Chapter 2021 of the Estonian startup sector

In 2021, the Estonian startup ecosystem witnessed several significant moments. Wise became the first Estonian decacorn, investments into Estonian startups more than doubled compared to 2020 and the turnover of startups showed a very high growth rate. Our startups are getting more mature while offering jobs to more than  8100 people and paying 125M EUR in employment taxes in 2021. Furthermore, 4 startups successfully exited and 3 new unicorns were born. Let’s dig deeper to 2021 in the Estonian startup scene! 


To date, the Estonian Startup Database is home to 1301 startups, with 121 new startups created so far in 2021 and 2022. Since the interactive nature of the database, this is not a finite number, as a lot of startups founded in the given year will be added later on. To date, the database contains 195 startups registered in Estonia during 2020 and 237 startups registered during 2019. According to the State of European Tech 2021 by Atomico: on a per capita basis, Estonia retains its leadership position as the region’s most entrepreneurial country for tech startups. Estonia has the highest startup density of any European country (1107 start-ups per 1M inhabitants), followed by Iceland and Ireland.


Employment

The employee count in Estonian startups remains on the rise. According to the Estonian Tax and Customs Board statistics, Estonian startups employed 8187 people locally at the end of 2021. A year ago, the employee count was 6072, meaning the yearly growth has been 35%. Looking at the total number of employees who have worked in startups for at least one day, the number is even higher. According to Statistics Estonia, 10 956 people worked for Estonian startups during 2021, meaning that every 64th person of the Estonian working population was involved with startups!



The top 20 startups in Estonia account for 55% of the jobs in the sector. Top employers among Estonian startups in 2021 were Wise (1218 employees), Bolt (1021 employees), Swappie (413 employees), Veriff (329 employees), and Starship Technologies (220 employees).




We see the same startups in the top recruiters' list of 2021. Swappie is at the top with 413 new hires in 2021 (they started their activity in Estonia in 2021), followed by Bolt (+338), Wise (+289), Veriff (+100), and Starship Technologies (+90). 

Demographics of Estonian startup employees

In 2021, 37% of employees in Estonian startups were women and 63% were men. The staff of startups is relatively young: 45% of employees are between the ages of 21 and 30, while 41% are aged 31-40. If we look at the demographic statistics of startup employees in Estonia, there have not been considerable changes and trends are similar to 2019 and 2020. However, we can spot a subtle pattern, as the number of people between ages 31-40 is slightly growing each year. In 2020, 38% of the workforce was between the ages 31-40 and in 2019 it was 36%.

 

27,5% of the employees in Estonian startups have foreign citizenship, with 4,9% of them having EU citizenship and 22,6% holding  non-EU citizenship. 65,2% of the startup sector's total workforce have Estonian citizenship and there are 7,3% whose citizenship we couldn’t confirm.



60,9% of startup sector employees have higher education. Out of them, 34,3% have Bachelor’s or professional higher education, 25,6% have obtained a Master’s degree and 1,5% possess doctoral level classifications. 30,4% of employees have basic education, secondary education or vocational education based on secondary education and 8,2% of employees’ education is unknown. We can also see that the proportion of higher education among people with foreign citizenship is higher - 77%.


We see more and more international students involved in our startup sector. Analysis initiated by the Education and Youth Board of Estonia and compiled by Statistics Estonia revealed that if we compare local undergraduate students and alumni (2019/2020) with international undergraduate students and alumni (2019/2020) in Estonia, then the latter worked during their studies and also afterward more likely in a startup. 15% of all international undergraduate students who worked during their studies, had worked for a startup during the academic year 2020/2021. Among local undergraduate students, the same figure was 3%.


Startup founders

The average age of an Estonian startup founder is 37, with 51% of the founders being between the ages of 31 and 40, followed by 22% of founders being 21-30 and 21% of founders being in the ages between 41 and 50. The rest of the age groups are much less covered: 5% of the founders are 51-60, 1% of the founders are 61+ and 0,2% of the founders are up to 20 years old. Additionally, the average number of founders per startup is 1,8.

The proportion of female startup founders is 16%, showing a slight increase compared to 2020 (15%). This ratio is pretty similar to the average in Europe since according to the State of European Tech 2021 by Atomico, indicating that 15% of the founders in Europe are women. 

Employment taxes & salaries

According to the statistics by the Estonian Tax and Customs Board, Estonian startups paid 125 M EUR employment taxes during 2021, which is 29% more than in 2020 (97 M EUR). The substantial contributors among startups are Bolt (18,9 M EUR), followed by Wise (17,7 M EUR), Veriff (5,2 M EUR), Paxful (4,8 M EUR), and Starship Technologies (3,3 M EUR).

According to Statistics Estonia, the average monthly gross salary in 2021 in Estonian startups was 2591 EUR, which is 1,9 times higher than the Estonian average (calculations are based on total number of employees who have worked in startups for at least one day during 2021). Employees aged between 41-50 earn the highest average monthly gross wage (3389 EUR) followed by employees in age between 31-40 whose average monthly gross wage is 2988 EUR. The average monthly gross salary of startup employees with foreign citizenship is 2718 EUR.



Turnover


Based on the quarterly data from the Estonian Tax and Customs Board, Estonian startups generated 1,4 B EUR in turnover in 2021, which is a 77% increase compared to 2020 (782 M EUR). Among startups, the largest turnovers were generated by Bolt (723 M EUR) with a bit more than half of the turnover in the sector(!), Adcash (33 M EUR), Veriff (25,1 M EUR), 3Commas Technologies (24,7 M EUR) and Paxful (23,6 M EUR).

If we look at the sectors in 2021, the biggest turnover belonged to Transportation & Logistics (791 M EUR), with Bolt contributing the most (723 M EUR), followed by the FinTech sector (149 M EUR), Business software & HR (113 M EUR), CyberTech (76 M EUR) and AdTech & CreativeTech (61 M EUR). Please note that turnover data is published based on the quarterly data from the Estonian Tax and Customs Board and therefore is not comparable with companies’ financial year annual reports data.

Investments, Exits, Unicorns & more

Based on the crowdsourced database and the Estonian Startup Database, Estonian startups signed 90 funding deals for 928 M EUR in 2021, with 47 deals valued at more than a million euros. In 2020, there were 76 new investment deals, 32 valued at least 1M EUR, and the total amount invested was 440,9 M EUR. The biggest investments in 2021 were made into Bolt (620 M EUR), followed by Glia (64,1 M EUR), Veriff (58 M EUR), Starship Technologies (14 M EUR), and Scoro (13,8 M EUR). And 2022 has already begun with news about Bolt's next massive investment deal (628 M EUR) together with Veriff raising 89 M EUR (and becoming a unicorn)  and Starship Technologies 50 M EUR quasi-equity facility agreement with the European Investment Bank (EIB), bringing the total amount of investments in 2022 alone already to 850 M EUR and proving that it will be another record-breaking year. 


Since July 2021, the Estonian startup ecosystem can boast of its first official DECACORN - the FinTech giant Wise. Furthermore, also 3 new unicorns founded by Estonians were born - ID.me, Zego and Gelato. Together with Estonian Founders Society and Invest in Estonia, in April 2021 we came up with the amended definition of an Estonian unicorn to better notice our globally successful founders and the impact they have on our startup ecosystem. And 2022 has already started with the news of Veriff becoming the 9th Estonian unicorn, further ensuring Estonia's position as first in Europe in the number of unicorns per capita.

During 2021, we have witnessed 4 acquisitions in the ecosystem. In June 2021, Checkout.com acquired FinTech company Icefire. Stockholm-based Checkin.com acquired Estonian identity verification startup GetID in August 2021. In September, Dynatrace acquired high-speed parsing and query analytics company SpectX. Both companies are active in the CyberTech sector. In December 2021, Zurich Insurance Group acquired conversational AI company AlphaChat



Similar to Europe's tech sector's record growth and flourishing in 2021, the Estonian startup sector witnessed several significant moments. The total volume of investments reached nearly 1B EUR, startups turnover showed a very high growth rate with startups creating more and more new jobs accompanied with paying more and more taxes each year.

In addition, our startup sector success was also noticed outside of Estonia. According to the State of European Tech 2021 by Atomico, on a per capita basis, Estonia retains its leadership position as the region’s most entrepreneurial country for tech startups, followed by Iceland and Ireland. 

In the GSER2021 report, Estonia rose from 14th to 6th position among emerging ecosystems. Overview of Central and Eastern European startups 2021, published by Google for Startups, Atomico, and Dealroom, indicates that Estonia, followed by Romania and Poland, has created the most startup value since 2000. In terms of venture capital investments plowed into startups between 2015 and 2021, Estonia is leading with 2,62B EUR. Besides, Estonia has raised the most investment per capita (1967 EUR) of any country in Europe. As for the startups created per 1M inhabitants, Estonia came in first place globally with 1048 startups, followed by Israel (904 startups) and the US (724 startups). 

All in all, 2021 was a year of new heights and milestones reached and as the start of 2022 has already indicated, with the Estonian startup sector members' creative and dedicated minds and sparkle in their eyes, 2022 will continue with steady growth accompanied by impactful developments towards realizing dreams of building a better future.

Sources: Startup Estonia, Statistics Estonia, Estonian Tax and Customs Board, Estonian Startup Database, Funding of Estonian Tech Startups #estonianmafia

Data crunched by Signe Reinumägi (Startup Estonia)
Blog post was written by Signe Reinumägi (Startup Estonia)


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