The annual Estonian Startup Awards gala took place on January 27, 2023 with almost 500 attendees at The Glass Hall of the Song Festival Grounds. The event officially marked the end of the year for the local tech ecosystem and celebrated the top startups of 2022. Ten award trophies were handed out to deserving nominees, as covered by LIFT99.
The nominees for the Estonian Startup Awards 2022 were exceptionally strong this year, with a record 235 jury members participating in the awards process. It reflects the state of the ecosystem, which has 1,440 startups registered in Startup Estonia’s database – the most per capita in Europe!
Despite the challenges faced in 2022, the Estonian startup ecosystem continues to grow and thrive. 12 startups raised at least €25M in the past year, with two companies reaching a valuation of €1B — Glia and Veriff. Notably, the Estonian startup sector has caught the attention of Sequoia Capital, one of the most renowned VC companies in the world, with representatives attending the awards gala this year.
Still, despite the high saturation of the startup ecosystem, the 2022 awards saw fresh faces and new names in the list of nominees.
Breakthrough founders and leaders of 2022
The award ceremony kicked off with personal awards. As Estonia houses a thriving founders’ community, gathering local and international talent, there was fierce competition in each section. Still, who are the winners?
- Avery Schrader‘s influencer economy startup Modash struggled for years but finally turned profitable, finishing the year with €2M in revenue in Q4 and raising a seed round of $2M in 2022. Schrader left his hometown in Canada to travel and eventually ended up in Estonia to start his own company. On this journey, he had experience working in a kitchen and a pet shop and built one of the biggest game servers. For all these reasons, Avery was honoured as the Foreign Founder of the Year 2022.
- Timmu Tõke has been the CEO of Ready Player Me for 9 years and has gone through countless pivots. Now Ready Player Me is a virtual reality startup that provides an easy-to-use platform for people to create and share their own VR avatars. The company aims to make virtual reality more accessible to everyone by allowing users to create and customize their own virtual representations of themselves. In 2022, the company raised a $56M series B round led by US investor Andreessen Horowitz, bringing the total funding to $72M. For his persistence and hard work, Timmu was awarded the Founder of the Year 2022.
- Another shortlisted finalist is Karoli Hindriks, the CEO of Jobbatical, an employee relocation startup. Founded in 2014, the company recently re-climbed to its former heights with a bold pivot. Last year, the company tripled its revenue, and the founder community recognized Karoli with a voting lineup that landed her in the top 3 in 2 categories: the Revenue Hack and the Founder of the Year.
- Triin Hertmann was awarded the Wise Wallet award for being the most impactful active angel. Through her investment journey, she has made over 25 investments in startups, with a focus on sustainability and supporting female entrepreneurs. In 2022, 7 out of her 11 investments had at least one female founder.
Best companies of 2022
The best company category was the highlight of the evening, with the top startups in the Estonian startup ecosystem competing for the titles. Also, four categories were added to reflect the fast-booming sectors: EdTech, DeepTech, CleanTech, Defence & Security Tech.
- The Big Bang award focuses on recognising the industry’s fastest-rising stars. This year it was won by KOOS, a newly launched startup from Taavi Kotka that helps other companies grow by allowing people who contribute to the business to earn a tokenized stake in it. Launched in 2022, they raised €5.1M and had 48 customers by the end of the year.
- The CleanTech of 2022 category recognized startups prioritising sustainability in their business practices and products. Comodule emerged as the winner. The startup provides connectivity solutions to electric vehicles, particularly in the micro-mobility industry. They have partnered with big brands in the industry, and their headcount has grown from 119 to 197 people, with a 3x growth in revenue from €8.5M to €24.5M. The company also snatched The Revenue Hack award thanks to those outstanding numbers.
- The EdTech award was given to 99math, a mobile game that helps kids improve their math skills. In 2022, the company raised €2M and reached over 1 million monthly users.
- The Defence and Security Tech award was presented to Milrem. Milrem’s mission is to provide innovative robotics solutions for challenging environments and they have proven to be leading the market with 16 countries using their products. In 2022, they signed contracts to deliver 14 remote-controlled THeMIS UGV robots to Ukraine, the single largest delivery to date. The UGVs are aimed at keeping friendly troops safe in war situations. Milrem also won NATO’s procurement to build up a robotics program for the entire Italian Army, despite competition from larger companies.
- In 2022, the DeepTech sector in Estonia was thriving with rapid expansion and growth, with 1430 people employed and a total turnover of €90 million. Kristjan Järvan, the Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology, presented the sector award to Pactum, an AI-powered negotiation startup. Pactum leverages intelligent bots, advanced mathematical models, and cognitive science to negotiate mutually-benefiting contracts for large enterprises and their suppliers. In 2022, Pactum raised $20 million and experienced a 3.2x growth in revenue.
Although the overall employee count in the sector is predicted to grow by 20% by the end of 2023, other trends are emerging too. The organisers predict that fundraising will be challenging in 2023 unless you are in certain sectors serving a desperate global need, such as DefenceTech or DeepTech.
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