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Finnish deep tech company Unikie: Estonia is a fantastic place for product development

Finnish deep tech company Unikie, which develops software for autonomous vehicles, came to Estonia six months ago and plans to expand to the next Estonian city, Tartu. Managing Director of the Estonian office Ville Ilves said that the decision to expand to Estonia was the right one and recommends that other companies follow suit: "Estonia is a fantastic place for product development!"

Managing Director Ville Ilves believes that the supportive environment for entrepreneurship is one positive aspect Estonia offers; additionally, he thinks it is important that Estonia has managed to quickly build several software compoanies that have reached the so-called unicorn status.

A world-class work force now and in the upcoming decades

He is greatly impressed by the fact that Estonia has a highly educated world-class talent base in the IT field and that those people also have the necessary expertise and experience. Ville is also impressed by the high scores of Estonians in international rankings, for example, in the global PISA tests, in which Estonian students have topped the rankings, signifying that companies operating in Estonia can have their pick of world-class talent for decades to come.

According to Ilves, during the time Unikie has operated in Estonia, the company has hired approximately ten employees; before the year is over, they plan to have more than 50 employees in the company. The company has hired more than 250 people across all offices in all countries. In addition to Finland and Estonia, Unikie has offices in Poland and Sweden.

“We are looking to add approximately 300 more people this year, thus it is imperative to start operating in new locations. During our operation in Estonia, we have managed to convince our German and US clients that Estonia is a fantastic place for product development,” says Ilves.

Besides Estonia and Finland, Unikie has offices in Poland and the United States of America. The city of Tartu, known primarily as a university town, will soon join the list of Unikie’s locations. As expected, Unikie is not overlooking the internationally distinguished University of Tartu – the company is planning to start cooperation with the university regarding autonomous cars.

Employees at Unikie’s Tallinn office are developing Automated Valet Parking (AVP) software, which grants vehicles level four self-driving capabilities (there are six levels in total), achieved through the use of artificial intelligence, digital twins, a control centre, sensor monitoring infrastructure (Lidar, cameras, radars and so on) as well as telematics aggregated by the vehicle.

Autonomous vehicles specialising in parking

“Unikie is a very dynamic deep tech company, with unmatched expertise in utilising real-time data and sensor fusion in controlling all kinds of moving equipment, including cars,” Ilves highlights the company’s advantages.

Ilves believes that fully autonomous vehicles still need several years to become fully operational. Unikie currently focuses on the parking aspect of autonomous cars, as they believe that automation of parking is an area that is gaining pace.

Invest Estonia helped Unikie acclimatise in Estonia rather quickly

Unikie’s expansion to Estonia was facilitated by Invest Estonia’s Deputy Head of Global Business Development Henri Räim, who initiated first contact with the company’s representatives during the pandemic via Invest Estonia’s Virtual Visit to Estonia online platform, which was created in rapid response to the pandemic, being one of the solutions that brought Invest Estonia international recognition from the United Nations in 2020 as the Best Investment Promotion Agency in the World.

Unikie and Invest Estonia did not limit their meetings to the virtual world; they also arranged meetings in the company’s native Finland as well as in Tallinn. Räim arranged meetings on behalf of Unikie, with stakeholders and potential partners as well as Estonia’s Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Andres Sutt.

Invest Estonia’s support helped Unikie acclimatise in Estonia in less than a year – beginning with the first round of negotiations in the second half of 2020 and ending with Ville Ilves moving to Estonia in August 2021 in order to coordinate the management and creation of Unikie’s IT Development Centre in Estonia.

“Estonia’s solid digitalisation, fantastic reputation in the IT field and quick action in regard to the foreign investment centre are the primary reasons Unikie chose Estonia as the location in which to expand,” says Räim.

As Invest Estonia’s objective is to establish a long-term and effective client relationship with foreign investors, it is always based on the wishes and needs of potential investors or entrepreneurs, which is not limited to only helping acclimatise the investor to the country. Invest Estonia is steadily helping Unikie by building its relationships with the University of Tartu and thereby aiding the company to develop and expand.

“Our strong network of field offices supports clients around the globe. Our Work in Estonia team helps locate and attract talent here. Investment advisers provide all-round support, no matter the question or problem,” says Räim.

He believes that this type of personalised approach helps build trust between a foreign investor and the foreign investment agency and, of course, helps establish trust for Estonia’s business environment and culture, as embodied by Unikie’s arrival in Estonia.

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