E-Residency has been dubbed “Estonia’s gift to the world” and it’s easy to see why. Since 2014 entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world have a chance to become e-residents, which allows them to register an EU-based company and run it completely online, as well as access Estonian government digital services. With over 35,000 e-residents registered already, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Asia’s richest person Mukesh Ambani, Estonia is set to become not just the land of unicorns* but also the first truly digital nation.
We spoke to Arnaud Castaignet, the Head of Public Relations at e-Residency, about the who can become an e-resident and why being involved in the local community is integral to being a true entrepreneur.
Read the interview below or watch the full interview at the end of the article.
Interviewer: Hi, Arnaud. You are here at IT Arena Lviv representing e-Residency. It’s a project by the Estonian government aimed at helping startups grow, is that right?
Arnaud Castaignet: Exactly! We actually help startups who are not in Estonia to become Estonian startups. So basically e-Residency is a program offered by the government of Estonia since December 2014, with government-issued ID cards available to anyone from anywhere in the world to become an e-resident and access Estonian e-services. From the startup point of view the most important thing about e-residency is the ability to create, manage and run your company fully online from anywhere in the world without ever even having to come to Estonia.
I: For those startups, are there any restrictions age-wise or industry-wise?
AC: No, there are no restrictions. So far we’ve attracted 35,000 e-residents coming from 157 countries around the world. Most of the e-residents want to become an e-resident because they want access to the open markets, they want to be able to manage a company fully online and at a low cost, they want to be able to access business banking services. We open access to all of the tools needed to make a business grow.
“Be very integrated in the local business and startup community. It’s hard to be an entrepreneur and be totally isolated.”
I: When an entrepreneur or a startup wants to become an e-resident, where should they go, what should they do?
AC: The first thing to do is to go to our website https://e-resident.gov.ee/. There you will need to fill in an application form. It’s actually very simple and very fast – we’re only going to ask you for a copy of your passport and your motivations for applying. You’ll then need to pass a background check by the Ministry of the Interior, because of course we don’t want people involved in any criminal activity to become an e-resident. Once you receive an approval on your application, you need to go to the nearest Estonian embassy to pick up your ID card and you’ll be able to access the services!
I: As a representative of e-Residency you deal a lot with young startups and entrepreneurs. What’s your #1 advice for someone who may still be considering starting a business?
AC: The main advice is to be very integrated in the local business and startup community, because most new ideas and most of the new partnerships you get are by engaging and discussing them with others who have the same experiences or are actually more experienced. That is why at e-Residency we wanted to have a country manager to be fully involved in the local community, coworking spaces, incubators, etc.
It’s very important to have partners. It’s hard to be an entrepreneur and be totally isolated. you need to have advisers, you need to have new partnerships, you need to find synergies with other people who go through the same experiences. This advice works for startups, but also us as a governmental program – we also try to be very integrated in the local community.
“It only costs €100 to become an e-resident and then €180 to register your company in Estonia. So we see a lot of interest coming from the whole I.T. community.”
I: You’ve had a walk around IT Arena Lviv, you’ve seen what Ukraine has to offer in terms of startups. Is there a lot of potential in countries like these?
AC: Definitely. At E-Residency Ukraine is the biggest community. We have 2600 Ukrainians who became e-residents because for entrepreneurs from countries like this it’s a very convenient and common solution to creating a startup.
It only costs €100 to become an e-resident and then €180 to register your company in Estonia. So we see a lot of interest coming from the whole I.T. community. There are so many educated people who just want to have better access to opportunities worldwide. That’s why for a lot of them e-Residency is a very convenient solution.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.