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International business accelerator brings startups to Estonia to develop digital society services

The international business accelerator Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) launched at the University of Tartu brings together research-intensive startups from across Europe to develop products and services related to digital governance, health data and cybersecurity, supported by the best expertise of local mentors. Almost 50 startups have applied to join CDL-Estonia, which was officially launched at sTARTUp Day at the end of August.

CDL started in Estonia in cooperation with the University of Tartu, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, Vabamu and the investment fund Taavet+Sten. The accelerator focuses on digital society. According to the Estonian coordinator, Professor of Marketing at the University of Tartu Andres Kuusik, we have e-government services, the Estonian Genome Centre and digital data registers, cyber security expertise and cutting-edge research in these areas. “Combined with business, all of this together can bring surprising results,” said Kuusik.

A diverse pool of mentors

Estonia has become home to 1,300 startups in the past decade, ten of which have grown into unicorns. This is a great achievement, according to Sten Tamkivi, entrepreneur, investor and one of the driving forces behind bringing CDL to Estonia. He believes that closer integration of the local and international startup community could create an even more favourable growth environment for research-intensive companies. “What makes CDL special is its large and diverse pool of mentors, which includes top figures from the scientific and business communities as well as the public sector from all over the world,” said Kuusik.

The first official application period of CDL-Estonia is over, but according to Kuusik, there are still a few vacancies, so CDL-Estonia continues looking for candidates with bright ideas until October when participants will meet the mentors for the first time. The aim is to include some twenty companies in the programme this year.

Innovation is born out of public-private partnerships

What makes CDL special is its funding model, which joins the private and public sectors. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications supports the accelerator with €1.3 million over five years, with a matching contribution from each of the two private-sector partners. According to the Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Kristjan Järvan, the rapid development of Estonia’s digital society relies on the cooperation between the public and the private sector, making it the only way to kick-start Estonia’s turn towards innovation. “To increase the added value of the Estonian economy, we need to boost research-intensive entrepreneurship and innovation. CDL is a very good example of cooperation between the state, universities and businesses to jointly promote the growth of the Estonian economy and the development of digital society,” the minister added.

Vabamu’s mission is to bring together Estonian and foreign entrepreneurs and researchers who want to participate in developments that are important for society. “As a museum that values freedoms and promotes Estonia’s development, we are a neutral partner that can offer support to those interested in cooperation and provide a network to help Estonia establish the international contacts necessary for the development of a free society,” explained Karen Jagodin, CEO of Vabamu.

CDL, which originated at the University of Toronto, offers research-based technology startups a nine-month mentoring programme and access to international capital. It operates in 12 locations around the world. CDL-Estonia in Tartu, South Estonia is the fourth in Europe, alongside Oxford, Paris and Berlin. The first funding period of CDL runs from 2022 to 2027.

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