Ragnar Sass, Estonian investor and the co-founder of LIFT99 and Pipedrive, said that 2021 was a record-breaking year for Estonian startups in both investments as well as turnover. “Estonia’s technology sector is constantly reaching new peaks,” he said. “Estonian startups raised 450 million euros and closed 72 investment deals in total in 2020, and last year they closed 97 investment deals and raised 950 million euros of capital. This demonstrates that Estonian startups have products and services investors believe in.”
According to the LIFT99 press release, the field of financial technology was chosen by market participants as the best performing area in Estonia’s startup sector, because startups operating in this area demonstrated strong growth in regard to job creation as well as labour taxes paid to the state. “The Estonian startup sector no longer only means programmers working in Tallinn; we have startups with tangible factories in Estonia. Startups are creating manufacturing jobs in Estonian counties as opposed to somewhere far away like China,” Sass said.
There are 1,295 startups operating in Estonia today, according to the Estonian Startup Database, and the Estonian Startup Awards winners were selected from among 100 candidates. The best in Estonia’s startup sector were announced in eight categories.
The Foreign Founder of 2021 – Carlos Paniagua, Glia
Carlos Paniagua is proof that the role of foreign investors in the Estonian economy and society in general cannot be underestimated. Paniagua founded one of the fastest-growing startups in Estonia. Glia almost doubled its turnover last year and has created 37 new high-paying jobs in Estonia. Additionally, Carlos Paniagua is an active member of the Estonian startup community, sharing his ideas and experiences with younger colleagues as a mentor and speaker.
The Stereotype Crusher of 2021 – Merit Valdsalu, Single.Earth
Estonian-founded Single.Earth is the world’s first financial platform for trading natural assets. Last year, Single.Earth raised approximately €7M ($8M) from investors, making it one of the largest early-stage investments in Estonian startup history. The startup unites landowners, communities and the private and public sectors for the purpose of nature conservation. With the help of Single.Earth, landowners can earn income from forest growth, not deforestation.
The Big Bang of 2021 – Lightyear
While Lightyear was just an idea a year ago, now the startup has managed to raise 8.5 million euros ($10M) in growth funding and assemble teams in both London and Tallinn. The Estonian-developed mobile app opens up trading to anyone interested in investing worldwide and the trading platform has zero fees.
The Wise Wallet of 2021 – Sten Tamkivi
Sten Tamkivi’s investment record is long and impressive. Examples from the past year include well-known startups such as Chaldal, Ready Player Me, Ampler, Monerium, CoinList, Ramp, Violet and Numerade. In Estonia, Tamkivi has been one of the first contributors to companies such as Wise, Veriff, Pactum, Lightyear, Salv, Katana, Superfluid as well as many others.
The Revenue Hack of 2021 – Bolt
Bolt is a worldwide ‘super-app’ that needs little introduction. Bolt operates in 45 countries and over 400 cities. Bolt’s customer base doubled over the past year to 100 million people, with 2.5 million drivers offering ridesharing services, which is nearly double compared to 2020. Bolt is continuing to grow rapidly and is already one of Europe’s largest companies, currently valued at 7.4 billion euros.
The Giving Back Powerhouse of 2021 – Martin Villig
Martin Villig, co-founder of Bolt, makes time in his packed schedule to contribute to the startup community and society overall. He is one of the heads of the Estonian Founders Society and the Good Deed Foundation as well as one of the founders of kood/Jõhvi. While everyone is busy, Martin Villig manages to find opportunities to involve himself in important social initiatives, serving as an example for other entrepreneurs.
The Startup Sector of the Year: FinTech as a Service – Veriff
Just a few days after the Estonian Startup Awards ceremony, Veriff became the ninth unicorn of Estonia. The company provides internet-based identification services. Its strategic objective is to develop the product and at the same time take care of their employees’ and customers’ well-being. Last year, Veriff raised 58 million euros ($69M), this year 87 million euros ($100M) and reached $1.5B valuation.
The Founder of the Year 2021 – Markus Villig, Bolt
Last year, Bolt launched two new services, increased the number of employees from 1,700 to 3,000 and raised €600M. In January 2022, Bolt has announced Estonian largest ever funding round of €628M to further scale its existing products and accelerate its shared mobility services.
Read more about the winners and nominees at LIFT99 blog here.
The third annual Estonian Startup Awards was organised by Lift99 and the Estonian Founders Society with the assistance of startups and startup community members such as Ahti Heinla, Ampler Bikes, Bankish, Bisly, Bob W., Cleveron, Comodule, Eurora, EstateGuru, GoWorkaBit, EcoPetBox, Fairown, Katana MRP, Klaus, Lingvist, NFTPort, Pactum, PwC, RangeForce, Ready Player Me, Remato, Riina Einberg, Salv, Siena, Silen, Single.Earth, Sixfold, so.fa.dog, Startup Wise Guys, Sunly, Superangel, Tehnopol Startup Incubator, TextMagic, Toggl, Trind Ventures, United Angels VC, Veriff, Xolo, and the main sponsors of the event were Swedbank, Bolt, 3Commas and the Hedman law firm.
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