Q:James, you are the new Director of US Business & Innovation at Enterprise Estonia based in New York. Tell us a bit more about yourself and the previous experience that has led you to this position.
A: You could say it’s been a long and winding road to get here, but looking back I can see that all my prior experiences have offered me a unique perspective and mix of skills that I’m so happy I can now share with everyone in the Estonian business environment who is looking at entering or expanding in the US market.
I began my career in New York following university as a licensed stockbroker, working on the 40th floor of the World Financial Center. I then moved into real estate, first working in residential brokerage selling and renting luxury properties in one of the world’s most iconic cities, and then commercial property management where I had the privilege and responsibility for managing one of the highest-profile public real estate portfolio’s in North America’s largest public transportation system.
Nearly a decade ago I moved from New York City to Tallinn with my wife, who is Estonian herself, and went to work for what was then my first start-up – Fits.me. From there it’s been an exciting journey working with startup and innovation companies across a myriad of sectors and exploring the strengths and challenges of small businesses, always with an eye towards trying to bring the best of each world to the other.
Most recently I had been running a boutique strategic marketing consultancy and agency in New York, devoting more and more of my professional (and personal) focus towards helping Estonian companies make the jump to this market.
Accepting this role with Enterprise Estonia allows me the opportunity to now focus on that 100% of the time, and I love that I’m able to be of service to both my adopted and native homes in this way.
Q: What are your main tasks and goals for the nearest future when it comes to inviting and supporting Estonian companies to enter the US market?
A: To be helpful! “Helpful” is, of course, a quite broad term, but that’s how I mean it. My door is open for any Estonian company looking at entering or expanding in this market, and I see myself as a resource to help ease and facilitate that process for them.
To put some concrete structure to that intention, I am available to offer advice and consultations on anything relating to the market – from navigating the bureaucratic landscape and helping companies understand the processes involved in doing business here, to bridging any business culture gaps, and keeping my ear to the ground for new opportunities that I think would be a fit for companies in Estonia.
For those companies looking for help with finding new customers and partners, I’m very pleased that I can directly be of help in that regard too through Enterprise Estonia’s export partner search service.
In regard to the main sectors I’m focused on here, I’m concentrating on Business Services and ICT, Healthcare and Biotech, Food and Alcohol, and Lumber – and my goal is to see an increase in trade and export to the US around these verticals.
Q: From the U.S. perspective – do you think Estonian companies have any characteristic advantages when compared to other Eastern European countries?
A: Absolutely. Estonia has an excellent reputation for innovation. And don’t think that that’s limited just to the world of tech startups! To borrow an anecdote from Sven Aulik, my division head: Estonia is like a magnificent unicorn, known far and wide for its advanced digital infrastructure and e-society. What most people don’t realize, however, is that attached to this particular horse is a cart; and in that cart, there are many interesting and equally innovative things!
I think this is very important for Estonian companies to remember because when it comes to business sector branding and reputation the widely known successes of one industry can have a halo effect for all the others. And that is something that should definitely be capitalized on!
Q: Could you name a few reasons why companies should pick the East Coast over any other locations in the US?
A: Overall, I think the most important thing that companies looking towards this market should understand is that the US is not a single market. Its 50 unique markets, with multiple regional markets, layered on top of that.
That being said, the US east coast offers some great advantages for Estonian companies. The most obvious of which is the time zone difference! It is infinitely easier working with clients, customers and partners when there is only a 7-hour difference between you. That provides a daily opportunity for at least some working-hours overlap and can make communication and cooperation easier for both sides.
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of doing business and moving goods, there are some amazing things happening around logistics at certain ports on the east coast. Philadelphia, for example, enjoys same-day turnaround from the arrival of goods to seeing them loaded up on trucks and dispatched to the rest of the country. That saves both time and money and is good for business and competitiveness.
And of course, when it comes to financial access and capital, New York City is second to none. And perhaps surprisingly, in regard to technology and startups, New York City is second only to Silicon Valley.
Whether you’re looking at New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC or Florida – or anywhere in between… there is an opportunity to be had around every corner here. And while the East Coast, and in towards the Midwest, is certainly my main geographic focus, a large part of my work in this new role is also in making sure that we have a strong network of cooperation partners in place all throughout the country, to ensure that no matter where in the US an Estonian company is looking at doing business, Enterprise Estonia will always be able to be of help.
That’s one of the reasons why I always advocate that companies should look first where their potential clients and customers are and only then think about the region. Ultimately, you can find success anywhere as long as you have the right mix of ingredients on hand. The robust regional markets up and down the eastern seaboard and deeper into the Midwest towards Chicago and Omaha just help make that mix more convenient to find – and there’s no better or more connected gateway to all of it than New York!
Q: As a new representative of EAS, what are your expectations and hopes when it comes to AmCham cooperation and our network? How can we be of mutual help to each other?
A: I very much see EAS and AmCham as partners. We have the same mission, we are serving the same people, and our hopes and goals are aligned – to see more bridges built between the US and Estonia, with more trade and closer business ties coming as a result.
I look forward to and hope for lots of collaboration and joint events together as we both support our shared interests!
ABOUT ENTERPRISE ESTONIA
Established in 2000, Enterprise Estonia (EAS) promotes business and regional policy in Estonia and is one of the largest institutions within the national support system for entrepreneurship by providing financial assistance, counseling, cooperation opportunities and training for entrepreneurs, research institutions, the public, and non-profit sectors.
The total number of employees is approx. 266.
The budget for 2019 is 81.3 million euros.
A network in each county of Estonia: a regional representation office in Tartu and Pärnu, along with nearby cooperation partners, regional development centers and tourist information centers.
Foreign representative offices in Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Kyiv, Astana, Dubai, New Delhi, Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Silicon Valley, and New York (2019)