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Technology news about Estonians

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.

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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

Start-up Spotlight: Like A Local Guide

Today we start a new feature – “Start-up Spotlight”, where we zoom in on those numerous Estonian start-ups, to find out more about their business model and how they operate. Our first start-up under the spotlight is Like A Local Guide – a website and a mobile app for tourists to help find cool and cozy spots; places where locals like to hang out at and miss the tourist traps. Founder & CEO Ülane Vilumets shares the insights.

IHow did the idea of starting your business come about?

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Me and the other main founder Kalev Külaase have both travelled a lot, to about 40 countries each, and in 2006 we started publishing an entertaining city map of Tallinn that focused on places frequented by locals rather than tourists. At first it was just a summer project to complement the youth tourist information that we also ran, but in 2011 we decided to give the map a new name – Like A Local – and start publishing the maps in other countries as well. In the last 2 years we’ve taken it to Helsinki, Riga, Vilnius, and Berlin just came out recently. So with starting www.likealocalguide.com was really just moving the concept from offline to online.

What is your business model?

Our revenue already comes from offline city guides and we’re launching new cities weekly, but in the future we’ll be adding different services that complement the local experience, like booking tours through us, buying tickets to events, meeting and doing things together with locals etc.

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

Starting a business is not hard. Everyone can do it. It’s the growing part that’s hard. You need to involve good people with a spark in their eyes and give a chance to do something meaningful. Sometimes to be able to grow you need to give up deciding on every little thing yourself, even if you think in your head that you could do it faster and better yourself.

Where are you based and why?

We have an office in the old town of Tallinn where we can be close to the travellers and observe their actions. Ironically, what surrounds us every day is the exact theme-park-like environment and shallowness that we rebel against (such as nearby restaurant staff dressed up in medieval costumes), resulting in wondering people who don’t know which city their cruise line has stopped at – this can remind us every day why we do what we do.

How were you able to fund the business?

Mainly we’ve been growing it little by little from our own savings and profits from other ventures, but we’ve also got a small grant from Enterprise Estonia, a bit bigger prize money from the startup contest Ajujaht and a small investment from Startup Wise Guys accelerator.

Could you briefly describe the founding team and their background?

We are both experienced travellers having been to about 40 countries each. Kalev has a background in advertising, he worked as an art director previously. I was in HR before, mainly in sales organisations where I was responsible for in-house training and recruiting. We own two more businesses together – both in the independent travel sector.

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

Actually, we feel that the market has only now started to buzz. When we first talked about the idea to our mentors and critics last year, many of them didn’t understand the concept or the need for it. But now many big players have added features that show that the trend is moving towards more local and more personal travel experience.

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

Actually, at first we thought the website itself is the product, but we realised that the way the info is presented there is only good for research, but not usable in the real travel situation, so we left the site as it is for now and focused all efforts to the mobile app which works offline, including the maps.

Do you have governmental subsidy to operate your business?

We got a small grant from Enterprise Estonia to get our mobile app out in the market, but we hope to go for the bigger growth grant in the near future.

What is an average workday like for you?

Every day is different, but I talk to all our locals around Europe a lot, also our staff and potential partners, media and keep an eye on the finances. My partner’s day is more about general strategy and design/usability.

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

Most travel sites in the world share the knowledge of tourists and it’s great for people who don’t want to leave their comfort zones while travelling or just have limited time to see the main attractions. Experienced travellers are always looking for something extra, something more authentic and honest, so in this specific field we really have only one other player Spotted by Locals. In the future we’re looking to add more options to personalise the results so that the experience would be more dynamic.

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

To let my team take things over, to step aside, to avoid telling them what to do exactly and how to do it, instead talk more about what we want to achieve and give them the liberty of coming up with ideas themselves.

What trends, startups, technology are you personally looking forward to in 2013?

It is visible that the travel sector is definitely moving more and more to the mobile and towards the personal local experience, so we’re excited about that.

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

Do it. Fail, learn, start again. Don’t spend you life thinking what if.

Where do you see your business in 5 years time?

We hope to have our app in all of the main cities in the world. We are specifically a city guide because it’s mainly in big cities where you can easily end up in a tourist trap – it’s not so difficult to find local experiences in a tiny village with no other tourists.

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Expert comments

Jüri Kaljundi, start-up advisor and co-founder of Garage48 Foundation:

“Like a Local Guide has been one of my favourite new Estonian start-ups. They’ve shown that you can always innovate even in very competitive sectors, such as travel. Being one of those people who has been to New York multiple times without any urge to see the Statue of Liberty and not having visited Alcatraz in San Francisco even when spending months there, Like a Local is close to my heart. There’s a huge population who wants to end up in small local places when traveling and this far there has been no good way for that. What I like in them is how they mix human editors with online service. Online mixed with offline is what often works. The team is also very passionate and lives and breathes what they do, so I am sure they will be a success. The challenge for Like a Local will be how to keep the hidden spots from becoming visited by masses and still reach huge audiences on mobile.”

Mike Reiner, co-founder of Startup Wise Guys:

“The Like A Local Guide team is full of energy and charisma. Ülane and Kalev have known each other for quite some time, they also run a travel business together and have a lot of industry experience. Their platform has a lot of potential even though their model is not easy to execute and maintain. Because it is difficult no one has properly nailed this market yet and the only way to do this is with the right effort and persistence. They have done a great job so far, are growing internationally and are still as passionate as the first time I have seen them. The travel space is waiting for the next big thing and it very well might be from Estonia.”

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Cover: Founders Kalev Külaase and Ülane Vilumets on the left.

Fortumo partners with Telefónica and Telenor, increasing payment reach by 460 million users

Estonian mobile payments provider Fortumo has signed Global Framework Agreements with leading operator groups Telefónica and Telenor to bring direct carrier billing services to 460 million additional subscribers worldwide. Using the BlueVia Payments API to charge purchases to their mobile operator bill, users in more than 30 countries will now be able to purchase digital goods over the web and on Android, Windows 8 and Windows Phone devices.

“Mobile operator billing is win-win for everyone. It makes it much simpler and convenient for consumers to buy digital goods which in turn helps content owners monetise their content,” said Jose Valles, Head of BlueVia at Telefónica Digital. “Working with Fortumo will deliver to developers an easy-to-use interface for direct mobile payments, connecting to millions of customers globally.”

“A significant part of Telenor’s around 150 million subscribers come from emerging markets in Asia and Central and Eastern Europe where mobile phone is often the only way to pay for digital content,” says Sven Størmer Thaulow, Head of Comoyo at Telenor Digital Services. “We’re looking forward to working with Fortumo to widen the access to simple mobile payments online and within mobile apps.”

“Developers usually don’t want to do a different billing integration for each mobile operator or store. Fortumo’s technology enables them to do one integration and gain billing access to the subscriber base of many mobile operators in 80 countries”, says Gerri Kodres, SVP of Business Development and Carrier Partnerships at Fortumo. “Bluevia API along with Telefónica’s and Telenor’s incredibly strong footprint in Latin America, Asia and Europe gives a tremendous boost to our direct billing coverage in parts of the world where mobile payments are seeing the biggest growth in the coming years.”

Fortumo’s in-app purchasing SDK has become developers’ preferred choice for mobile operator billing and in-app purchasing on Android, Windows Phone and online. It is already used by a lot of top developers such as Rovio, Popcap, Gameloft, Digital Chocolate, Vostu, Game Insight, Alawar and many others. With Fortumo’s platform, mobile payments are available to all mobile phone users and payments are charged directly to their operator bill. Using mobile payments has enabled some app and online developers to increase their conversion and emerging market revenues by more than 10 times.

Mobile operator billing is especially important in emerging markets of Asia and Latin America, where credit card penetration is low. For example, Brazil, one of Telefónica’s key markets, has 260 million mobile users, but only 60 million credit cards. The difference in ownership is even bigger in Bangladesh, one of the markets in which Telenor operates – from the 160 million inhabitants, roughly 1% have credit cards, while mobile phone penetration is 68%. Together with Telefonica’s and Telenor’s agreement, Fortumo’s payment platform now reaches users in more than 80 countries. Fortumo’s mobile payments platform, including direct billing connectivity to Telefonica and Telenor is available to all developers looking to accept global mobile payments and provide their customers with a seamless and secure payment experience.

Fortumo is an international mobile payment provider. The company offers various mobile payment solutions for web services and mobile applications. Fortumo services allow customers to make mobile payments in more than 80 countries on six continents, with a strong focus on emerging markets. Fortumo started in 2007 as a spin-off of the mobile services company Mobi Solutions, and currently employs over 40 people in its offices in Tartu, Estonia, San Francisco, CA and Beijing, China. As of March 2013, over 82 thousand developers have signed up to Fortumo’s services.

I

Source & photos: Fortumo/Jassu Hertsmann

President Ilves: “No such thing as a free app”

President Ilves today addressed the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homeland Security in the UK House of Commons, upon the invitation of its treasurer, James Morris MP.

The key theme of the President’s remarks was identity and, more specifically, who should be responsible for securing and guaranteeing it in society. He outlined the concepts of DDOS attacks and how they had been used to target Estonia in 2007. Asked by former UK Security Minister Baroness Neville-Jones on how vulnerable he considers Western nations to cyber-crime, he commented that the issue is more problematic for the “English speaking peoples” who are often more nervous about the role of identity and identity management. He suggested that whereas only governments previously had the monopoly on military force, it should now take on the role of guaranteeing the identity of its citizens and that a cultural change was necessary. On the subject of data ownership he outlined that in Estonia the citizen owns the individual data about him or her and that any abuse of that data would be regarded as an abuse against the person itself.

Neville-Jones however put forward the argument that whilst the threats are very real, the power of the state should be limited and it is the responsibility of the citizen to take steps to protect their identity. Ilves countered with the analogy of market failure – when a bank encounters financial trouble, the government steps in to resolve the issue. Similarly, when banks or other enterprises suffer losses due to cyber-crime or digital fraud, this should also be regarded as a market failure and the government should step in to ensure the integrity of the system.

Former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind put to President Ilves that some have been quoted as saying as much as 80% of the cyber-crime which troubles society could be defeated – Ilves replied that a higher proportion could actually be stopped with the right techniques and strategies. He made reference to the US Department of Defense Security Technical Implementation Guide – whereas the US has managed only to fulfill several criteria, Estonia has met them all and has done for some time. On the subject of state sponsored cyber-crime, he noted the problem of third party aggression being carried out on behalf of other states. The problem lies in identifying who is behind the attacks.

He warned about about mobile apps and the effect on personal data. Whereas people are guarded about the state having access to their information, they willingly hand over statistics based on their own movements or personal health to mobile apps which then seek to monetize them in less than obvious ways. Citizens are often, understandably worried about “Big Brother” but perhaps they should also concern themselves with “Big Data” he said – personal information that is collected in surreptitious ways and used for targeted advertising and profile building. “There’s no such thing as a free app”, he joked.

President Ilves also spoke at the influential Google Zeitgeist on the subject of Open Data and transparency.

Former Head of Skype presents: The future that should be here now (video)

I recently shared some thoughts on how surprisingly hard it has been to adjust to the fact how mundane and bureaucratic everyday activities still can be in otherwise tech-advanced Silicon Valley, compared with back home in Estonia. This video is from Stanford GSB YouTube channel.

This video and article was first published by Sten Tamkivi and formed part of his presentation for Stanford Graduate School of Business.

I am 35 years old and I wrote the first cheque in my life a few months ago. It was for something at my son’s public school, and for some reason they were not willing to accept debit card, credit card, Square or PayPal. I didn’t even offer a wire transfer – the only time I’ve tried to do that in the US, I had to take an hour to physically go to a bank branch and fill out two sheets of forms. So, I wrote a cheque to the school, pen on paper.

Two weeks ago I went to San Francisco, parked my car on the street — using my mobile phone as any normal person would. I got a ticket two minutes later. When I went to the Transport Agency’s [SFMTA] website to challenge it — figuring that if you can pay fines online, proving that you’ve done nothing wrong shouldn’t be any harder. I learned that I need again to print two pages of paper, sign them on paper, get an envelope and a stamp from somewhere, and send it to San Francisco by snail mail to start a few weeks of dialogue just to argue that my car was actually legally parked. I did nothing wrong and spent at least a few hours  on this.

These little adventures back into the 19th century would be just amusing, and well aligned with the horses and carriage my US bank proudly wears on their logo, if they weren’t so tragic. Hence I talk to you about the miserable waste they generate for the society; how unjustified these pains are; and the future that should be here now.

First, everyday frictions cost a lot to us personally and to the society. Why is that when Facebook is two seconds slower than usual, you are starting to get anxious — but another hour wasted at the DMV is a necessary evil you’ll just bare with?

Let’s say that we are all spending, on average, 10 minutes a week on this analogue bureaucracy. 10 saved minutes a week is about one full working day a year. For 38 million people in California alone, we would be talking about 100,000 human years wasted in a single year. Or, if this “years per year” construct is too abstract, think of it as 1,500 human lifetimes wasted a single year. If you want to think about the entire US – add a zero15,000 human lifetimes.

Future

And by the way, I’m afraid that wasting just an extra, unnecessary 10 minutes a week on things you have to do, rather than the thing you want to do, could be a slight underestimate, don’t you think? The stories I shared above were all several hours each to sort out…

Secondly, let me remind you, it is 2013 and we are in the middle of Silicon Valley. The place which is famous around the world for creating all these beautiful technologies meant for consumers on the internet. The newest and coolest tools for social networking; for searching and sharing pictures; buying things; meeting people; listening to music and watching movies — they are often born in the Valley and then expand to take over the rest of the world.

There is no way to argue that these pains of being a good citizen are about the lack of understanding of technology; the lack of talent; or the ability to design human-friendly services. Think about it – if Apple designed the DMV’s retail experience, what would it look like?

I came to Stanford from Estonia. How many of you have heard of Estonia?

Those of you who raised a hand, let me guess what you’ve heard. Maybe that unfortunate incident when we were occupied by a certain Communist superpower for over 50 years? Or that it can get quite cold and dark and snowy so far up north?

What, I guess, many of you might not have heard is that the Freedom of the Net Report, published by Freedom House in Washington, DC, United States ranks honourably at the second spot in the world for internet freedom. Surprisingly, the number one spot belongs to Estonia.

We have a million people online, which wouldn’t be anything that remarkable if you didn’t consider we have less than 1.3 million people in Estonia overall.

The country is covered with high speed wireless broadband and for the large part it is free. 100% of schools and the government have been online for a while now.

80% internet penetration is pretty similar to the US, but more importantly, let’s look at what that ubiquitous connectivity is used for.  99% of bank transactions are online. We joke that these 1% of transactions are made in banks by the truly rich – those rich in excess time.

94% of tax reports are filed online. And by the latter I don’t mean that there is a web form you have to fill, but that you click “next-next-submit” to verify a pre-populated electronic data and, in majority of cases, get any returns on your bank account two days later.

We put a nationwide digital signature in place since 2001, which means that by today, 92% of the people carry digital certificates on their ID card or in their mobile phone. This allows them to legally sign any document or log in to any site proving that they are who they claim to be. As one application, in 2005 we were the first country in history to hold nationwide elections on the internet and in 2011, already a quarter of all votes for our parliament came digitally. But more importantly, as many other parts of the open infrastructure, this is not “a government thing”, but something private people and companies can freely use to securely transact with each other, too.

I am talking about the Estonian example here only because that’s where I’ve spent most of my life. I’m sure there are people in the audience who come from Singapore or South Korea or Finland or the Netherlands – they would have similar stories to share.

The point is not to brag or compete here. Given where we have got to with the accessible computing power, with the fact that every one of you is carrying it in your pocket right now and you’re always connected. Things that we have to do shouldn’t be so much harder than the things we want to do.

There is a future that should be here now. Because it is already here for many people who have similar or even less technology than you have in Silicon Valley.

When you leave this campus, into businesses or non-profits or government – or just your role as a citizen – I call for all of you to demand that future. Or even better – dream it, define it and deliver it every day.

And if you could use some further inspiration, some tiny countries around the world would be happy to share.

 I

Photos: Picture pictures www.pictures.com.

Estonia becomes a space nation

Estonia’s first satellite, ESTCube-1, was rocketed off to orbit the Earth early morning on Tuesday, thus making Estonia the 41st nation to have a man-made object in space.

Estonia has become the 41st nation to have a man-made object in space, beating out Finland and the other Baltic countries, all of which are due to launch their first satellites in the coming years.

The nanosatellite reached orbit at around 07:06 Estonian time. Launched from the Guiana Space Center, ESTCube-1 was carried by the launch vehicle Vega and was accompanied by two other satellites, Europe’s Proba V and Vietnam’s VNREDSat 1A.

According to ESTCube-1 team, everything went according to plan. One of the project’s leaders, senior researcher Mart Noorma at Tartu Observatory, watched the launch live at Arianspace.tv. “I am very proud to be seeing all these students here who are watching their handiwork of five years,” Noorma said.

Speaker of Estonian Parliament, Ene Ergma, herself an astrophysicist by training, was in French Guiana to observe the launch and said that Estonia is now a “tiny space country.” “It’s a really big deal in my opinion,” she said.

University of Tartu students had been developing the nanosatellite since 2008 and preparations for the project were made even earlier. ESTCube-1 is now due to carry out innovative solar wind experiments.

Around 100 students and scientists have contributed to creation of the tiny one-kilogram satellite, which was nearly six years in the making. The satellite, called ESTCube-1, was used as the basis for 40 research projects and three doctoral theses.

Mart Noorma, Vice-Dean for Studies at the University of Tartu’s Faculty of Science and Technology is the satellite project initiator and leader. “The students have worked really hard to fit the whole important mission into the little cube. The project’s biggest value to the Estonian state and nation is this new generation of young engineers and scientists who received from here a very practical experience in developing high technology with their own hands, which is applicable not only in space but in the electronics industry as a whole,” Noorma said.

ESTCube-1′s main function in space will be to conduct experiments with an electric solar wind sail, which scientists believe may allow space travelers to one day move faster and across greater distances. The ESTCube-1 will travel 680 kilometers from Earth, where it will test solar sail technology developed by Finnish researcher Pekka Janhunen.

The satellite will be transmitting data to Tartu Observatory in Tõravere.

The launch vehicle Vega (Vettore Europeo di Generazione AvanzataAdvanced Generation European Carrier Rocket) is an expendable launch system in use by Arianespace, jointly developed by the Italian Space Agency and the European Space Agency. Development began in 1998 and the first launch took place from the Guiana Space Centre on 13 February 2012.

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