Technology

Technology news about Estonians

Estonian border queue system GoSwift ranked among world’s 40 best e-services

The international jury of the World Summit Award (WSA) has published its list of the world’s 40 best e-services that includes the Estonian border queue management system GoSwift.

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GoSwift is an electronic system for managing the waiting line at border checkpoints that enables drivers to wait for their turn virtually instead of lining up in a physical queue. The system is used today in Estonia, Russia and Lithuania, spokespeople for the Estonian Ministry of Economy and Communications said.

The Estonian representative in the jury, Mihkel Tikk, said that the level of the projects taking part in the competition has been rising every year.

“Each day, good e-solutions are created in the world that can be set as examples for others in terms of user friendliness and technology alike. The work of the WSA jury helps to analyse such applications in greater detail and bring out the best ones,” Tikk said, adding that Estonian entries should be paying more attention to their presentation to score higher points in the future.

The shortlist of 40 e-solutions was compiled by specialists acting under the aegis of the United Nations in Tallinn last week. In all there were seven Estonian entries among the 461 candidates.

The 40 WSA Winners will be invited to present their projects at the WSA Global Congress 2013 in Sri Lanka from Oct. 23-26.

Previously, the Estonian e-environment for filing corporate annual reports has been named by the WSA jury as best e-government solution of the decade.

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Source: Estonian MFA

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Estonia to export its Data Exchange Layer X-Road to Finland

The Government of Finland has decided to create a data exchange layer of e-services and cooperate with Estonia in the course thereof as much as possible.

“We will immediately and cost-effectively create a national data exchange layer of electronic services and an electronic identification system, implementing cooperation opportunities with Estonia insofar as possible,” sets out a policy document of the Finnish government concerning the assurance of economic growth conditions and sustainability that was approved.

While it’s not one of the most visible solutions for the general public, X-Road is the backbone of e-Estonia, launched in 2001. It’s the invisible yet crucial environment that allows the nation’s various e-services databases, both in the public and private sector, to link up and operate in harmony.

One of the key elements of e-Estonia is that its databases are decentralised, which means:

  • There’s no single owner or controller.
  • Every government agency or business can choose the product that’s right for them.
  • Services can be added one at a time, as they’re ready.

X-Road is the all-important connection between these databases, the tool that allows them to work together for maximum impact. All of the Estonian e-solutions that use multiple databases use X-Road.

Originally X-Road was a system used for making queries to the different databases. Now it has developed into a tool that can also write to multiple databases, transmit large data sets and perform searches across several databases.

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X-Road was designed with growth in mind, so can be scaled up as new e-services, with their various platforms, come online.

Currently there are more than 800 organisations, public registers and databases connected to the X-Road and this number is increasing.

Riku Jylhänkangas, Director of the Strategic Governance of the Finnish Public Sector ICT, confirmed in the European State Portals Seminar held in Tallinn yesterday that Finland is planning to actively examine the Estonian X-Road solution. “We are planning to thoroughly study the Estonian X-Road. This is not just about the source code but also understanding the organisation and agreements that create the frameworks for this technology. We are also hoping to test cross-border services. In the future, a solution similar to the X-Road will benefit Finnish citizens and enterprises as it definitely allows offering public services faster and at less cost,” Jylhänkangas explained.

“We are very glad to share our experience with the Finns. We are hoping to reach the milestone of the first functioning cross-border e-services that would serve as an example for the whole of Europe. For example, digital signatures or electronic tax operations that are valid in a cross-border framework would save a lot of time and money for everyone,” said Jaan Priisalu, Director General of the Estonian Information System’s Authority.

As the first pilot service, the Estonian Tax and Customs Board has commenced cooperation with the Finnish Tax Administration to bring the cross-border data exchange to the X-Road channel. The first tests have already been conducted.

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Source: e-Estonia and Estonian Information System’s Authority.

Skype and the Estonian start-up ecosystem

On August 29th, 2003, six people from Estonia, Sweden and Denmark launched a new product in Tallinn. On its first day, 10,000 people downloaded it. Few months later, it had a million users. Ten years later, it is used by 300 million connected users around the world. The product is called Skype.

It was initially called Skyper, itself derived from Sky Peer-to-Peer, but due to the fact that domains under that name already existed, the name was changed to Skype.

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Although the initiative to set up Skype came from two Scandinavian entrepreneurs, Danish Janus Friis, and Swedish Niklas Zennström, its software was written by three Estonian developers — schoolmates Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, and Jaan Tallinn. Three Estonian boys were drawn to the Digital Age even before Estonia restored its independence in 1991. In the late 80s they created computer games and in 1989 managed to become the first Estonians to sell their game abroad when a Swedish developer bought their game ‘Cosmonaut’ for 5,000 dollars.

The fourth Estonian of the original team, Toivo Annus, played a major role of managing the first Skype’s office, as well as engineering and core p2p network team.

At the turn of the millennium, the team collaborated, honed their skills and developed new ideas by working for Swedish telecommunications company Tele2, as well as setting up Kazaa — peer-to-peer file sharing application, which was used to exchange MP3 music files and other file types, such as videos, applications, and documents over the internet. Kazaa became the world’s most downloaded Internet software in 2003, but after lawsuits were filed by members of the music and motion picture industry in the USA, it was sold.

Since six men ran into legal troubles with Kazaa, new ideas were generated during sleepless nights in Tallinn and finally a eureka moment experienced when they realised that they could use P2P technology to create an “internet phone.” Thus, Skype was born, allowing users to communicate with peers by voice using a microphone, video by using a webcam, and instant messaging over the Internet.

Blessed with user friendly interface, designed by Dane Malthe Sigurdsson, Skype became an overnight success and their workforce grew fast. Although it was registered in Luxembourg and had its marketing office in London, the firm’s largest office with main development team was based in Tallinn. This was the first time that a truly global multinational start-up was being created and nurtured from this relatively small city and therefore had an enormous impact on Estonian start-up ecosystem.

At least until very recently, talk of the current Estonian start-up expansion, both within and outside its borders, invariably came back to one magic word: Skype. As Taavet Hinrikus, Skype’s very first employee and now a serial entrepreneur, running his own successful start-up — TransferWise in London — explains, “By creating, having and maintaining Skype in Tallinn, we gained a great insight on how to launch a great global product and it created a feeling that we can create big things in a small place.”

This new start-up with global ambitions became a base for learning new skills and inspiring new ideas. It also helped to create a new philosophy and can-do attitude for aspiring Estonian tech-entrepreneurs. As the former Head of Skype Estonia, Sten Tamkivi explains, “We came to believe that being small is an advantage: It’s not about manpower, it’s about finding creative, effective and innovative solutions to a problem. Being small is not a disadvantage; it just means that you need to think about exporting products right from the beginning. To put it simply, the question “What do I have to contribute to the big diverse world?” is incorporated deep in your company’s DNA. ”Look at the impact that the first four Skype engineers, sitting in Tallinn, had on the world today,” says Sten. Indeed, today it has 300 million connected users around the world and a third of all international telephone calls now go through Skype.

Skype also provided many young Estonian programmers and software developers with share options from the start — which meant that when Skype was sold to eBay in 2005 for US$2.5 billion, many gained seed capital to start on their own. According to Sten Tamkivi, 36 people with Skype background (or #SkypeMafia as Tamkivi calls them) have founded their own business since leaving the company, TransferWise being the most notable so far. Many more have since got involved in other start-ups or offering their expertise to companies around the world. Tamkivi himself has just joined a top venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz in California, as Entrepreneur in Residence. Jaan Tallinn has resently co-founded a personalised medical research company MetaMed.

Skype has also made the life easier for those responsible for promoting Estonia abroad — it is still the only truly global brand which can be associated with Estonia. And although now owned by software giant Microsoft, it still employs almost five hundred people in Tallinn.

Sure, Skype has recently also faced criticism for resting on its laurels and for an occasional unreliability. But it is difficult to overestimate the snowball effect it has had on Estonian start-up ecosystem: the idea that new ‘skypes’ could be developed and launched from this tiny Northern European country.

Ironically, on the very day Skype celebrated its tenth anniversary, a group of its former employees launched a product called Fleep, an iOS app and web-based chat tool, aimed for small businesses and organisations. It is led by Henn Ruukel, a former director of site operations at Skype, and backed by $345,000 in seed funding from Jaan Tallinn and Priit Kasesalu, Skype’s founding engineers.

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Cover photo: Skype’s meeting room in Tallinn

Estonia could fully switch to renewable energy sources by 2030

The head of the country’s renewable energy association says it should be possible for heat and power systems to fully switch to renewable sources by 2030, if there is political will.

Rene Tammist, director of the Renewable Energy Association, told to Estonian Public Broadcasting that wind energy, supplemented when necessary by imports from Nordic hydroelectric plants, would be an affordable source for all three Baltic States.

“Use of renewable energy in both electricity and heat production would allow consumers to enjoy close to one-fifth cheaper power than alternative production portfolios and to reduce the price of heat in close to 20 Estonian cities and towns,” Tammist explained.

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Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs is beginning the drafting of the country’s energy strategy up to the year 2030, which should be ready by November. The economics minister, Juhan Parts, says that energy price is one of the main components of the future scenarios.

“The price of energy must not strangle the economy and our households — our homes,” he said. Parts is forecasting that the debate over the future of oil shale will be hard, as there are many contradictory studies on the outlook for alternative fossil fuels. “I don’t think we should avoid the idea of diversifying the portfolio and a possibility for nuclear energy must definitely remain among the options,” he said.

Besides leaving the door open for oil shale, Parts is putting stock into energy conservation, with housing renovation programs and more focus on transportation. By 2030, Estonia should be completely connected to Western gas and power markets.

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Source: Estonian MFA. Cover photo: Janne Põlluaas.

Start-up Spotlight: Toggl

Tallinn-based tech start-up Toggl is an online time tracking tool, which is popular with freelancers, groups, and small companies. It allows people to track the time they spend on various projects. It’s internet-based and can be up and running from scratch in less than a minute.

Toggl has more than 450,000 registered users and around 20,000 paying users. It’s a freemium product that is free to up to 5 users per team. We caught up with Alari Aho, CEO and co-founder of Toggl, to find out more about this start-up.

 

How would you describe Toggl in under 50 words?

Toggl is a tool for tracking your time on projects. It’s a simple tool to help you easily track your time — work time, personal time, onsite, offsite. It is suitable for everyone, but works exceptionally well for teams.

Tell us more how Toggl is used?

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There are two principal ways for using Toggl. You can set it running as a timer or fill it in later. You can define projects, team members and tasks with estimates. Then just track the time with our simple interface on your laptop, phone or tablet and pull out reports which you can send to your clients or use to improve your productivity.

There are two main reasons why people use Toggl: to easily get accurate time reports to send to clients or to improve their own productivity by keeping track of where their day really goes.

The average workflow looks like this: you come to the office, you click ‘start’ as you begin with something, enter a description and choose the project that you’re working on, then click ‘stop’ when you’re done or take a break. After that you can continue this with one click. Alternatively, you can always fill in the things you worked on at a later stage. Most people use a mixture of both.

Depending on the kind of detail they need, some users set up clients, projects and even tasks with time estimates. For others, a simple time entry description is sufficient.

To make tracking even easier, they use our simple interface and the web to pull varying kinds of reports — Toggl’s syncing capabilities between devices makes this very easy.

Who uses Toggl?

Toggl is mostly used by so-called professional services companies. Bookkeepers, lawyers, PR consultants, software developers, graphic designers, business consultants etc. There are even some university students who have told us that they find Toggl useful in tracking their studying habits. We also have a lot of productivity hackers who constantly measure and improve their time usage. Our user groups vary from freelancing individuals to large corporate teams.

Toggl was initially created for your own in-house use because existing time-tracking software was far too complicated. What led you to launch Toggl as a product?

We’re in the same town (Tallinn — Editor) where Skype was established. At the time we were still doing software consultancy gigs. When we saw how massively a product can scale, we thought that why not also try ourselves. We just took an existing in-house tool we had made and turned it into a product.

How were you able to fund the business?

Toggl has been fully self-funded. We started out as a side project for our consulting business, and over time as Toggl grew in revenues, we allocated more and more resources for its development. It has been a long and not an easy process, but has given us a lot of flexibility and control of our growth.

Do you have governmental subsidy to operate your business?

We applied for government grants (and got some) when we started out with Toggl. For the last 3 years we have not received subsidies to develop Toggl.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

I guess there isn’t a mistake that we have not made. Our start was quite slow and coming from a software consultancy sector into making a cloud-based product meant that we had quite a steep learning curve. We have had a lot of technical issues and product usability was initially a huge problem child.

What is the start-up scene like in Estonia in your opinion?

The start-up scene has become really vibrant here. It’s quite a closely-knit bunch of people who openly share their experiences and help each other. The country has a good infrastructure for starting companies — it’s easy and not expensive to incorporate, you can get government grants for starting up, there are several incubators that support you with back-office and mentoring. Venture capital market is not so active though, so most of the post-seed money-raising is done in the US and Europe.

How did you come up with the name, Toggl?

That’s a good one. I used a random name generator (www.namestation.com) to jot down different name options. When the list was approx 20 names, I noticed that one name had appeared insequentially twice. It was Toggl.

What technologies have you used to build Toggl?

Toggl was originally based on Ruby on Rails. We started with version 1 and have worked with it since. Starting this year, most of the data-crunching in the back-end is handled by Go, a new open-source language by Google. Frontend is heavy on Javascript (Backbone.js, Coffeescript). We also utilise several new and cool features of HTML5 (offline storage) and websockets for real-time syncing between different devices. Database is handled by PostgreSQL and occasionally Redis.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Toggl?

The application itself is nothing complicated. What made it challenging was our decision to support Toggl also on mobile devices and as a desktop application for Windows/MacOS/Linux. After trying out native clients we decided to stick with HTML5 and encapsulate the web interface into native applications. For mobile devices we use Phonegap and for desktop we use Chromium.

How long did it take to put it together?

The first version was launched in three months. This was six years ago. Since then we have rewritten it multiple times and continue doing so to pursue speed, scalability and great usability.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

We have two main targets – mobile and integrations. We’re improving our mobile interface extensively to keep up with professionals who spend more and more work time on phones and tablets.

How did you decide on your pricing model?

We wanted to go freemium from the start. Getting a good pricing point has been an evolutionary process. The current pricing model is our third. We started out as being too low-priced and the lesson learned here is that it’s always harder to increase your prices than lower them. So, when starting up, don’t be too shy in setting your prices.

What do you wish you’d have known five years ago that you know now?

Focus brings success. For the first couple of years Toggl was more of a side project for us. Only when we really started to focus on the product and decided to drop software consultancy gigs, we got traction. It’s all or nothing; you can’t build a successful product by trying to leverage your risks.

Where do you see Toggl in five years time?

Toggl is a synonym for time tracking in the New English Dictionary.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

There’s an internal joke that our biggest competitor is Microsoft Excel. Many of our new users have used some kind of spreadsheet with complex macros. There are a couple of cloud-based tools that we consider as competitors, but everybody is growing quite fast. It seems that the whole cloud sector is exploding and taking customers away from the old ways of business computing.

You are a mentor at Startup Wise Guys, an accelerator that provides seed funding and an intense mentorship program to early stage technology startups. What one piece of essential advice would you give someone starting up?

Start now, find your customer, give them something of value. Do it fast. That’s it.

Do you think Entrepreneurs are born or made?

You need a certain amount of stupidity and persistence to carry through. Most people fail because they give up too early. Other than that, every normal human being can be an entrepreneur.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

It’s so easy to chill in your comfort zone. Getting out of it is a constant effort and is not easy at all.

Name three trends that excite you.

Clean energy, commercial spaceflight, the way internet is changing how companies work.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

People who are not in it for the quick buck. Who value long-term partnerships and care about the general environment they’re operating in.

Can you convince the reader to start using Toggl in under 50 words?

How often do you find yourself wondering what you spent your whole day doing? Any idea how long you *really* spend every morning replying to your emails? Try Toggl, it’s a real eye-opener.

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Cover photo: Toggl team at work in Tallinn

Start-up Spotlight: Viks Bicycle

The Estonian bicycle brand Velonia has introduced the Viks, an urban commuter bike with a striking design and uniquely shaped frame. Thanks to its unique construction with two identical steel tubes that are joined together in the front of the bike, there is no need for a seat tube and it weighs only 15 pounds. Until recently, the Viks was still in prototype phase, but the first bicycles can now be ordered through their website. Indrek Narusk, the creator behind Viks, answered our questions.

How did the idea of starting your business come about?

It was quite simple actually. I wanted to get a commuter bike for this summer and didn’t really fancy anything available in shops. I wanted something different, something unique. As I’ve been dealing with bikes before and I am actually a mechanical engineer by education, then I thought why not build one. I looked for inspiration online, did couple of sketches and then had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. Drew everything up in 3D CAD software and then it was ready to be built. I did the design in winter and started to actually build the first thing in March. Initially the idea was just to build one for myself. But once the images started spreading there were lot of people who were interested. Then I thought maybe I should start building and selling them. And here I am now.

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What is your business model?

Quite straightforward. I sell/ship directly from Estonia to all over the world. I myself am involved in building the frame/bike so there is a small fee for me in there somewhere.

What would you say was the hardest part of starting the business?

I’ve started businesses before, so it’s not that hard anymore, but usually it’s the “coming out of your comfort zone” – dropping everything else and taking a risk. Depending on the business, money is always an issue as well.

How are your bicycles priced?

Currently there is a basic price line for the frame and for the entire bike. There are also a lot of custom options available and then the price is calculated per order. I might introduce two pricing models in the future (basic model and premium) but it’s not clear yet if and when.

Where are you based and why?

Tallinn, Estonia, because I live here. There are probably better places in the world where to build bikes (countries that have experience in this field), but I’m here now and it’s about time Estonia had its own bicycle manufacturer.

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How were you able to fund the business?

Well I’m doing everything out of my own pocket. I’m happy to have customers who are willing to place orders with down payments, so this helps a lot. I might look for funding in the upcoming autumn/winter but it’s all dependent on the market interest and how it changes.

Could you briefly describe the founding team and their background?

It was just me. I’ve now taken a friend on board, Kristo Riimaa, who is a bicycle enthusiast like myself and who is helping me with marketing and sales. I have a mechanical engineering background and I’ve also done start-ups before (I was one of the founders of GrabCAD).

How has your market changed since you started? How has your business changed to keep pace?

I’ve been on the market with Viks only for couple of months, so it’s hard to speak about any changes in the market. But generally, the bicycle industry is doing relatively well in the slow economy. More and more people want to ride bikes and this opens up more opportunities.

What was the minimum viable product (MVP) you built and if/how it has changed?

The first bike. Once it got made and first images were online, I got the first orders. Just like that, based on couple of photos. I’ve made a few technical changes since the very first prototype that have made Viks a lot better bike to ride. There are some changes more to come, but the current version is pretty good to ride. There is not much improvement left.

Do you have governmental subsidy to operate your business?

Not at the moment. We are thinking about EAS (Enterprise Estonia – Editor), but too early to tell.

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What is an average workday like for you?

Usually I get up between 8-9 o’clock. Check if any urgent emails, then off to the gym. When back, breakfast and more emails. Then out on the town to buy parts and materials for bikes, with a quick lunch somewhere. Then back home and out for a bike ride. After that to see my welder and the painter and help them out as much as possible. Usually back home at 9-10pm… Some more emails and some more coffee… If I need to do any R&D work then it usually happens during night time. Weekends aren’t much different.

What could you say has been some of the key things you’ve learnt so far as an entrepreneur?

Don’t postpone anything, do everything now. Love what you do and believe in it, even if the future is blurry. Don’t regret anything and remember that there is always time for a bike ride.

What pieces of advice could you give to aspiring entrepreneurs out there looking to start their business?

Start a business at least once in your life. It doesn’t matter if you succeed or not, the experience is the most valuable thing. You’ll be a much wiser man/woman. Don’t be afraid, just do it!

Where do you see your business in five years’ time?

I want to see Viks bikes in every part of the world. I want people to know about it and want it. I want a lot of happy people riding bikes – Viks bikes.

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Photos: Viks.

Estonia tops the list of best e-health implementors in Europe

According to a recent report by OECD and European Commission, Estonia is on top of the list of 30 countries in implementing e-health services.

The study included 1737 hospitals from 27 European member states, Croatia, Norway and Iceland. According to the report, Estonia leads the way in Europe, followed by Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Great Britain. Estonia’s position is based on good infrastructure and the digital storing and exchange of data.

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In addition, the report evaluated other ICT solutions as well as security and privacy in e-health. The report also included an evaluation study on the functionality and availability of ICT based services in hospitals where Estonia led the way. The four categories evaluated included hospital-side data input and viewing, decision support functions in the information system, data transmission between hospitals and telemedicine.

The head of Estonian E-Health Foundation, Mr Raul Mill believes cooperation between stakeholders has been the key to Estonia’s success. The next challenge for Estonia is to enhance the usability of existing systems to ensure quick data retrieval and convenience for health care professionals.

Research report “Benchmarking ICTs in health systems” was initiated by OECD in 2010 with the aim of improving data quality and accessibility concerning e-services in health care. The official report will be published in two weeks.

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Photos: EAS/Wikimedia Commons

Start-up Spotlight: PARiM

PARiM is a human resource planning and management application based in the cloud. It is designed for companies who provide human resources as a service to different clients. Typical users of the PARiM HRM software are companies in the following industries: security, maintenance, cleaning, building, facility management. PARiM Limited is an Estonian-run UK company which is headquartered in London, but with a development office based in Tartu, Estonia. Cofounder Risto Urb, CTO of PARiM, answered our questions.

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How did the idea of starting your business come about?

When I first arrived in London, Riko (Riko Muttik, the other cofounder and CEO of PARiM) and I had our separate agendas. Riko was running a small custom software development company and I started to work as a professional software developer. After a couple of months discussing business and IT in general over some pints, we came to a realisation that our visions, ideas and backgrounds were quite similar and complementing each other. So we decided to act upon this revelation. We started to develop custom software together with the clear goal of eventually moving into product development. Now we are developing our own business-to-business HR management and shift planning software-as-a-service called PARiM.

What is your business model?

PARiM enables our customers to provide HR services to their clients more effectively and with greater transparency. By providing self-service and mobile access to clients and workers of our customers, we reduce significantly their organisational overhead. Our admin area for office workers is designed and built so that business support activities like creating and maintaining shifts, worksheets, calendars is as user friendly and automated as possible. We charge based on how much business is done via our system. Each shift hour sold by our customers to their respective clients is generating revenue for them and that volume of hours inside our system is the basis for our own revenue. So our own business is totally dependent on the business we help our customers do. This means that our on-going product development is done solely based on very carefully listening to our customers and their needs.

What would you say was the hardest part of starting the business?

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Finding the right people to join our team after the initial start. We are very demanding on ourselves trying to do the best we can in all aspects of the business and we expect a similar attitude from others. We like to think of ourselves as determined professionals and we value people who can relate to that. People, who are able to push themselves to find solutions to problems and make decisions. People who value the feeling of accomplishment after a hard days’ work in addition to their pay cheque at the end of the month.

Where are you based and why?

We have management and sales in London and product development in Tartu. The reason for this is quite obvious – the UK has the market and Tartu the technical delivery capabilities. And by technical delivery capabilities I mean people who are able to think along and ahead. It’s relatively easy to find a programmer in the UK, but if you are looking for a developer, then Estonia is the place to go.

How were you able to fund the business?

At first we had custom software development to support our product development activities, but that turned out to be too obstructive to the end goal. So after pretty much scrapping the custom development we have funded the whole operation from our own savings and from the contributions of relatives, friends and other supporters. We also collected a UK government-backed start-up loan this spring.

Could you briefly describe the founding team and their background?

We are both University of Tartu alumni in computer science. That is actually where we first met and became friends. Riko has been an entrepreneur in different areas pretty much since he finished high school. He was hardened by the economic boom and the collapse that followed it. I worked for six years in Nortal as a developer, consultant and unit manager. So I got pretty much all of the software development, maintaining and sales cycle covered as a working professional.   

How has your market changed since you started? How has your business changed to keep pace?

Our market has not really changed that much; what has changed is our approach to the market. Our general HR system product is at the moment mainly targeted towards the security industry. This is so we can focus sales in one sector before tackling all the rest.

What was the minimum viable product (MVP) you built and if/how it has changed?

For us the MVP goal was clear, the product had to support organisations that provide HR services to a pool of around 50 workers. This was to limit our initial customer base to either starting companies or companies with less complex internal processes, which enabled us to enter the market as soon as possible and to grow with our customers. This approach has brought us more invaluable feedback from users than we ever expected. The MVP has not changed radically, but there is now truly clear insight in what we need to improve and add to reach the next level.

Do you have governmental subsidy to operate your business?

No, not directly. We did get a start-up loan backed up by the UK government but we have not received any direct subsidies from governments. To be totally honest, we have not applied for any, due to our calculations regarding the hassle and losing of focus versus return. Our greatest assets are our people and their time so we do our best to use everyone and their skills where it most benefits the company.

What is an average workday like for you?

For me personally, it is to come to the office, overview current development status, discuss with the team where we are, what and in what order to do next and then just do what we have agreed upon. My role is very development-focused. Riko has a quite different day. His day includes similar status checks in sales, building up a rapport with customers, collecting insights about the product on customer sites – so totally customer facing and sales oriented. Although I am in Tartu most of my time and he is London, we are constantly in touch each day to make sure that our product is providing the best possible additional value to our customers.

How is your company different from other competing and similar platforms out there?

At the moment not one of our competitors is providing this level of insight to all parties involved in doing business in our target market. Our user experience is also unique. The way our application environment is created to implement real life thought patterns and business processes as seamlessly as possible into the user experience. There are really cool technologies out there that enable us to create possibilities that make the usage of business software much less dull while improving productivity.

What could you say has been some of the key things you’ve learnt so far as an entrepreneur?

Doing is everything. You need to plan and revise your plans constantly but at the same time you need to accept the fact that while you plan, life happens. Everything is in a state of constant movement. So changes are inevitable and errors are inevitable. If you have a clear goal, put down a path on how to get there and just start going towards it. If this is your first experience as entrepreneur, like it is for me, it is going to be hard but rewarding in ways you can not yet imagine. Choose the people around you wisely to match the rest of the team. Respect and trust your team members and together you will conquer every obstacle.  

What trends, start-ups and technology are you personally looking forward to in 2013?

In our neighbourhood it is all about near-live or live feed data. There are many very interesting technologies that are becoming more and more mature to accomplish these goals with reduced risks and lower development overhead to implement them. Personally I am most interested in Estonian start-ups that have a great idea and execution – for example TransferWise and of course big-boy battles between Google, Amazon and Microsoft that produce more universal and robust platforms for businesses like ours.

What pieces of advice could you give to aspiring entrepreneurs out there looking to start their business?

Same things mentioned in key things that we have learned. The only way to certainly fail is not to try at all. And while you chase your dreams, do not forget to cherish the people closest to you.

Where do you see your business in five years’ time?

To be the industry standard in UK and a choice not to be overlooked by anyone further away.

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Expert comment

Taavi Raidma, Founder and CEO at CrowdIPR:

PARiM is after a lucrative market, but certainly not an easy one to tackle — enterprise sales cycles are complex and many organisations are quite resistant to change. Yet with the increasing shift from traditional software to cloud and mobile solutions, the global opportunity for the company is massive. The product looks clean and with pleasant design, and the user experience is intuitive — a significant upgrade from many of the existing alternatives out there. Most importantly, Riko and Risto both hold extensive technical, as well as commercial experience, giving them a good chance of success.

 Risto Urb

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Photos: PARiM/Wikimedia Commons

Velodroom is trying to vie cyclists around the world with a smart bicycle light (video)

Tartu-based start-up Velodroom is trying to vie bicyclists around the world with a new smart light, which switches on by itself when you go for a ride, adjusts to ambient light level and flashes a bright stop-light while braking.

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The light turns on with bike movement and switches off one minute after the bike has stopped. Built in accelerometer also analyses the motion of the bicycle and shines a bright stop light while braking. As many bicycle accidents actually happen in full daylight, another feature comes handy with Velodroom light – in daylight it causes the LED to shine more brightly and goes into blinking mode. According to the team behind the product, blinking mode is a great way to improve the visibility under full sun and save the battery at the same time.

As for the batteries, the Velodroom light stores four times more energy than a pair of AAA-batteries which is common among bicycle lights. But the main difference is that you can recharge Velodroom with phone charger or via USB-port on a computer. They promise three months usage on average for batteries – or over 100 hours of continuous power when turned on at full brightness.

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The team behind Velodroom – Sven Sellik, Andri Laidre, Mihkel Heidelberg, Taavi Hein, Ivar Oja, Indrek Rebane and Ilmar Kurvits – have respectable portfolios of work behind them: from Reynard Motorcycles to Shaka wind meter, to NATO CCDCOE. They claim that Velodroom’s rear light optics is designed for visibility from more than 300m from all directions as required by for example, Danish law.

Before fulfilling their goal of bringing the best bicycle light in the world to the market, they are planning to send out 40 prototype lights to commuters and professional riders. Feedback from this test-run will be used to iron out final wrinkles in the design and deliver the best possible product. To get the prototypes out, Velodroom has started a crowdfunding at Kickstarter.

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Photos: Velodroom

Personalised medicine and Estonian genome chip

Angelina Jolie’s confession about her decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy, published recently in the New York Times, was shocking news and a moving story at the same time. She explained that her choice was based on her abnormally high genetic predisposition for breast cancer and that she would hate for her six children to lose her too early; Jolie’s own mother died of cancer when she was just 56 years old.

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While Jolie’s “faulty” gene is very rare, the risks of developing many other, much more common diseases can be evaluated based on personal genetic data. Let’s take diabetes, suggests Professor Andres Metspalu, Director of the University of Tartu’s Estonian Genome Centre. Currently one’s risk of acquiring diabetes is predicted based on a person’s age, sex, weight and blood sugar; however, all of these factors show diabetes risk once one is overweight and has developed an intolerance to glucose, which means pre-diabetic. A genetic test could reveal diabetic risk much earlier, e.g. at 25 years of age.

Whether this risk is realised or not depends largely on one’s weight. By knowing about this risk and keeping body weight under control, a person can postpone the disease by ten years or so. This means a healthier and happier life for the person, but also substantial financial savings for the state.

4P Medicine

According to Professor Metspalu, modern medicine is a 4P Medicine: It is preventive, personalised, predictive, and participatory. This means that we are responsible for our health.

“The research shows that 75 percent of people change their lifestyle when told about personal genetic risks”

The research shows that 75 percent of people change their lifestyle when told about personal genetic risks. The only universal advice that doctors can give regards smoking, which is known to reduce life expectancy by 10 years on average – all other health advice is personal.

Given that 75 percent of the Estonian population approves of genetic research (which can be a problem in many other countries), this is a unique opportunity to improve our national health.

Estonian Genome Chip

Metspalu’s vision for Estonia is nothing less than remarkable. He foresees that in the next seven years, Estonia should build up a database to accumulate genome and health data for the Estonian population. With the database in use, its data volume and value would grow over time. Details of a patient’s treatment might be of great help when deciding on the best cure for her relatives with a similar disease in the future. Also, drug prescription would rely on genetic information rather than trial and error as it mostly works now – different individuals require different drugs and doses.

In the first two years, an Estonian genome chip should be developed. The European genome chips currently available take Western Europeans  into account and do not include all gene variations that Estonians may have. Computations show that the genes of ca. 5,000 people have to be sequenced in order to discover most gene variations. So far, 100 genomes have been sequenced in Estonia.

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The next step is validation of the Estonian genome chip. This is very important for automatic analysis of personal gene cards in the future.

In 2014 a national health inventory should be carried out in Estonia. First the genes of persons aged 35–65 should be sequenced. This comprises 450,000 people and should take about three years. The technology and know-how to do this work are in place – in addition to an existing robot and scanner, three or four additional machines have to be bought.

On the patient’s side, the procedure couldn’t be simpler. During one doctor visit in a period of three years, a patient would give a blood sample (which he or she might need to do for other purposes anyway). The sample is then sent to the lab where the personal gene data is extracted and added to the E-health database, accessible to the family doctor for future use.

How good is genetic research?

The Estonian Genome Centre has researched Estonian gene data for three years now. As a result, approximately one hundred scientific articles have been published. Andres Metspalu confirms that “the spine is in place”, and researchers are able to predict health risks based on genetic data – not all risks equally yet, but this is improving fast.

He compares the ‘gene hunt’ with fishing: ‘Today, our gene-catching net has big loops and is able to catch bigger fish only. However, it gets tighter every month and soon every sprat will be caught’.

What is the cost?

According to Metspalu, development of an Estonian genome chip is a one-time cost and could be covered by EU structural funds. The annual cost of genome sequencing for additional population after the national health inventory would cost ca. 1.5 million euros and should be covered by the Estonian Health Insurance Fund. If we also include training costs for doctors, then the overall cost of the whole programme until 2020 will be ca. 60 million euros. In comparison, the planned annual budget for health services in Estonia is currently 900 million euros.

The programme is an investment that will save both lives and the state’s significant funds. Still, Metspalu emphasises that although money tends to be the one and only measure for everything, we can’t underestimate the positive impact on society when the emotional and physical burden caused by diseases is diminished.

Why Estonia?

When asked about countries that could set a path for Estonia to follow, Professor Metspalu is determined: Estonia should set an example for Europe. He reasons that in speaking of Finland, the system would be more difficult to implement because medical faculties are spread across the country and it would be very hard to achieve a consensus. The USA is too big for this – all developments are implemented locally. A hospital in New York employs almost as many doctors as all of Estonia.

“Estonia could become a good model and set an example of a functioning personalised medical system in Europe”

Thus, Estonia could become a good model and set an example of a functioning personalised medical system in Europe: ‘We have a good starting position and all prerequisites: E-health, digital prescriptions, ID cards, other IT solutions, a biobank, know-how, equipment and a positively inclined population. Also importantly, we have a plan and laws that allow us to implement the plan. All we need now is goodwill and government decision’.

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This article is based on Sigrid Sõerunurk‘s interview with Professor Andres Metspalu, published in the Estonian-language UT magazine. The English version was first published by UT BlogPhotos: Wikimedia Commons/Estonian Genome Centre

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