“For our foreign visitors, it is like a time-machine, offering a glimpse into the future,” says the Estonian technology evangelist, Indrek Vimberg. The time machine in question is the new e-estonia.com showroom, which opened at Tallinn’s Ülemiste City before Midsummer’s Day.
This article is published in partnership with Life In Estonia magazine.
By Holger Roonemaa
When Life in Estonia visited the e-estonia.com showroom, it still smelled of freshly cut birch wood. The showroom walls were covered in Estonian birch and the entire design concept, from clothes hangers to the Threod drones hanging on the ceiling, was designed in Estonia.
Back to the time machine. The newly opened showroom is called “version 1.5” because its predecessor, “version 1”, was the Estonian ICT Demo Centre, which opened its doors five years ago. During the past five years, more than 1,300 delegations visited the Demo Centre, among them ten presidents, around twenty prime ministers, numerous ministers and business delegations. “Like all good things, the Demo Centre had outlived its time: five years tends to be the maximum lifespan of a project of this kind. Therefore, we needed an entirely new concept and, when we found great new rooms in Ülemiste City, we created a new solution,” explains Vimberg.
He keeps referring to the showroom as a timemachine because for many foreign delegations visiting Estonia, what they see and experience here is often stuff of the future. “We have implemented many excellent IT solutions, which improve the standard of living of the people in Estonia and, in order to explain and demonstrate those life-changing solutions, foreign visitors who come to the new showroom benefit from a central location and a guided tour by an expert,” Vimberg explains. This means that in order to experience how one can start a new company in twenty minutes or sign a contract with one’s mobile phone regardless of location, you need to have an Estonian e-identity and knowledge of how to do it. Of course, business tourists to Estonia lack this knowledge. “This is why we brought all of our e-solutions into one location where we can paint a clear picture of Estonian e-opportunities and the positive impact they have,” he says.
What people see and hear in the showroom is a real experience. “Be prepared for something special. It will change the way you think,” promises Vimberg. His five years of experience at the ICT Demo Centre has shown him that nobody is left untouched. “People leave here astonished. Nobody has left without being positively influenced,” he adds.
The showroom has a simple advantage. Instead of making your way through dozens of Estonian government departments, boards, ICT companies and start-ups, spending an hour here and another one there, one location gives you an overview within just an hour and a half.
The new showroom consists of two parts: the “theatre part”, where visitors receive a fast and detailed presentation about e-Estonia, and the “gallery”, where everyone can get hands-on experience with developments. “It is one thing to talk about the average internetvoter needing two minutes to cast a vote or the five minutes it takes to fill in a tax return. But it is another thing to test those things on your own.”
Vimberg estimates that the ICT Demo Centre was one of the most visited locations by business and political delegations to Estonia. But now he plans to double visitor numbers in the new, larger and more modern showroom. This means hosting at least two delegations a day. “When you travel around the world, you visit many attractions but do not remember many of them. We hope that the visitor will experience a paradigm shift which is hard to forget,” he says, adding that although the showroom does not have official opening times, it opens its doors to visitors on request, even on weekends and during non-business hours. “The only thing we ask is to reserve the time for a visit a week ahead.”
Vimberg says that states cannot just copy-paste public sector e-services and the showroom is the connection between the know-how and know-who. “Our goal is to show what technology enables us to do and to offer people a different way of looking at things. In addition, we can definitely help with our experience and know-who. We offer a complete overview of the Estonian ICT sector network and we guarantee to be able to put you in touch with the right contacts,” promises Vimberg.
In addition, he emphasises that the showroom and its team can help visitors pitch smart ideas in their home countries. “Invite us to visit and we will come and explain how analogous ideas have changed the way things are done in Estonia.” Vimberg has through the years done this in twenty countries all over the world.
One of the aims of the showroom is definitely to raise international awareness of Estonia, but the other aim is more pragmatic. “The results of our work should be seen in the export numbers of companies,” says Vimberg. The predecessor of the showroom and the Export Cluster project, perhaps not directly, led to the export turnover of partner companies growing 250 per cent over the last three years. “We offer good support for Estonian ICT companies and we create an additional competitive edge for the entire industry. Public and private sectors together can package the Estonian e-success story. Through cooperative efforts, we are able to stand out in the world and be equal partners with such giants as Amazon, Daimler and Ericsson.”
Although the e-Estonia showroom, version 1.5, just opened, Vimberg is already thinking of version 2.0. “It will be called ICT Lighthouse. It would be fantastic if we could open its doors by the end of the decade here at the old water tower of Ülemiste City.” This would open up an entirely new dimension of the time machine by using the four existing floors of the historic water tower and adding another two floors. The sketches of version 2.0 already exist on paper.
Mike Gault, CEO, Guardtime
The showroom is an incredible asset for Estonian companies. In Guardtime’s case, we have had the opportunity to be introduced to senior public and private sector executives, which has led to over USD10 million in new business for our company.
Opening times: upon request
Delegation size: up to 54 people
Duration of presentation: 1 hr 30 mins