Words by Villu Arak
when you were trying out various signatures, hoping to design that stylish
ambassador to represent your interests on paper? Chances are your top pick is
still with you today. Here’s the problem: what do you do when you’re in Paris,
but need to sign something with someone in London. Use a courier? Jump on the
Sure. Convenient? Not so much.
digital signatures. Not your ordinary squigglywigglies converted to jpeg, but
electronic signatures that carry the same legal weight as if you’d penned it on
has used them since a 2002 law that gave paper and electronic signatures equal
rights. Combined with a secure, universal, and open electronic-ID infrastructure,
the country has undergone an invisible revolution. Contracts, government
services, tax filings, Internet voting -- rather than proofs of concept, in
Estonia they’re as common as potholes in spring.
Estonians are taking their gospel across Europe. One company pushing digital
signatures to make life in the EU infinitely easier is Signwise.
We caught up with CEO Tiit Anmann to discuss their plans and find out what he
thinks of Estonia, its bubbling entrepreneurial kettle, and efforts to make its
education scene more international.
What is the problem that you're trying to
attack with Signwise?
is an advanced electronic signing solution that works across European Single
Digital Market and allows a document to be signed within minutes. It relies on
government-issued electronic certificates and is therefore legally equivalent
to handwritten signatures.
a signature on paper from a client takes substantial effort. It is
time-consuming, costly, and not secure. It is even more difficult if the other
party is abroad. Another problem is the lack of trust in electronic
transactions as counterparties cannot verify each other’s identity. Signwise solves
What makes you unique among those who seek
to plant a flag in the same market?
to proprietary in-country solutions, Signwise is software-as-a-service that’s
easy to use. Ours is the first mainstream solution that relies on qualified
electronic signatures for both in-country and cross-border use in Europe.
Estonia is considered a trailblazer in digital signatures due to its 10+ years
of experience, and Signwise scales it to a pan-European level.
How far along are you in delivering on your
ambition is to make digital signing easy, secure, and affordable for all
people, businesses and governments across Europe. We’re in the testing phase
National pride and media hype aside, how
much is the Estonian experience helping you on a massive pan-European level?
Are we as far ahead as we think we are?
experience in the digital-signature space is real and delegations of technical
specialists from other European countries visit Estonia regularly to understand
better what and how has been done and how much of it can be put to use in their
home countries. Signwise has packaged the end-user part of the complexity into
a simple and affordable package.
Signwise is being nurtured in the Startup
Incubator at Tehnopol. There are conflicting views about the value that
accelerators deliver. Are you happy with your choice to grow in an Estonian
incubator, as opposed to hacking a more independent path?
is really not the question of incubators. A start-up, like any other business,
needs access to networks, advice, resources, etc. And since all of this is
available at an incubator, we decided to be there. Of course, incubation in
well-known US or European accelerators would deliver bigger networks, but at
the end of the day, the game is about how much you’re willing to work with the
opportunities they provide.
is very important what they can provide. But even more important is what you
can take in and how you can make it work in your favor. And when you feel that
incubation doesn’t give you anything anymore, then you’re free to break out.
The short bench of Estonian techies and
globally ambitious start-up entrepreneurs can hamper the country's long-term
progress. Estonia is working to attract international students to the country,
in the hope that they build ties to Estonia and launch careers and new
businesses here. What do you make of these efforts?
been in the industry long enough I agree that it is equally important to make
ICT education attractive for both domestic and foreign students. But I still
believe that the bench is not short, it is more that Estonians are not
ambitious enough to think big, to start their own ventures.
access to resources usually contributes to innovation. We’ve made many
innovative solutions with low budgets compared to the US or Europe.
Multidisciplinary integrated curricula for students will definitely help
develop better synergy, from the resources that we have, to spur new
businesses. We should focus on quality, not quantity and therefore concentrate
on things we do best in the world and then charge for that value.
How well does Estonian IT education stack
up against its better-known rivals from the US and others?
engineering disciplines need to become more multidisciplinary. But in technical
education, we have nothing to be ashamed of, the level is really good.
What fuels the Estonian start-up scene
today? And why, if one had the choice, should s/he pick Estonia ahead of the
more powerful tech hubs in the Valley, London, or elsewhere?
business with global ambition should figure out early where to get the best
advice, network, and resources to succeed. Estonia is a good place to start a
global B2B business. Establishing a technical team is a clear advantage, but in
the long run you need to be closer to your customers, and eventually you’ll end
up in bigger markets.