Startups are prospering in Tartu, Estonia! - image from


How to earn if there’s nothing to burn?

Students know all about what it is like to not having that much money to spare and over time become experts in living their lives as cost-efficient as possible. But how does that look like when you are just about to start your own business? You had a brilliant idea which will make everyone’s lives better off but how to succeed in developing a product which in the end will genuinely meet your customers’ needs as well as helping you pay the bills? This is a question many startup companies face and as you might know Estonia is the DESTINATION to found a (startup) company. Acquire, for instance, Estonian e-Residency and establish an Estonian company online which you can then manage easily from any place in the world! At the moment there are about 450 startup companies in different stages to be found Estonia (you can check them all out here: and their number keeps growing.

But you don’t have to go all the way to Tallinn to dive into Estonian startup life – it’s all here right in front of your doorstep in our cozy Tartu and you can even get started while still being a student!

Bootstrapping & Hackathons…

…incubators, accelerators, venture capital, pitching decks, and the list of words I had never actually come across before beginning my volunteering experience at sTARTUp Day could go on for a while. I myself study political science and had little experience with regard to marketing and event management before. While feeling slightly out of place at the beginning, I definitely enjoyed getting to know a completely new world all within Tartu. There are two main places where a lot of startup related action is taking place: SPARK and sTARTUp HUB. While SPARK is a business and community center for tech and hardware companies, sTARTUp HUB is the venue hosting the main events for Tartu’s startup ecosystem also housing the Garage48 HUB Tartu, a community-run coworking space for startups, entrepreneurs and freelancers. During my internship I spent quite some time at SPARK and I really enjoy the laid back working atmosphere there. Whether it was doing some market research, updating the database, sending out invitations or putting up posters all over town; I learned the devil lies in the details when putting together an event this big. People from all over Europe come together in Tartu to develop their ideas further and I was surprised by how international the office was in which I found myself helping out a startup company from Poland who had made it into Tartu’s Buildit Accelerator Programme. Teams from Latvia, Estonia, and France side to side evolving their ideas further with the help of experienced mentors. Many startups struggle with the stereotype that they will not become profitable and are therefore just wasting investors’ money – a problem covered by this year’s sTARTUp Day:


sTARTUp Day 2016, the event I helped to organise over the past three months, is a business festival to be held in Tartu for the very first time this year on December 9th in the newly opened Estonian National Museum. I am very glad I had the opportunity to be part of this hardworking team and am very excited to see this event which so far has existed only on paper and in plans come to actual life in only two days. All the tickets for this year’s sTARTUp Day are unfortunately already sold out but keep the event in mind for next time! I learned how much work and commitment it takes to organise an event of this magnitude and can only recommend to everyone to keep their eyes open and try to find ways to contribute to the community you’re living in – it’s worth it!

Jason and I at the Halloween party this year organised by SPARK
Jason and I at the Halloween party this year organised by SPARK

If you are interested in becoming a student at the University of Tartu, you might wonder if it will be possible for you to find a job or internship here – even without speaking Estonian. I myself came along this interning opportunity thanks to a call made for applications via my institute’s e-mailing list. Generally speaking, the university tries to help you in getting to know Estonian employment culture and forwards interesting internship and job offers from time to time or organises work fairs and seminars. If you are a UT student and happen to have a promising business idea or would simply like to learn more about the process of developing your idea and presenting it to potential future investors, the UT’s Idea Lab organises “Kaleidoskoop an extra-curricular entrepreneurial programme for students enabling them to develop their ideas into validated business models with the support of mentors who are start-up founders and entrepreneurs themselves.

As you can see: there are many opportunities provided by the UT just waiting for you to make the most of them! You have a great idea? Make it happen!

If you are still a bit skeptical or would simply like to learn more about working opportunities as a student here in Tartu, keep on reading. Up next are some first-hand experiences made by some of my fellow ambassadors who all found employment in Tartu’s startup scene.

An international student’s perspective

Meet Jason, Misha and Kevin, three of our ambassadors who have managed to find work here in Tartu’s startup sector and who are ready to share their experiences and impressions with you below.  

1 . Which startup are you working for and what’s your position/task? What’s your startup company’s main objective?

Jason: Currently, I work for two start-ups actually! I work for Weekdone, a business goal setting app, in sales and marketing. I also work for SprayPrinter which is a smart spray paint technology that lets you spray paint images from your phone. I do content management for them. I do some freelance work with other start-ups from time to time.

Misha: I am currently working at the startup accelerator called Contriber Tartu, where I was chosen to contribute my knowledge to the marketing team that focuses in unlock the potential of the startups in Estonia.                                                     

Kevin: I am working for an Estonian Start-up called Funderbeam. The company offers a subscription service for discovering, tracking & analyzing start-ups across the globe. By offering in-depth analytical tools backed up by deep data, we help investors to make wiser choices. Later on, we have built a marketplace for investors automatizing the creation of investments, reducing bureaucracy etc … My job at funderbeam is about cleaning the data. I am handling all new start-ups and editing older ones. My job is rather polyvalent, we are sometimes experiencing new algorithms, therefore I take good care of the quality of the data entered in the machines, making sure the outcome will not be biased.

2. Was it difficult to find a job in Tartu?

Jason: Not difficult at all. With Weekdone I found the job online while I was still in the U.S. and SprayPrinter came about through some connections with friends.

Misha: Well, it is not difficult to get an occupation when you are willing to search and find your best fit. University of Tartu does a great job and helps students to find vacancies in various enterprises. I would say that it is almost impossible to stay jobless in Tartu if you are dedicated to obtain one.

Kevin: I heard that for many international student that finding a job turns out to be difficult. However, I found mine rather easily. During my BA in economics, a friend of mine stopped working at Funderbeam and told me about the vacant position. I got a position in the company for my practical training – satisfied by my work, I remained in the company – and now have a part time contract aside of my Master degree.

3. What do you like most about working for a startup company/in the Tartu startup scene?

Jason: I like the freedom and opportunity it allows. The start-up scene always lets you play an active role. You don’t just do a list of repetitive tasks each day, but you are encouraged to take on projects of your own and bring ideas to the table.

Misha: Startup Ecosystem in Tartu is very advanced and constantly evolving so while performing for this position I constantly learn and understand the startup world much better.

Kevin: I like the community itself, people tend to be curious, nice and enthusiastic – bring lots of positivity in the work done. Moreover, the path by which companies and start up world are growing in Estonia gives me a really good perspective on the actual economic development of the country. For instance the company I worked for has seen its number of employees doubled since the first signature of my contract. The whole infrastructures in which start-ups evolve also has drastically matured. From my perspective, Estonia is a giant incubator, offering not only technical solutions but also a comfortable cradle for thoughts.

Jason meeting former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves during his visit to Weekdone.
Jason meeting former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves during his visit to Weekdone.

4 . Could you imagine founding a startup company yourself?

Jason: I have some ideas that would be fun to bring to life. So there could be a possibility.

Misha: As a business student, I am most definite to open my own startup and unleash my knowledge and expertise to my favor. Getting a step closer to the startup world in Estonia, I would say that any one of us with clear set goals and vision has enough resources to succeed a startup in Tartu.

Kevin: Founding and developing a start-up is a process that requires an emotional attachment to the project in question. It does not require time nor efforts – it is all about the love for the project, transforming time into leisure and efforts into personal development. My plan is to study while it is time to do so, and later on maybe concretize my personal ideas into an accessible entity. Therefore, I do imagine myself developing a start-up when the time is right.

5. Describe the Tartu startup scene in one word!

Jason: Innovative.

Misha: Innovative.

Kevin: Free!

If you are interested in more info on Tartu’s startup scene, you can find some further reading here: