An Unexpected Side Effect of Brexit
1 Mar 2018

It all began with Brexit, but the outcome was good. How can this sentence be true?

Read on and I will tell you how the policy hack during Startup Nations Summit in 2017 has given policymakers a new and useful tool to give a boost to economic development. Without Brexit, it is very unlikely to have happened. But now, all of our partners for SNS are either using or planning to use that tool again.

Having been in the midst of it all, I decided to share the journey of the last 1.5 years. Why? Because I am co-designing startup policies in the Republic of Estonia, and Brexit had a very clear impact on how my work would be influenced in 2016 and 2017.

On a very damp June 24 morning in 2016, I had yet no idea how the Britons had voted the day earlier. The news about Brexit was shocking and surely set the tone for the day … and the days to come … and months to come. Funnily enough, Brexit turned out to have an unexpected side effect, which I had the pleasure to lead.

Estonia is a country of just 1.3 million people, thus our government is quite lean. I have more than seven years of experience in the public sector, enough to be given a lot of trust with decisions within my domain. That is an awesome perk which I have tried to use as wisely as I can. Being a part of the EU, it was clear that there will be an opportunity to extend this perk to the EU level. Was the EU going to receive something of value, was up to how well I performed.

The opportunity to try came sooner than expected. In short, Brexit led to Estonia taking on the revolving presidency of the Council of the European Union 6sixmonths earlier than planned. Instead of first half of 2018 (that is, right now), our turn to offer the EU our management services came 6 months sooner. We wanted to make the most of the opportunity, never mind the changed circumstances.

What does that mean? Each EU member state becomes an honest broker for a 6-month stint when holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU, effectively offering management services to all other member states. But the commitment comes with a chance to show the rest what the country is proud of. Our first and foremost mission in so doing is of course the digital agenda of Estonia and the EU, but we are equally proud of our startup ecosystem. Check out the latest overview why new and ambitious entrepreneurs give us reasons to smile and cheer.

If it weren’t for Brexit, we could have easily flexed our startup muscles during the 2018 edition of Latitude59, our flagship tech event here in Estonia. Sign up here for the upcoming edition.

But with the UK stepping out of the club, we had to rewrite our plan and launch six months earlier.

How not to invent a bicycle? The preference to showcase one’s policy and economic strengths via a conference format is very widespread. It’s quite easy, it’s specific, and also personal for those involved. But a good and trusted conference brand takes years to nurture until it really pays off. That is why we would have preferred to use a format that already works, but Latitude59 was now out of the question.

In startup policy world, one of the best formats that has already proved itself is the Startup Nations Summit.

The SNS conference format designed by Global Entrepreneurship Network and specifically designed to spread best practices and showcase strong startups and startup policies. As it happened, GEN had just opened the call for the 2017 edition of SNS when we were looking for a workable format. There were other options, of course, but in our minds it was clear – the SNS would provide the necessary fit for our need.

How to make sure we get it? That will be the subject of next weeks’ post, along with where the policy hack idea was born. Stay tuned!

Mikk Vainik

Head of Accelerate Estonia

My experience in Estonian public service began in R&D policy, continued in e-governance and startup ecosystem development and is now focused… More