Business

Estonian business stories around the world

With Rail Baltic, EU transport plans hope to pick up speed

Rail Baltic to connect the capitals of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with a high-speed railroad.

The original report was first written by Frances Robinson and Liis Kängsepp for The Wall Street Journal, and has been republished by kind permission. Additional reporting by Estonian World.

There’s a point on the border between Latvia and Estonia where picturesque little villages are used to the sight of freight trains rumbling by. But last month they got to see something different.

Emblazoned with the European Commission logo and “RB Express”, a passenger train carrying dozens of VIPs, journalists, civil servants and railway experts was trundling along the route to promote the European Union’s grand plans for transport. One of those projects is Rail Baltic, which will connect the capitals of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with a high-speed railroad.

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“Nobody in the Baltics takes the train these days – it is just inconvenient and very time-consuming,” Indrek Sirp, the chairman of the Rail Baltic task force, explained. People tend to drive or fly. In the future, however, it should take two hours to get from Tallinn to Riga (at the moment with a bus it takes four) and four hours from Tallinn to the Lithuanian-Polish border (at the moment it’s a 10-hour drive).

Quite what the new trains are going to look like will depend on how the industry will evolve over the next 10 to 12 years. They will certainly be more comfortable and speedier than the long-distance trains currently operating in the Baltics.

“There will of course be very comfortable seats, good catering and excellent facilities for working, and of course wireless internet,” Sirp said, noting there actually was a train connection between Tallinn and Warsaw at one point in the 1990s – but it was uncomfortable and unprofitable, so it didn’t last.

To provide an idea of what to expect, Lithuanian Railways put together a five-car train involving two passenger cars, two dining cars and a conference car. This VIP vehicle had a boardroom, space for a temporary television studio and a sleeping compartment, and only gets four or five outings a year, so it’s pretty special.

Still, there was certain theatricality to the proceedings. For starters, “Express” is a generous description for the train that was frequently overtaken by cars on the highway alongside. At each border, the whole enterprise had to stop while locomotives were switched – with Lithuania starting off with a Siemens locomotive usually used for freight and Latvia changing to an old Soviet-built behemoth. Passengers were greeted by choirs, mayors were showing off their 19th-century Russian railway architecture and presenting local cake.

When the new line is finished, the trains will be going much faster – up to 240 kilometers (150 miles) per hour.

But will people actually take advantage of this opportunity? Sirp said he believed they will. An analysis made in 2011 predicts there will be around 3,000 people traveling back and forth between Tallinn and Pärnu – the first stop on the railroad after Tallinn – every day.

And even though last month’s trial service was only a special charter, according to Martynas Tarvidas from Lithuanian Railways’ passenger-trains unit, “It’s a huge thing, to finally get a single train going from Vilnius to Tallinn. It’s a piece of history.”

Rail Baltic

Rail Baltic is one of the priority transport projects of the European Union. The project is supposed to link Finland, the Baltic States and Poland and also improve the connection between Central and Northern Europe and Germany. It envisages a continuous rail link from Tallinn (Estonia), to Warsaw (Poland), going via Riga (Latvia) and Kaunas (Lithuania). It will by-pass the Kaliningrad Oblast (Russia) and Hrodno (Belarus) where the two historic rail routes Poland-Lithuania have been going.

The section from Helsinki to Tallinn will be operated by existing commercial ferries. In the future a proposed Helsinki to Tallinn Tunnel could provide a rail link between the two cities.

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Cover photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

TransferWise increases currency routes; launches iOS app

The London-based Estonian-founded money transfer startup, TransferWise, has increased the number of its currency routes nearly fourfold. The company also announced it’s launching an iOS app.

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The company said it is currently transferring over one million pounds a day for consumers and small businesses, which it puts down to the recent £3.9 million investment from Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal. According to the company, the investment “has helped the company double in size in just four months with the volume transferred … growing from £125 million to more than £250 million”.

TransferWise announced that it has increased the number of its currency routes nearly fourfold. The most recent currencies added to its money transfer platform were the Indian rupee, the Australian dollar and the Turkish lira.

In addition to launching a new iOS app, the company is also introducing the ability to send money via email and a “receive money” feature to “create new ways for people to send and receive money cheaply and easily invoice over the internet”.

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Cover photo: Taavet Hinrikus & Kristo Käärmann, founders of TransferWise

Tahe Outdoors becomes one of the biggest manufacturers of water sports equipment in Europe

An Estonian-owned manufacturer of water sports equipment, Tahe Outdoors, already the market leader in canoes and kayaks in Scandinavia, has bought Egalis, the biggest producer of paddles in Europe. The purchase of the French factory makes the company one of the biggest manufacturers of water sports equipment in Europe.

Kayaks were originally developed by the Eskimos about 4,000 years ago. They used the boats to hunt on inland lakes, rivers and coastal waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic, Bering Sea and North Pacific oceans. These first kayaks were constructed from stitched seal or other animal skins stretched over a wood or whalebone-skeleton frame. Modern kayaks differ greatly from native kayaks in every aspect – from initial form through conception, design, manufacturing and usage. They serve diverse purposes ranging from slow and easy touring on placid water to racing and complex manoeuvring in fast-moving whitewater, to fishing and long-distance ocean excursions.

The Estonian manufacturer, Tahe Outdoors (formerly Tahe Kayak), has for a while been at the forefront of Scandinavian kayak manufacturing. The acquisition of French paddle producer Egalis last month makes the company one the biggest manufacturers of water sports equipment in Europe.

Tahe Kayak was founded in 1989 by two professional paddlers, with its first kayak being constructed in cooperation with the Finnish Canoeing and Rowing Federation. With first products professionally designed, the base for the company’s success was set.

Brothers Marek and Janek Pohla bought Tahe Kayak in 2007 and, through product innovation, using Swedish, Canadian and Australian designers and clever marketing, have since taken it to a global level. They currently operate with eight brands and three factories (two in Estonia and one in France) and are full of enthusiasm for their kayak venture.

“Kayaking is a rapidly growing outdoor activity and kayaks seem to find a new market segment or sector every year. For example, two-three years ago stand-up paddle boards became very popular – which is closer to surfing rather than kayaking. One-two years ago kayak manufacturers focussed to special fishing kayaks – which means more to fishing segment. This year in Outdoors Retailer show in Salt Lake City, I noticed that many companies were already displaying stand-up paddle boards for fishermen. There are new trends every year,” Janek Pohla, the Sales and Marketing Director of Tahe Outdoors, explained.

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The purchase of the French factory fulfils one of the long-term goals of the company, which is to establish a separate production and logistics centre close to its customer base in central Europe, so as to better serve clients.

“Egalis is a paddle manufacturer, established 50 years ago. The company has a 75% market share in France and 50% in Europe. Our strategic goal was to acquire a manufacturer with a good reputation in western Europe. The 4000 square metres of contemporary production space and technology at the French factory will make our operations more innovative and significantly more efficient, especially in terms of selling our products to the British, German and French markets. In five years we would like to become the absolute market leader in water sports equipment manufacturing in Europe – and maintain this position,” Pohla asserted.

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Cover photo: Tahe’s kayak in Greenland.

Startup Wise Guys alumni pass €1M funding milestone as new teams arrive

Estonia-based accelerator program Startup Wise Guys has welcomed its third batch of young tech start-ups. Eight teams from seven countries will enter a grueling three-month program that includes more than 80 local and international mentors and will end with coveted demo days in Tallinn and London.

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The new arrivals are in good company. Founded in 2012 by Jon Bradford, Herty Tammo and Mike Reiner, SWG has already built a portfolio of successful alumni. With new investments and partnerships announced in the past month, its former teams have raised well over €1M at latest count.

From the accelerator’s first batch, Dutch video-discovery app WappZapp has recently raised €650,000 following a recent investment from SanomaVentures. Altogether, six of the eight teams from the accelerator’s first batch now have follow-on funding.

From the second batch, one team has raised $100,000, another an undisclosed round and 70% of the companies are already generating revenue. With two more teams in late-stage investment talks, new announcements are on the way.

“Our alumni teams do an amasing job and we’re thrilled by the growing international interest in our program,” said Mike Reiner, co-founder and head of Startup Wise Guys. “In the current batch, we have teams from as far as Costa Rica and India, with many nationalities within the teams. The start-up ecosystem in Estonia is thriving and it’s great to see the country build on its homegrown successes to become a magnet for talented entrepreneurs worldwide.”

From the very beginning, Estonian Development Fund has played a crucial role in Startup Wise Guys. On top of EDF’s initial investment in setting up the accelerator, the Fund’s investment arm, SmartCap, has committed €1M to Wise Guys alumni.

“We’re helping terraform the Estonian entrepreneurial and investment climate,” said Andrus Oks, Investment Manager at SmartCap. “We’ve already come a long way from a mostly inward-looking focus on nurturing only local start-ups to seeing the country as a platform for entrepreneurs from all over. A rich, open exchange of ideas, contacts, and talent has enormous benefits for Estonia and its people.”

Rounding up what is essentially Estonia’s first angel fund, 15 angel investors have matched SmartCap’s investment and help select start-ups for the accelerator program.

“Out of 15 previous start-ups, ten have either secured follow-on funding or will do so soon,” said Riivo Anton, a Startup Wise Guys investor. “From an investor’s point of view, nothing trumps a successful exit and from what I’m seeing, we seem to be on the right path. With our portfolio now at 23 companies, I think we’ll witness the first successful exits in a few years.”

Startup Wise Guys takes an 8 percent stake in every startup that joins its program. The accelerator invests €5,000 per founder, capping its initial investment at €15,000.

New teams now joining the Startup Wise Guys accelerator program:

TrainedOn (Hungary, Estonia)

Multi-sided platform with online tools and a marketplace for offline training management.

Leaf (Costa Rica)

Free music-streaming service with a direct channel for artists to grow and monetise their fan bases.

Camorka (Estonia)

Social platform for organising creative contests for brands and individuals.

SiftyNet (Czech)

Online news monitoring, analysing and categorisation platform offering highly relevant and targeted information for SMEs.

Safevox (Latvia)

Mobile voice and instant messaging encryption service allows you to control your communication privacy.

Edumoko (Russia)

One place where young people can find and take remote internships with all the benefits of international work and online learning.

Rockyourpaper (India)

Smashes the expensive paywalls that hide great research. We are the iTunes for research articles.

Actual Reports (Estonia)

Cloud-based document creation platform that helps software providers save time and money spent on creating and managing user-specific output.

Read more about Startup Wise Guys here.

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Photo: Tallinn by VisitEstonia

Finnish booze rally helps fund Estonian literature

Finns crossing the Gulf of Finland to stock up on booze are helping to fund Estonian literature and cultural activities, as a portion of alcohol taxes in the Baltic country are allocated to culture foundations.

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Estonia’s small language group, with just over a million native speakers worldwide, manages to support a surprisingly vibrant literature scene. One of the reasons for that is the booming alcohol retail industry, set up largely to cater to Finnish tourists looking for cheaper beverages than they can find at home.

That’s because some of the money raised through alcohol taxes are channeled into cultural funds that help support many of the books published in Estonian.

The Eesti Kultuurkapital fund was established during the country’s spell of independence between the first and second world wars. It was resuscitated in 1994, and is now largely funded by the proceeds of taxes on alcohol, tobacco and gambling.

Estonian law stipulates that 3.5 percent of all alcohol and tobacco tax revenue, and 43 percent of gambling tax proceeds, should be turned over to the fund. Last year that translated into 12.7 million euros from alcohol and tobacco sales, and around 3.5 million euros from the gaming industry.

Although the gaming proceeds rose by a few percent last year, money from alcohol and tobacco sales jumped by more than a sixth.

No cultural ringfencing of Finnish alcohol taxes

Eesti Kultuurkapital supports both cultural activities and sporting endeavours. Some 29 percent of the fund’s grant money was allocated to sports last year, with composers taking the biggest cultural funding and literature around 6 percent.

The cash has helped fund a boom in publishing, with the peak year of 2008 seeing nearly 4,700 titles hitting the shelves. That has declined to around 4,000 Estonian publications in 2012, but that is clearly more than in Finland when adjusted for the smaller population.

The Finnish Commerce Federation found that 84 percent of Finns visiting Estonia had bought alcohol, indirectly contributing to a healthier Estonian cultural scene. In all Finns imported some 28.5 million litres of alcohol from Estonia.

If the same volume of booze was purchased at Alko or in bars and pubs, the Finnish state would receive around 300 million euros. That would not have an impact on sport or culture, however, as alcohol tax revenue is not ringfenced in Finland.

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Disclaimer: This article was first published by Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE: http://yle.fi/uutiset/ 

Estonian entrepreneurship in Finland has doubled in last four years

The number of Estonian-founded businesses in Finland has more than doubled over the last few years, but estimates of their exact number vary. Possibly as many as 5,900 businesses have been set up by Estonians in Finland.

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According to Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat, Estonians usually set up a small construction company, janitorial company or beauty salon, employing up to four people.

Finnish tax authorities put the number of businesses with an Estonian background at 3,500, more than double the number of only two years ago, while the Estonian embassy in Helsinki said the figure is closer to 1,000.

The Finnish Business Information System said 5,900 companies in the country have been founded by Estonians, but that figure includes dormant companies. Four years ago, that figure was less than 3,000.
The daily said that the reasons for leaving Estonia to set up ventures in Finland are higher salaries and a larger market. Some Estonians made the move for family reasons, it said.

Being culturally, linguistically and geographically close, Finland has seen a massive influx of Estonians in the last five years. According to official figures, approximately 22,000 Estonians now reside permanently in Finland. The number of Estonians working temporarily in their neighbouring country is estimated to be as much as three times higher however — simply because many people work in Finland during the week and return home for the weekend. The 51 miles journey from Tallinn to Helsinki can be completed in two hours by ferry or as half an hour by plane.

The main motivation for Estonians to move to Finland have been higher salaries. The difference between salaries in Estonia and in the Nordic countries used to be extreme: bus drivers in Finland used to earn more than the president of Estonia and for a year’s salary in Finland one could easily buy a new flat in Estonia some ten to fifteen years ago. The contrasts have become smaller now, but the gap is still remarkable. Many Estonians work in the Finnish construction industry or as bus drivers in Helsinki and other Finnish cities. One of the most controversial issues for Estonia has been the exodus of doctors, physicians and nurses to Finland, and also Sweden and Norway — simply because salaries there are up to five times higher than in Estonia.

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Original source: ERR news; additional reporting by EstonianWorld.com

Cover photo: Helsinki skyline

Robbie Williams to test the new promotion campaign for Estonia

Robbie Williams’ concert in Tallinn on 20 August to be filmed and screened across the world, forming a part of the new promotion campaign for Estonia.

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British pop group Take That had just released its debut single “Do What U Like” when Estonia restored its independence on 20 August 1991 after decades of Soviet occupation. The youngest member of the band, 17-year-old Robbie Williams, would have been unlikely to know much about Estonia at the time as the British school system didn’t pay much attention to the individual Soviet states. However, fast-forward 22 years and Mr Williams, by now among the most successful UK solo artists of all time, chooses Tallinn as the location for the only filmed performance of his current world tour, called “Take The Crown – Stadium Tour 2013”.

Robbie is the first major international performer to film his concert in Tallinn. How did it come to that? The powers of persuasion on Robbie Williams’ tour management to pick Tallinn were sustained by Estonian concert promoter Peeter Rebane on one hand and Enterprise Estonia (EAS) on the other.

While the promoters got Williams to give his only concert in the region since making his comeback — he won’t be performing in Stockholm or Helsinki, Vilnius or Riga, Moscow or St Petersburg — EAS had been working on a new strategy to promote Estonia for tourists and business people alike.

Martin Hirvoja, a board member of EAS, explains: “For example, instead of spending hundreds of thousands of euros to feature posters of Estonia at the London Underground, our new approach is to promote significant cultural and sporting events that take place in Estonia, as well as make sure that internationally famous Estonians are actually associated with the country.”

“Arvo Pärt is one of the most famous classical composers in the world, yet relatively few people know that he is from Estonia. Similarly, not that many people realise that Skype was developed in Estonia and that the country is one of the most wired-up in the world,“ Hirvoja adds. “With our new strategy we will try to get these messages through more agressively. Launching a joint project together with Robbie Williams is the first event within the new framework.“

Persuading Robbie Williams to film his concert at Tallinn Song Festival Grounds instead of Wembley Arena in London wasn’t obviously an easy task, but according to Peeter Rebane, it all came down to determined negotiating skills and the uniqueness of the place.

“After approaching the Williams’ management with the idea, I had to fly to London twice and once to L.A. Finally we got his tour manager to fly over to Tallinn and check out the Song Festival Grounds. Luckily for us, the sun also shone on that day,” Rebane says. “The tour manager looked around and liked the unique open-air venue on the picturesque seaside, especially after we explained to him the historical significance of the festival grounds, and the fact that the concert would take place on the day Estonia restored its independence. He rang to Robbie on the spot and shared his positive impressions with the star — and Robbie was in. After all, as the previous tour films had all been filmed in megacities, Tallinn as a small city by international standards provided something distinctively different,” Rebane says, sharing some insights.

Getting Robbie on board did come with a cost, of course. Enterprise Estonia will spend €300,000 promoting Estonian tourism through Robbie Williams. But Hirvoja argues that this money would be worth it. “€300,000 would otherwise been our budget to promote Estonia in the UK, for example. What we are getting here is that scenes of Estonia will be featured in the official DVD ‘Robbie Williams Live in Tallinn’, we got marketing space on the pop star’s Facebook page (with four million followers) and Twitter profiles as well as in his newsletters. We are also negotiating with various prominent TV channels and digital formats, such as iTunes, to feature the Tallinn concert. Last, but not least — Robbie’s show in Tallinn will be broadcast live into 700 cinemas around the world, including in Brazil, Hong Kong and Mexico — countries where we as a small country would otherwise not have resources to promote ourselves.”

So the bets are definitely high — EAS calculates that “Robbie Williams – Live In Tallinn” could reach over 30 million people around the world and place the country’s name in more hearts and souls than before.

“I have never been to Estonia and I am excited to film my brilliant show on the day of restoring Estonia’s independence,” said Williams himself via press statement.

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Who is Robbie Williams?

Born in Stoke-on-Trent, England, on 13 February 1974. Aged 16 in 1990, his mother read an advertisement seeking members for a new boy band and suggested that he try out for the group. The group would be called Take That and in few years it’d become one of the most successful pop bands in Europe. Although one of the most popular members of the group, he is somewhat in the shadow of the band’s leader and main songwriter Gary Barlow. After getting into drinking and drug-taking habit, Robbie left Take That in 1995 and set out to become a solo artist instead. Adopting a more rugged image, he was introduced to a songwriter Guy Chambers and they formed a prolific songwriting team. After few false starts — and while his former bandmate Gary Barlow was still more successful in the charts — “Angels”, the fourth single taken from his debut album, stormed the UK charts and set a path for Robbie to become the most successful UK male solo artist of the 90s and noughties. In 2002, Williams signed a record-breaking £80 million contract with EMI, which still is the biggest record deal in the British history. However, despite his record company’s aggressive campaign and his success in Europe and Latin America, he has failed to crack the US market. Known for his charismatic stage persona, his live performances are a huge success. Announcing his World Tour for 2006, 1.6 million tickets were sold in a single day, entering his name in the Guinness World Records. To date, Williams has sold over 70 million records worldwide.

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Robbie Williams, Live in Tallinn 20 August 2013. To find a cinema near you to see Tallinn and Robbie LIVE tomorrow, please check: http://distrify.com/films/6599-robbie-williams-take-the-crown-2013/showtime/map?fullscreen=true

Photos: Robbie Williams

How good is Estonian science?

Twenty five scientists from Estonian universities belong to the top one per cent of the most cited scientists in the world. Twenty of them are from the University of Tartu.

By Kristiina Kruuse

Photo by Andres Tennus

The most referenced among them are Risto Näätänen, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Tartu, and Ülo Niinemets, a professor of plant physiology at the Estonian University of Life Sciences. The most cited research fields in which researchers from the University of Tartu have reached the top one per cent include chemistry, clinical medicine, etiology and botanics, environmental sciences and ecology, general social sciences, biosciences, material sciences, geosciences and technology.

“Citations are really important because what’s the use of brilliant thoughts when nobody notices them?” Jüri Allik, a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Tartu, noted. He has been analysing the global quotability of Estonian scientists for more than ten years and is among the most referenced scientists in his field as well. He said that figuratively, quotability shows whether the audience consists of only some listeners or whether it is a concert hall full of people.

“If there are no references at all, then, bluntly speaking, the article is scrap paper,” added Richard Villems, the president of the Estonian Academy of Sciences and one of Estonia’s most referenced scientists in the fields of molecular biology and genetics.

More than 24,000 references

There are many databases that keep count of how often scientists are globally referenced. The Thomson Reuters ISI Web of Knowledge is one of the most broad-based and influential among them and is a sort of scientist’s ‘bible’.

According to this database, the world’s most referenced Estonian scientist is Risto Näätänen. From 2001 to 2011 he was referenced scientifically 4,117 times. Considering his entire career, the number stands at 24,000 times.

The 73-year-old’s career is built on his discovery of mismatch negativity in 1978, which he has put into practice in various fields. Mismatch negativity is one of the brain’s reflexes. According to Näätänen, it allows us to foresee mental degradation in older age and evaluate the chances of a person coming out of a coma.

“He was lucky to make such an important discovery; of course, he has been really diligent and persistent as well,” noted Jüri Allik. Five years ago, it was Allik who invited Näätänen (who had been co-operating with Estonians since the nineties) to work in Estonia, after Finnish law required the latter to retire at the age of 68, despite his great mental and physical fitness (he even participated in the Helsinki marathon at the time).

The work and the world

Between 2001 and 2011, Ülo Niinemets, a professor of plant physiology at the Estonian University of Life Sciences, had the next best total sum of references after Näätänen. In addition to other achievements, Niinemets and his colleagues proposed a hypothesis that in the globally changing climate, evergreens survive better than deciduous plants as the CO2 level increases because their cell walls are thicker, thus hindering the intrusion of CO2 into the leaves.

“It’s all hard work, nothing else. As they say, you always have to do more than the others,” Ülo Niinemets said.

Right after Niinemets, the third place — with 3076 citations between 2001 and 2011 — belongs to the evolutionary geneticist Toomas Kivisild who currently works at the Cambridge University.

Kivisild has also participated, along with other Estonian scientists, in an international research group devoted to finding out how people left Africa in the distant past and populated other parts of the world, while dividing into large groups and sometimes mixing again.

Still, when comparing scientists according to quotability, one mustn’t forget that it makes more sense to compare them in their respective fields and not between different ones, because the speed of getting published is not the same for all fields. Tracking quotability differs, too. For example, in computer sciences you need 185 references to get into the top per cent of most referenced computer scientists in the world. In physics you’d have to gather at least 2,313 references to achieve that.

This doesn’t mean that computer scientists are worse than physicists — it just emphasises the differences between fields. In physics, it’s quite ordinary that a single article has many authors. It could be a two or even three-digit number. In some other fields, especially in humanities, a successful scientist may write more monographs than articles.

Estonia among the world elite

When countries are compared according to the average number of references per scientific article, Estonia has 9.46 references per article, putting the country in 30th place, right after Singapore and before Portugal.

Switzerland, United States and Denmark are the three countries with the most references. “When it comes to writing articles that are getting referenced, Estonian science has been extraordinary lucky internationally,” Jüri Allik pointed out.

When different fields are compared, Estonian botanists and zoologists stand out the most, as they have 23.7 per cent more references per article than the world average. “Botany has traditionally been good in Estonia. The science has had decades of time to evolve and become mature with the support of strong leaders,” Ülo Niinemets explained.

Compared with the world average, Estonia has the biggest references deficit in economic sciences: 62.2 per cent. According to Raul Eamets, a professor of macroeconomics at the University of Tartu Institute of Economy, there’s no need to worry: “We’ve had only about twenty years of dealing with economic sciences free of ideology, while most disciplines have decades of publishing and ideology-free science at their foundation. Hence the difference.”

With a new generation of scientists on the rise, the number of publications and references in economic sciences has been increasing every year. “In the next five years, we will definitely continue to improve our position in the world,” Raul Eamets added.

Just like top athletes

Jüri Allik, Risto Näätänen, Richard Villems and Ülo Niinemets, all among the most cited scientists in their fields, made a comparison between getting into the top in science and sports. “Science is a competitive sport. You can relax and rely on the past for a couple of years, but if you want to stay at the top, you have to participate actively in science and deliver publications,” Allik said.

Näätänen, who gives a lecture titled “How to become a top scientist and stay there” to doctorates at the University of Tartu, said that success is mostly based on three things: enormous work; diving into the literature to ignite new ideas; and the temerity to come up with novel and unique thoughts.

“For years, nobody paid any attention to my findings on mismatch negativity. It was only later that it received more serious recognition,” Näätänen recalled. “A top scientist must have the courage to do things differently and believe in their ideas even if there’s no one else who shares their beliefs.”

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This article was first published in English by the University of Tartu: http://blog.ut.ee/

Cover photo: University of Tartu by Tiit Mõtus/VisitEstonia

How to run a successful Kickstarter campaign: 7 tips

Successful Estonian start-up Click & Grow recently ran a Kickstarter campaign for their Smart Herb Garden, raising $625,851 from 10,477 backers. I had the privilege to look after the marketing side for this project and I really mean ‘privilege’. Running a Kickstarter campaign is a marketer’s dream job: it’s highly measurable, the duration is finite and the playing field is more level than is usual.

Although a lot have been written about how to run Kickstarter campaigns, quite a few people have inquired about the topic, so I typed up my observations. Here are 7 tips for running a successful Kickstarter campaign.

1. Have a good story

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Having a good story is a good idea anyway but on Kickstarter it is crucial. A good Kickstarter story answers three questions:

– What is it and how does it make the world a better place? The first part is obvious, the second part isn’t: there aren’t very many Kickstarter success stories of things that promise more of the same or marginal improvements.

– Who are you to make this project happen? There are many examples of failed or severely delayed projects, so credibility matters. And because you don’t yet have a product, your own face is a big part of the story. Like marketing in the good old days!

– Why are you on Kickstarter? It helps to be clear how much do you need and how will you spend it.

2. Read articles and talk to people

Many smart people have done it before, so it would be a crime not to read up on Kickstarter’s own resources, blog posts of creators and Quora threads. Here are three posts ( 12 and 3) I found really useful, there are many more. And you’ll pick up even more if your get on the phone/Skype and chat to a couple of people that have run a Kickstarter campaign.

3. Be part of the community

This is kind of obvious but backing a couple of projects yourself and lurking in the comments section of projects is a great start.

4. Video and project page

There are people more qualified to advise on video matters but I know this much: you need one part video shooting and editing skills and one part of aforementioned story to get a good result. If you hire external help for getting the video done, write a tight brief and take the time to thoroughly talk it through with the video maker before the work starts.

You also need to present your story well without the video. Good web copywriting principles apply — best pages are made easy to skim with sub-headers, illustrations and tables, as opposed to long paragraphs of text.

5. Make yourself visible on Kickstarter.com

Here’s where it gets a little less obvious. Most backers will likely discover your project on Kickstarter, not via your own mailing list or media. So you really want to be featured in places like “Popular”, “Staff picks” and the page that’s shown after you’ve backed a project. And the way to get there is earning your place by getting lots of people to back you in a relatively short amount of time. If you get listed well, you can expect every backer you convince yourself to drive 3,4 or more additional backers.

Our two main levers with the Smart Herb Garden were the existing Click & Grow community and PR. To engage the former, we had prepared three different mailing lists to go out the minute the project went live as well as personal email drafts to individual networks of team members. We also used paid promotion of our early Facebook announcements.

On the PR front we had identified a short list of six publications we really wanted to write about the project. We had pre-briefed them days before the project launch, in addition to a longer list of blogs and news sources that we contacted as the project went live. This secured coverage in TechcrunchGizmagMashableCNET, which trickled down to other blogs in the following days.

Focusing the effort in the first 12 hours off the project got us our first backers, but perhaps even more importantly it got us listed throughout Kickstarter for the whole duration of the campaign. In the end more than 75% of pledges originated on Kickstarter.com.

6. When in Rome…

…Do as the Romans do. And I don’t mean frequent visits to public baths or lavish festivities, but following the best practices that work really well on Kickstarter. Early bird offers and limited pledge levels give a reason for your loyal community members to back your project early (and help get listed on Kickstarter). Kickstarter-special reward modifications make backing more interesting for your biggest fans.

Kickstarted is not a store, so if you’re running a hardware project, there are also some restrictions compared to traditional pre-ordering. For example, you can’t offer multiple quantities of the same thing. What you can offer is ‘reasonable sets’ of different products, for example two console remotes. We introduced a set of two herb gardens, one with a green lid and the other white all around, which was reasonable enough for Kickstarter.

7. Listen and adapt

Last but not least, Kickstarter is a much more ‘live’ campaign than most marketing I’ve done previously. You’ll get a ton of questions and feedback in comments and personal messages, and you’re expected to not just listen, but take action too. We changed quite a few things as a result of feedback and this seems to be the norm on Kickstarter. The good news is that this feedback is much easier to act upon compared to most situations, as you haven’t yet started the production process.

Reading feedback, replying and making the necessary adjustments to FAQ’s or project description takes at least a couple of hours every day, which is a good reason to make sure there’s a dedicated Kickstarter ‘project manager’ in the team.

What I would do differently next time

Getting more than 10,000 people behind the Smart Herb Garden was definitely a good result, but the campaign was by no means perfect. Here’s what I’d do differently in the future:

– Show more face. There were no native English speakers in the team, therefore we made a decision early on to minimise talk time on camera. A good substitution would have been showing US backers and potential backers instead, and there was even a great opportunity to record this, but timing was too tight to organise shooting. Also, in hindsight I would also have organised a couple of meet-ups with existing community and new backers.

– Don’t rush the video. We had hired external help for the video and had a very tight deadline. This meant that script writing started before we had thoroughly talked through the brief, and filming started before we had thoroughly talked through the script. In the end it all worked out fine, but we would have gotten the video done quicker and smoother by not rushing the very beginning.

– When you get into stretch goal territory, be more ambitious. The success of the project had us set stretch goals twice which kind of worked, but in hindsight I’d set them once and for all.

It’s all about the team

While I had a say in marketing side of things, the brains behind the project belonged to Mattias Lepp, founder of Click & Grow. My tip #8 would be to borrow some of the founder’s entrepreneurial energy for any Kickstarter endeavours. Other members of the Click & Grow team, people at Velvet & London AD and Max Borges Agency all made huge contributions. A good reminder that it’s all about the team.

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This article was first published by Andrus Purde on http://purde.net/

Photos: Click & Grow/Andrus Purde

How to avoid time vampires?

There are several things that prevent us from getting our work done. Excuses like “I didn’t have enough time” should be forbidden, because we always have time. It’s just a matter of prioritising and organising it.

We can also blame distractions like other people, Facebook or a work environment that is not comfortable enough, but actually the only thing that we should be doing is looking in the mirror. We are the only ones who are in charge of our time and that is why I put together some of tips to help us get rid of time vampires.

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Let’s start out with the person who always asks, “Have you got a minute?” Well, this usually means that there is a person who just comes in with questions that are actually never quick. This always takes more than a minute and it also means that you need to switch yourself off from your work. Getting back on track is usually very difficult and often takes longer than one minute as well. Tell this person to collect the questions together and organise a specific time to deal with them. Another way (if it is possible) is just to avoid these kinds of people and not communicate with them at all.

When we need to send an informative email, we often get back two or three questions, or even few emails from the same person. When sending a message to someone, be concise, but provide enough information so the person receiving the message can take appropriate action. If you have a question, ask. If you have information, give! This will avoid other questions and issues in the future, which will also avoid losing more and more of your valuable time.

Make peace with perfectionism. Perfectionism takes more time than you can imagine and it is definitely not needed. It takes away your motivation and it also makes you delay, because you always feel like there’s just that one more thing that needs to be done before it’s perfect. Rebecca Wells once said: “Good enough is good enough. Perfect will make you a big fat mess every time.”

Communicate with people who are productive and people who inspire you to work and to be more active. Unproductive people are always on the phone, chatting, taking long lunches or sitting on Facebook. It also affects you and this way your work will never be done.

Set office hours – if you have a client who is calling you at home, give them certain hours when you’re available. Don’t allow that person to interrupt your family life. There is a time for work and a time for play.

Don’t Twitter/Facebook your time away — avoid TweetDeck, Facebook Messenger and any other applications that flash and beep and keep Twitter or/and Facebook in front of your face all day long. Log in to Twitter, check your “@ replies” and answer them. Play for a bit and then log back out.

Differentiate between urgent and not urgent. There are issues that need to be solved right away and there are problems that can be solved in 30 minutes, in an hour or in a day. All problems are not urgent.

The biggest time vampire is putting things off. There are no excuses for not doing something right now. “I’m waiting for the right mood to come. It takes too much time, I’ll do it later. It is too difficult, I’ll come back to it.” No — this is not the way you get your things done!

Meetings that are not actually needed. Try to avoid meetings that are not getting you anywhere. In short, if you have nothing important to talk about, then just don’t. There are several things that you can solve/discuss on the phone. This will take a lot less time than organising a meeting.

There is also a danger with related videos on YouTube. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who gets a very cool YouTube video from a colleague, then after finishing the video gets tempted to click on a related video. And then another related video. And there goes my time.

I think that the key for productivity is simplicity – it boils down to two steps: identify the essential and eliminate the rest.

If most websites are saying that time vampires and energy suckers are separate people, then I would say that it is the exact same thing in the end. Hopefully I managed to collect together all the vampires that we know of. If you know any other ones or you might even know how to get rid of them, feel free to let us know because we all need to deal with those in our daily life.

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Disclaimer: This article was first published on Toggl.com (using reference from MoMeo magazine)

Photos: VisitEstonia/Wikimedia Commons

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