During the 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Congress, the World Bank and the Global Entrepreneurship Network hosted the V Startup Nations Ministerial with delegations from 32 different economies, led by cabinet-level officials, ministers and government agency directors.
Q: Can you tell us about the government acceleration program currently being piloted?
We have different accelerator programs in Estonia. But Accelerate Estonia is a special public-private partnership that aims at opening new markets.
In the public sector, our attention bandwidth is short-term and very split. Every issue is equally important. In the private sector, some things are more important than others. In the public sector, we don't have that luxury. Through this accelerator mechanism, we try to concentrate the attention of top management, civil servants and politicians on a few particular projects and try to deliver. These are projects that have the potential for creating new markets, but where the private sector cannot step in before the government puts its house in order. Take the example of autonomous vehicles. Even if the companies have the technology ready, they cannot come to our roads if the government is not ready.
Accelerate Estonia is working on developing projects that have the potential of creating new markets, but where the private sector cannot step in before government puts its house in order. One example would be autonomous vehicles. In order for them to be in our roads, even if the companies provide technology, they cannot come to the roads unless government is ready. All those new technologies are time-sensitive, meaning government has to try its best to be fast. So this government acceleration program is about picking a few areas of focus and delivering the necessary regulatory environment for them.
Q: Many governments struggle to justify taking risks with public money. How does Estonia confront this reality?
As a government, we have to address the concerns of all sectors of the society. It’s like an investment fund, where maybe 95% of the assets in which you invest are secure investments, and where you are willing to take more risks only with the remaining 5% of the fund. This accelerator program is like that 5%. The government sees new potential avenues and tries to really understand the market, taking some risk along with the private sector innovators. The government needs to take risks in order to succeed.
Governments should run experiments through policy hacks, sandboxes or similar. It’s very important to run an experiment first, gather evidence and only then launch the policy. In government we know that it’s easy to launch policies but more difficult to end them. We want to make sure the new policy we are launching is well-designed.
Government works in cycles, and usually wants quick results. Hopefully, with this accelerator program we are able to kill the policy ideas on the wrong track, which are not taking us anywhere, and focus on the most promising ones.
Q: Why is it important to come together with government officials from different countries to discuss entrepreneurship policy? What impact can it have on the Estonian startup ecosystem?
When a diverse group of people comes together, you get unexpected insights and fresh perspectives on how to address various questions. It’s like solving a puzzle, and you find a piece that is missing to solve a problem when interacting with other people who provide you with unexpected combinations. This for me is the biggest value of events like that.
This is the same reason we hosted the Startup Nations Summit in our capital, Tallinn, in November 2017. Coming from a small country, we understand that interaction with the outside world is the only way forward.
In fact, we developed the Accelerate Estonia policy instrument in part through program design feedback from a group of international peers at the Startup Nations Policy Hack in Indonesia in November 2018, led by the Project Lead Mikk Vainik.