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Estonia: A European hub for scientific research

Estonia is an excellent example of how investment in innovation can drive economic and research growth. On average, 227 PhD degrees are awarded with over 2200 students starting doctoral programmes every year. This has made the country quite attractive to research companies and scientists from both inside and outside the EU who want to take advantage of the benefits that Estonia offers. While Estonia is mainly known for its technology start-ups, the country also has an active and quite competitive research ecosystem. 


A Booming Science and Research Ecosystem


The cornerstone of the Estonian research ecosystem is its higher education infrastructure, which comprises 7 universities, 13 colleges, and 13 research centers. Every year, hundreds of students from around the world arrive and can contribute to research from day one. While in other countries students are tied to their home institutions, Estonia allows them to start their own companies quickly. Many science companies operate following a one-stop model, offering products, analytical services, and scientific consulting.


In 2019, Estonia invested 1.61% of its GDP on research and development, amounting to 453  million euros.  The National R&D Council has coordinated policies that promote innovation and show a positive political will toward scientific initiatives. One example is the  “Estonian Research and Development, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategy 2021—2035” which outlines ambitious goals for the sector:


  • Ensuring political commitment to research in national policy and maintaining a 1% of government spending on R&D in the future.

  • Establishing priorities to support smart specialization.

  • Establishing a national innovation agency to support research development.

  • Reinforcing the role of intermediary organizations such as technology transfer centers.

  • Modernizing universities' research programs, and improving their innovation processes and the production of human capital.


A lot of the Estonian research has been made possible by EU structural funds for research and innovation. Institutions like Enterprise Estonia guide companies in accessing startup funds and partnering with higher education schools and other research institutions. The top areas of research are clinical medicine, molecular biology & genetics, biology & biochemistry, physics, plant & animal science, space science, immunology, pharmacology & toxicology, microbiology, and psychiatry/psychology.


Top players in Estonian research


With its transparency, ease of business, lighter administrative load (the most competitive in OECD), and skilled workforce, Estonia has become a hub for innovation. Among the top players of the research ecosystem are:


TalTech

Founded in 1918, TalTech ranks third among Baltic universities, placing in the world's 601-800 bracket of best universities. TalTech is Estonia's only technical university, offering engineering, business, public administration, and maritime affairs programs. Its key research areas include smart and energy-efficient environments, IT solutions, raw materials, health technologies, and the marine environment.


Tartu University

With faculties covering arts and humanities, social sciences, medicine, science and technology, and over 1,000 researchers across 31 institutes, the University of Tartu contributes to sustainable development, innovation, and the preservation of diversity. In 2022, the University of Tartu received €22.7 million for research, 43% of Estonia's total baseline funding for R&D institutions. The university ranks in the top 1% globally in various fields, including clinical medicine, chemistry, and social sciences. It offers both Estonian and English-taught programs, including an Erasmus Mundus Master in analytical chemistry.


Tehnopol

Tehnopol Science and Business Park is the largest science park in the Baltics, and offers comprehensive support for startups and SMEs, facilitating growth, development, and access to real-life testing environments. Its vibrant research community made it the ideal location for The J. Molner Company headquarters. In addition to an active research community, Tehnopol Startup Incubator aids technology-based startups in business development, market entry, and securing investments, leveraging top mentors from Estonia and Europe. It has fostered over 200 innovative technology-based companies and has become an attractive place where innovative companies, scientists, and tech students meet. 


In addition to these institutions, Estonia has 10 Centers for Excellence dedicated to research in different fields.


How has Estonia become a research powerhouse?


The secret behind the active Estonian research landscape lies in a solid political will to support scientific knowledge. The Research and Development Organisation Act outlines the framework and functioning of Estonia’s research and development system. The Estonian Research and Development, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Strategy 2021-2035 provides guidelines for advancing research. The management of Estonian research is coordinated by different ministries, boards, and councils with the Estonian Academy of Sciences dedicated to solving research development issues.


This has led to a growth in successful Horizon Europe applications. If we compare the awarded funds to a country’s GDP, Estonia has exceeded the EU average by 2.5 times. The research support has attracted foreign researchers, which grew by 3,2 times from 2008 to 2018.


International researchers employed in estonia, graph

We chose Estonia as the headquarters of The J. Molner Company due to its leading role in scientific development, which aligns seamlessly with our company’s focus on pharmaceutical innovation. Its growing network of scientific entities allows us to collaborate effectively with research universities and technology companies, facilitating valuable partnerships. Additionally, the green and serene environment of Estonia further enhances the appeal of this country as an ideal setting for our operations.


Thanks to regulatory transparency, an active research community, and public goodwill, Estonia has become one of Europe's most active research hubs. Through continuous scientific work, Estonia has found a way to evolve its economy and serve its citizens more efficiently, with many public services benefitting from the findings of Estonian research.


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