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    estonia opens its first ever business hub in seoul

    The Estonian Business Hub recently opened in Seoul and is already hosting exhibitions and gatherings for the e-⁠Residency community

    Photo of e-residents gathering at the Business Hub in Seoul in February
    E-residents gathering at the Business Hub in Seoul in February

    The Estonian Ministry for Foreign Affairs recently opened its first ever Estonian business hub in Seoul. The new center is already hosting exhibitions and get-togethers for Korea's growing e-⁠Residency community, while serving as a site where new e-⁠residents can pick up their kits.

    According to Marti Mätas, deputy head of mission at Estonia's Embassy in Seoul, Estonia decided to set up Estonian Business Hub Seoul to facilitate its exports to Korea, attract foreign investments to the country, but also to introduce Estonia as a destination for travel and study.

    Mätas said that promoting Estonia in general is "especially important in such faraway countries as South Korea, where Estonia is not so widely known." Mätas added that while Estonian Business Hub Seoul is the first of its kind, more are on the way, with another expected to open in Singapore later this year. They might not all be open to the general public though, Mätas noted.

    Estonian Business Hub Seoul opened its doors in January. It's located in the iconic, 23-story Seoul Square building, directly across from Seoul Station, the major transport hub for this city of 10 million people. With interior design elements that pay homage to Estonia's sauna traditions, the Estonian Business Hub Seoul hosts both permanent and themed exhibitions. It can be visited at any time by individuals, and group reservations can be booked ahead of time. The current special exhibition at Estonian Business Hub Seoul is dedicated to the Estonian timber industry, which is topical, as timber currently tops the list of Estonian exports to Korea.

    Here, one can learn about Estonian e-governance and the e-Residency program. According to Mätas, there are currently about 2,000 Korean e-residents. The Foreign Ministry expects the hub to serve as a gathering place for the community. "Community life was quite active in the pre-pandemic period," said Mätas. He said that the hub will host quarterly meetings for the community. The first of its kind was held there earlier this month. The next is scheduled for June.

    "During these meet-ups, Korean e-residents will hear what's new in the e-Residency program and the Estonian business environment," he said, adding that it serves as a platform for socializing.

    Since opening its doors, new Korean e-⁠residents have been able to pick up their e-⁠Residency cards from the Estonian Business Hub Seoul twice a month. They can also get advice on how to use the card and how to set up a business in Estonia. Mätas noted that e-⁠Residency is discussed in the hub's permanent exhibition and said the ministry has produced a brochure in the Korean language that walks new and aspiring e-⁠residents through the process of setting up a company in Estonia.

    "For us, it's important that Koreans would receive general information about the program also in their native language," he said.

    Being an e-⁠resident is something like a badge of honor for some program members, Mätas said. They see it as much to start an EU-based business as well as to become a part of a global community. It's almost like being admitted to a special club. Mätas noted that the number of Estonian companies founded by Korean e-⁠residents is still modest at about 150. But the ministry sees the Estonian Business Hub Seoul as a way to encourage future investments.

    "We would like to motivate e-residents to use their cards for starting businesses in Estonia with the view of entering the EU market," affirmed Mätas. "We are happy we have a large community of people in Korea who are interested in Estonia and in the program."

    One such community member is Ian Wagner who lives in Seoul. An American originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, Wagner joined the e-Residency more or less at its inception back in 2015. Wagner heard about e-Residency from a friend -- e-resident Luke Seelinbinder. After becoming an e-⁠resident, Ian visited Estonia to attend the Latitude59 startup and tech conference, held annually in Tallinn. Since then, Ian's been back to Estonia about 15 times, by his estimate.

    "I absolutely loved the place and I met a bunch of people in the startup ecosystem there," he said.

    Wagner moved to Seoul around the same time -- his wife is Korean -- and set up business there. When he did so, he decided to move his US business to Estonia. "That way I could get the advantages of the easy management that e-Residency offers," he said.

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    Wagner is actually involved in several companies at the moment. He's a cofounder of Stadia Maps, which provides location APIs for businesses. He's also a partner at Funktional, where he specializes in mobile and backend solutions. He also recently joined Emerald Foundary, which is assisting e-⁠resident and Estonian startups with contacts, competencies, and capital. All three companies were formed in partnership with other e-⁠residents.

    Wagner has also been exceptionally involved with the e-Residency community. He helped to found the Estonian e-Residents International Chamber Association (EERICA), in part to liaise with other e-residents. "I have never met an e-resident I couldn't become friends with," he said.

    He noted that the program's concept of serving location-independent entrepreneurs tends to resonate with likeminded people. "We have a lot in common, we end up doing business together, and organize trips to Estonia," said Wagner.

    Wagner is also a newly minted Community Leader in the e-⁠Residency program. Community Leaders are mentors, guides, old hands in the program who can show new e-⁠residents around and answer their questions. In essence, Wagner has always been an e-⁠Residency Community Leader. There is just now an official title for what he does.

    "Everyone has their passions, and when I find something I am passionate about, I get hyperengaged," he said.

    Ian was present at the e-residents gathering at the hub earlier this month. He welcomed its opening, seeing it as a way to improve trade between Korea and Estonia. "It's a base to hold meetings, like a showroom for Estonia," he said. He's now looking forward to the next meetup.

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