As many countries slowly lift lockdowns, fDi is speaking to leaders in the FDI community as they return to work and plan for the future.

During the crisis, Estonia launched a global initiative to encourage digital collaboration to solve issues related to Covid-19. “We’re a start-up nation,” Raido Lember, director of Invest in Estonia, tells fDi.

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Q: How has your team adjusted to the crisis

A: After the government declared a state of emergency on March 12, we worked with the start-up ecosystem to launch Hack the Crisis, an online hackathon to solve issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Two members of my team joined and we built several solutions to mitigate the crisis. One of them, Suve, is a chatbot that helps customers look for information across government websites. Another solution, Share Force One, helps companies share employees. 

We also built digital tools for our investment promotion activity, looking at ways to bring the decision-making process online. We developed a tool that facilitates virtual site visits which helped us create a digital day programme. 

The Hack the Crisis initiative inspired similar initiatives in other parts of the world. The grand finale was the Global Hack, a worldwide hackathon, held in mid-April. A number of start-ups have spun off from these events. 

Q: How has your strategy changed?

A: It’s been hard to convince new investors to come [during the crisis] so we have been focusing on investors already active in the country and helping them grow existing operations. 

Q: How has Invest in Estonia dealt with the acceleration of digitalisation as a result of Covid-19?

A: Estonia pioneered e-governance and remote working 20 years ago. We’re already used to working from home with flexible hours and using online tools.

We’re hungry for more efficient ways of working. When international companies come with traditional ways of working, we want to help them improve.

Q: Will start-ups lead the recovery after the crisis? 

A: It’s a perfect situation for large companies and start-ups to collaborate. 

Start-ups can make big companies more efficient, and at the same time big companies can provide start-ups with the growth capital and long-term support.

At Invest in Estonia, we have a mandate to grow investment coming into the country and create jobs. 

We map the innovations our start-up ecosystem is producing and offer it to large corporations outside the country and their venture capital arms. We’re a start-up nation.

Q: Can you provide an example of how it works?

A: We negotiated with Daimler for two years to invest in Estonian start-ups to help them incorporate their services into their portfolio.

Eventually, it led to a $175m investment in ride-hailing company Bolt in May 2018, which pushed the company’s valuation beyond $1bn.

It’s a great example of how start-ups can scale up from Estonia, Bolt’s headquarters are still in the country, and now they are growing their own capital and reinvesting it in the ecosystem. 

Raido Lember is the director of Invest in Estonia. 

You can find the full archive of the fDi’s Virus Diaries series at the following link. If you work in economic development or investment promotion and want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.