was published in April. The study is conducted every five years.

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Photo Credit: Veriff

Having a clear plan

According to Vadi, detailed planning and organisation clearly translates into a company’s performance. Hence, the study looked at how much Estonian companies had invested a great deal of time in thoroughly detailing their goals; nearly all Estonian companies had strategic plans, although the most successful of these had plans in place for the next three years at a minimum. They know exactly what they do and why they do it.

It may be obvious for big corporations but, according to Vadi, even small family businesses in rural areas have become more forward thinking. More precisely, 60 per cent of smaller companies and 80 per cent of larger companies deemed planning as something extremely important – a foundational building block for the company.

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Photo Credit: Cleveron

“It’s not enough to create cosy offices with ping-pong tables to attract workers anymore.”

How do Estonians find and motivate their employees?

It’s not enough to create cosy offices with ping-pong tables to attract workers anymore. The management is focusing on creating communities with a uniquely strong team spirit and a sense of belonging, as well as supporting mental health and ensuring employees have an enjoyable work-life balance.

The head office of automatic pick-up lockers manufacturer Cleveron is based in the middle of Estonia, far from Estonia’s biggest IT hubs, where finding and keeping talent is a challenge. The company created their own academy where studies and lodgings are covered to develop their future labour force.

If anything, the study shows Estonian leaders have started to walk their own paths, with clear plans to guide them. As they once looked to the West for inspiration, they are starting to become the ones to be followed instead.


To continue reading the study, click here

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