Estonia's 20-year transformation from obscure soviet satellite to rising Baltic tiger has meant it's rapidly cultivating an image as Europe's start-up hub. Yet behind the big-name technology success stories lies a more complex picture.
Skype, created by a team of Estonian software developers in 2003 and sold to Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5bn, is the most famous example. Another is Erply, dubbed the “Skype of business software” and acclaimed as one of the top-10 European start-ups to watch in 2012.
Then there's ZeroTurnaround, which designs Java tools. Since it was founded three years ago, it has accrued an impressive customer base, which includes HP, IBM and Disney. That some of the best start-ups have bordered on the eccentric has only heightened excitement about Estonia. Fits.me, a virtual fitting room provider, is a case in point. It made headlines with its robotic mannequin for online clothes retailers, which shows browsing customers how clothes fit.
Moreover, a number of Estonian companies, including Erply, Fits.me, Fortumo and GuardTime, have boosted their global profiles by opening offices in the US and UK. Impressive rankings in a host of economic reports has further bolstered Estonia's profile: World Bank figures up to 2009 suggest that Estonia has the best entrepreneurial track record in the developed world. It also ranked 16th in the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom by the Heritage Foundation, above Germany and France, and a respectable 23rd in the latest Global Innovation Index from INSEAD business school.