Startup Estonia Deep Tech Lounge offered insights for deep tech founders

For the second time at sTARTUp Day, Startup Estonia hosted the hugely popular Deep Tech Lounge, featuring engaging conversations with experts and entrepreneurs across a broad spectrum of topics. If you missed the talks or simply want to revisit the key points, here is a recap of insight from four of the sessions.

# 1: Empowering Women in Health Tech: Overcoming Barriers and Embracing Leadership

In the dynamic field of health tech, female founders are at the forefront, challenging norms and fostering innovation. A session led by Sebastien Toupy, featuring Carmen Kivisild (NoraAI), Mari-Ann Meigo Fonseca (Gelatex), and Aline de Santa Izabel (Compare), shed light on their transformative journeys and shared insights into overcoming barriers in leadership, diversity, and fundraising. 

Diverse Journeys, Common Goal: From Carmen and Aline's bold transitions from academia to entrepreneurship to Mari-Ann's innovative leap from textiles to nanofiber technology, these founders embody the spirit of innovation for better health outcomes. Their paths, though varied, converge on a singular vision: leveraging technology to create a healthier world.

Overcoming Barriers with Confidence: Raising funds for a deep tech company is already challenging considering the lengthy development and sales cycles. However, female founders must demonstrate even greater resilience due to systemic biases in fundraising, including facing double standards that compel them to share more personal information with investors than their male counterparts. A standout story of confidence and determination came from Carmen, who, armed with nothing but her vision, successfully managed to raise an angel round. Another tip on confidence by Mari-Ann was to replace saying “we are trying to do” with “we are doing”.

The Power of Diversity and Community: Beyond gender, embracing cultural, experiential, and disciplinary diversity is key to fostering creative solutions. Aline shared that introducing guidelines and requirements for investment committees can be one way of empowering diverse teams. The power of communities was also emphasized during the conversation. All panelists agreed that it’s crucial to ask for help as well as offer it proactively, leveraging support networks, local hubs, and events such as the Female Founders Meetups in Estonia, providing a sense of belonging and shared strength.

Looking Forward: The session wrapped up with a call for an evolved ecosystem that not only supports but thrives on diversity. This evolution involves more than individual success stories; it requires a collective effort to cultivate an environment where diverse leadership is the norm, and innovation knows no bounds. "The journey to innovation in health tech is not a solo endeavor," Carmen Kivisild remarked, highlighting the necessity for the ecosystem to evolve in tandem with pioneering efforts.

#2 Deep Tech Horizons: Global Accelerators – Current Landscape and Keys to Success

In the bustling world of startups, global accelerators stand out as beacons of innovation, especially for those venturing into the deep tech realm. The "Deep Tech Horizons" session, brilliantly led by Helina Meier from EY at the Startup Estonia Deep Tech Lounge, peeled back the curtain on how these accelerators fuel the journey of startups tackling the big issues in health tech, AI, and climate tech.

Helina Meier captured the essence of accelerators' impact, stating, "Accelerators are the linchpins in the deep tech ecosystem, offering more than just funding; they provide a gateway to invaluable networks and expertise". This statement underlines the accelerators' role beyond financial support, emphasizing their crucial part in connecting startups with a broader ecosystem of knowledge, networks, and growth opportunities.

The session highlighted an interesting point: not all accelerators treat hardware and software startups the same, yet places like HAX zero in on hardware, proving that the right support can significantly impact a startup's path. Whether it's in-person, hybrid, or entirely online, accelerators shape their programs to fit the startups' needs, focusing on everything from nitty-gritty scientific development to polishing business strategies.

A key takeaway was the undeniable value of mentorship. It varies wildly across the board but remains essential, be it in refining your product or figuring out your market strategy. Another gem? Accelerators are your ticket to the global stage, offering connections to international markets and networks that startups might not reach on their own.

The talk also spotlighted stars in the accelerator world like HAX and Wyss Zurich, shining examples of how tailored support can elevate startups to new heights. For deep tech entrepreneurs, choosing an accelerator is a pivotal decision. It's not just about the resources but finding a partner that aligns with your mission, understands your sector, and opens doors to opportunities you didn't even know existed.

#3 Estonian Deep Tech Scene Breakdown

At the Startup Estonia Deep Tech Lounge, a panel led by Eve Peeterson from Startup Estonia, featuring deep tech connoisseurs Kalev Kaarna from CDL and Rainis Venta from TalTech, unfolded a riveting dialogue on the twists and turns of nurturing a deep tech ecosystem in Estonia. This conversation was not just a peek into the challenges but also a beacon of hope for the burgeoning sector, laying out a roadmap for startups ready to venture into the deep tech domain.

Facing the Challenges Head-On: The panel kicked off with an honest look at the hurdles deep tech startups face: talent shortages, the gap in academia-entrepreneur collaboration, and the daunting quest for investment. Yet, the consensus was clear – these challenges are mere stepping stones in building a resilient deep tech ecosystem capable of addressing global challenges like energy, food safety, and water quality.

Unlocking Deep Tech's Potential: Drawing inspiration from the successes of small nations like Denmark and Singapore, the panelists underscored the critical role of deep tech in diversifying Estonia's economy and tackling pressing global issues. This potential signals a shift in investment trends, with deep tech emerging as a fertile ground for the next unicorns.

Ecosystem Evolution and Startup Strategies: Amid discussions on the ecosystem's growth, the panel urged startups to actively engage with existing structures, highlighting the importance of leveraging deep tech-focused investment funds and government R&D support. Practical advice flowed, emphasizing the need for startups to ask the right questions, understand market needs, and align their product development accordingly, all without the immediate need for substantial funding.

Venturing Beyond Borders: With a nod to Singapore's vibrant ecosystem, the dialogue touched on the strategic benefits and considerations of international expansion, advocating for a balanced approach that leverages both local and global opportunities.

Echoing the session's spirit, Kalev Kaarna shared, "Waiting around isn't going to cut it for entrepreneurs. There's a lot you can do right now to boost your chances. Before you even think of approaching VCs, make sure you've done your homework. Be able to express quickly the unique value your product creates, understand the problem it solves, and why it fits into a VC's portfolio. It's not about sending the same old pitch to everyone; it’s about showing the unique insights and value you bring to the table."

Conclusion: The panel wrapped up with a strong call to action for startups to tap into the growing support for deep tech in Estonia, exploring avenues for growth both within and beyond national borders. The discussions made it evident that despite the inherent challenges, there lies a world of opportunity for deep tech startups, underscored by the collective will to innovate, collaborate, and push the boundaries of what's possible.

Key Takeaways: Building a thriving deep tech ecosystem in Estonia is a complex yet rewarding endeavor, demanding active participation from all stakeholders. With increasing investment and a supportive infrastructure, the future looks promising for startups ready to make their mark in the deep tech space.

#4 Borderless Beginnings: The Journey of Global Founders Building Startups in Estonia

"Borderless Beginnings" at the Startup Estonia Deep Tech Lounge featured Jose Ernesto Suarez (Glassity) and Stefano Alberico (Skudo), who shared their experiences of building startups in Estonia. Coming from Spain and Italy, they highlighted Estonia's welcoming ecosystem for tech innovation, particularly noting the advantages of cybersecurity advancements and supportive policy measures such as e-Residency and startup-friendly visa processes.

Building a team in Estonia proved advantageous due to the ecosystem's openness, although challenges such as finding niche skills and navigating the competitive IT salary landscape were noted. Solutions like offering team ownership have helped in forming dedicated teams.

Support from organizations like Startup Estonia and the European Space Agency’s business incubator was crucial, showcasing Estonia's commitment to nurturing startups. The founders pointed out areas for improvement, such as better access to support information, adjustments in social tax policies for micro companies, and more flexible language requirements to foster inclusivity.

Stefano Alberico's advice encapsulates the essence of adapting to Estonia's business culture: "You need to embrace it. You are here. You need to do the things how you are here" This reflects the importance of cultural adaptation in leveraging Estonia's innovative startup environment.

This talk captures the essence of starting and growing a global startup in Estonia, emphasizing the blend of challenges and opportunities. It showcases Estonia as a prime location for entrepreneurs, offering a supportive community, advanced digital services, and a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

As we conclude our exploration of the Startup Estonia Deep Tech Lounge sessions, it's clear that Estonia stands as a beacon of innovation, diversity, and entrepreneurial spirit. Covering topics from empowering women in health tech to engaging with global accelerators, and from dissecting the Estonian deep tech landscape to highlighting the experiences of international founders, each session offered critical perspectives on the challenges and prospects shaping Estonia's startup environment. The stories and strategies shared serve as a roadmap for future founders, offering inspiration and guidance on the journey from idea to impact.

For more resources and useful pointers on the Estonian startup scene, visit the Startup Estonia website.
Articles you might also like:

Kalev Kaarna keynote at sTARTUp Day 2024: “Practical magic of growing sales in a falling market”

Kalev Kaarna's keynote at sTARTUp Day provided an insightful guide for businesses striving to grow their sales despite a declining market. Drawing...
Read more

Conquering Everest: Kunnar Karu at sTARTUp Day 2024

At sTARTUp Day 2024, Kunnar Karu shared his inspiring journey to the summit of Mount Everest. His speech was about perseverance, determination,...
Read more