By Kevin W
I just heard an NPR report about Estonia’s new “Enterprise Estonia Technology Embassy” in San Jose. Estonia has established this one-man shop, ran by the unofficial “Technology Ambassador”, to provide “financing, counsel, partnership opportunities and training for entrepreneurs and research and development institutions.” Apparently, they have similar setups in Helsinki, London Stockholm, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Hamburg, Kiev, and Shanghai. Check out their Embassy’s official page, titled “Information Society” and detailing all the official state-ran telecomm and IT institutions.
Estonia has a really interesting tech history. At the end of the Cold War, Estonia didn’t have any computer networks in the country. Since then, however, Estonians now conduct 98% of the country’s banking electronically, 80% of tax returns were filed online, 65% of population have national ID cards with smart chips, they’ve had electronic voting since 2005, and over 30,000 people voted online in 2007. You can pay city parking meters with your cell phone via SMS, a system they implemented in 2002.
All this from a country that has a population roughly equal to San Antonio. Oh, and something else you won’t be seeing in Texas anytime soon—most Estonian gas stations are Wi-Fi hotspots! Estimates place the country’s entire IT workforce at only 10,000 people. Yet out of this small country came Skype, which was recently acquired by eBay for $2.5 billion.
The 90’s brought us the era of boutique dotcoms and now we have countries specializing in niche markets. Sealand is a data haven, Tuvalu selling off their .TV country code top-level domain name, and now Estonia is the go-to spot for web telecommunications. Maybe the US or the state of Texas can leverage this in some way? Perhaps a huge tech conglomerate can purchase a town and turn it into the hot new place for their slice of the IT market. Maybe UPS and Brownsville?