Brexit: Estonia is ramping up efforts to woo British entrepreneurs with e-residency

 
Lynsey Barber
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British companies can do business in the EU by becoming an e-resident of Estonia (Source: Getty)

The small but innovative eastern European country of Estonia is planning on ramping up its efforts to woo British entrepreneurs after Brexit.

More than 800 people from the UK have applied to become e-residents of Estonia since the country voted for Brexit, fresh figures seen exclusively by City A.M. reveal. And that figure could be even higher, as a large number of applications have come from British citizens living abroad, according to the Estonian government, which described it as “just the tip of the iceberg”.

Estonia‘s innovative e-residency programme, which uses a digital identity scheme that is not tied to location, allows anyone to apply to become a digital resident for around £100.

Read more: Davis lays cards on the table: Brexit secretary sets out customs vision

And e-residency even gives people the ability to register a business in the country - something that is proving increasingly attractive to entrepreneurs amid Brexit uncertainty and which the country is looking to foster.

Of the 1,265 people who have applied from the UK - more than half of which have come after last year’s EU referendum - 98 have established a company. However, that figure is likely to grow, the Estonian government said, with a lag between applying to become an e-resident and registering their business.

Ecommerce startups and freelancers make up the majority of companies and include startups working on blockchain and the maker of eco-friendly toilet paper, Twipes, which won the Mayor of London's entrepreneur of the year award.

“The full scale of entrepreneurship from current UK e-residents has yet to be unleashed,” said spokesperson for the e-residency programme, Adam Rang.

The country is now looking to capitalise on Brexit and offer entrepreneurs a way to keep one foot in the European Union, with continued access to the Single Market and Customs Union.

“We have been running targeted social media adverts towards British entrepreneurs, but now have bigger plans to engage them on how e-residency can mitigate their concerns about Brexit and help them become more competitive globally,” said Rang.

In total, more than 22,000 people from 138 countries have become e-residents since the scheme launched in 2014. Estonia wants to attract 10m e-residents by 2025.

In the UK - one of its key growth markets alongside Ukraine and Turkey - it will step up its efforts to attract entrepreneurial Brits, ramping up its online media activities.

Read more: A hard stop to freedom of movement is bad news for the UK's tech industry

It has a website howtostayin.eu which appears at the top of Google search for that question and will embark on webinars and Reddit AMAs (ask me anything) in a bid to woo businesses. It will ramp up social media adverts and content efforts, as well as bringing in more public relations support.

Several cities across Europe are seeking to attract the UK's tech startups in the wake of Brexit. Concerns for businesses include access to talent, the single market and for fintechs, passporting, spurring them to explore how they can set up shop an outpost within the bloc.

With e-residency, businesses do not have to be located in the country, however.

Estonia offers businesses access to banking, via a partnership with Holvi, the Finnish fintech owned by French bank BBVA, digital documents and online taxes, while touting a set up time of just a day.

The government today unveiled plans for a new customs arrangement with the EU

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