Canada met Estonia and the result was magic: Latitude44 builds connections to get innovators plugged in and turned on

Juku Gold, John McKay, Siim Alatalu. Photo: Elis Jaansoo (2019)Juku Gold, John McKay, Siim Alatalu. Photo: Elis Jaansoo (2019)
They came, and they blew us away. Creative sparks flew as two of the world’s most progressive societies – Canada and Estonia - came together to connect on innovations in technology that help people thrive in the digital era.

Latitude 44, a conference that shone the spotlight on key players in the technology world from Estonia and Canada, took place at the WE Global Learning Centre in downtown Toronto on November 14 and 15.

From robot snowplows to e-prescription services, online voting systems and cyber security – the innovative minds behind a progression of digital solutions to everyday issues shared how they got inspired and made it happen.

The conference was combined with Estonian Music Week in Toronto this year. Delegates as well as members of the Estonian community and general public turned out in strong numbers for a series of concerts by Estonian music innovators.

Who was there and what did they say?

A true digital society
“Estonia’s digital transformation continues as it persists to be a free and open digital society. Estonia seeks to be a champion of the free movement of data and a supporter of the use of technology in a way that does not require significant restrictions on our rights.”
• Toomas Lukk, Estonian Ambassador to Canada

The future is brisk and bright
“We are in a period of incredible growth. I have been in the business for 30 years and I’ve never seen it like this.”
• Bruce Croxon, partner at Round13 Capital and TV Host, The Disruptors, Toronto

Estonia’s huge growth in start-ups
“Estonia had to start from scratch after the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. We didn’t even know what the word ‘start-up’ meant! Now we are #1 in the world in entrepreneurial activity and #3 in startups per capita in Europe. In 2006 we had 3 deals worth $3.5 EUR – in 2019 we will have 50 deals worth $300 EUR.”
• Asko Seeba, co-founder Mooncascade, Estonia

Toronto welcomes tech entrepreneurs
“Toronto is a very welcoming place. There are vast cultural opportunities and diversity here. We have the number one university-related business incubator in the world, where entrepreneurs don’t give up any equity. You would not see this in Silicon Valley or New York City.”
• Michelle Caers, CEO of Crowdmark, entrepreneur in residence at DMZ, Ryerson University, Toronto

Building trust one citizen at a time
“Veriff keeps people safe online by using secure camera technology. There are many cyber thieves out there, and you need to create trust. We have built that in Estonia - everyone has an ID card for all government services. I see a future where Veriff would issue passports, not government.”
• Kaarel Kotkas, founder and CEO, Veriff, Estonia

Estonia is open for business
“We are welcoming virtual or bricks-and-mortar businesses to Estonia with our start-up visa program through Start-Up Estonia. We offer e-residency so that entrepreneurs can do business remotely using Estonian e-services and we now have 65,000 new e-residents and 7,000 companies.”
• Maarika Truu, Start-Up Estonia

Estonian e-residency: it works!
“I’ve been in business 25 years and decided to apply for Estonian e-residency so I could connect with EU countries. It’s an easy process to be become of this borderless community of businesses.”
• Karen Bennett, Canadian business owner

Banks need to step up to fintech
“Open banking is the next big wave in retail banking. Banks need to team up with fintechs in order to survive.”
• Mati Otsmaa, tech business expert, Silicon Valley, U.S.

Banking should be more customer-focused
“Fintechs are coming in and doing what banks can’t. Customers don’t want ‘banking’ – they want easy and convenient access to their money.”
• Kia Puhm, founder and CEO, DesiredPath, Toronto

Let’s call it consumer-directed banking
“I don’t like the term ‘open banking’ – it implies open access and this makes people nervous. Consumer-directed banking is better, but the overall concept is still not well known in Canada. We need to support and encourage our fintech entrepreneurs, or they may leave the country and we could just become a labour pool.”
• Roy Kao, former managing director, MaRS Fintech, Toronto

Changing how we shop
“We develop clicks and bricks technology for retailers to make the last mile of parcel delivery as seamless as possible, and to handle mundane tasks in the retail environment through the use of robots. This helps change the customer experience so that staff become ‘expert consultants’ helping people make buying decisions.”
• Indrek Oolup, founding member, Cleveron, Estonia

Improving education through a virtual marketplace
“Teachers in Brazil only make about $200 per month. They are not valued as professionals. I started TutorID to provide teachers with a way to make a good living and help improve the student learning experience.”
• Karen Roosileht, TutorID, Brazil

Food and tech: a perfect recipe
“We want people to have access to healthy food and understand the connection to nature. They can grow their own vegetables at home, and restauranteurs can install our system right on the wall in their kitchens.”
• Gregory Lu, founder and CEO, Natufia Labs, France

Breaking down the silos in government
“There is a big disconnect between federal, provincial and municipal governments. This creates a huge burden on citizens. We need to engage with people who are accessing government services. People write legislation – we can rewrite it!”
• Teresa D’Andrea, Canadian CIO Office

Lifelong digital management
“The life cycle management starts when a child is born in Estonia - they get registered and the parent gets a call about the services that are available to them. As an Estonian citizen, I can see online every single inquiry that has been made about me. This transparency is the underlying principle of Estonia’s digital society.”
• Kadri Sirg, Helmes, Estonia

Cyber security must be top of mind
“Cyber security is a moving target, The overall picture is getting worse, and we are preparing for the unknown. We are working with other like-minded countries, and also sharing our expertise with others who don’t have such knowledge, or plans in place.”
• Siim Alatalu, Head of EU CyberNet project, Estonian Information System Authority

Canada and Estonia join forces on cyber security
“As Canadians we need to up our game and we are pleased to be working with Estonia on the critical issue of cyber security. We are in this soup together.”
• The Hon. John McKay, M.P., Scarborough-Guildwood, Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Government of Canada

Estonia’s electronic health record system keeps improving
“In Estonia, each person owns their medical data and services are linked through the electronic health record. We also work on e-ambulance, e-health certificate, e-death certificate and pregnancy tracking. My dream is a mobile app that provides access quickly and easily for the services people need.”
• Andrus Altrov, co-founder and CEO, Industry 62, Estonia

Cast your ballot for e-voting
“Estonian citizens can vote online from anywhere in the world. Internet voting keeps people engaged, and it’s safer. We keep getting asked if we have had any problems. The answer is - not really!”
• Arne Koitmäe, Deputy Head of the State Electoral Office, Estonia

Data ownership is the cornerstone of digital trust
“In order to trust the system, you have to understand it. Medical personnel are not allowed to touch your data unless they are authorized to do so. If any fraudulent activity were to occur, anyone attempting to do so would immediately lose their right to practice.”
• Raul Kaidro, RaulWater, Estonia

“Trust is everything. If trust fails, we fail.”
“A personal approach and convenience are also incredibly important – people need to gain from what you are offering them. We don’t live in an isolated world, we to need to sit down and figure things out together.”
• Viljar Lubi, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, Government of Estonia

WE makes doing good, doable
“We provide social and emotional learning to 5.5 million students in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. It’s important to understand and use digitization. We don’t just stream our events, we make them interactive.”
• Dalal Al-Waheidi, Executive Director, WE Charity, Toronto

It’s a wrap!

Building bridges between Canada and Estonia
“During the conference we also set up several key industry meetings with government, as well as government to government officials from Estonia and Ontario. Both sides were pleased with the contacts and progress made and possible future benefits. This bridge-building was one of our key goals and we look forward to continuing these very beneficial connections.” 
• Eric Morrison, former vice-president of CTV News and past president of Canadian Press, co-founder and director, Latitude 44

This success story will continue: stay tuned
“For a first-time conference here in Canada, I think we did exceptionally well – so much so that participants told us in no uncertain terms that they would like to have this partnership continue. Our team will be looking at just how to build on this momentum, and who the players should be to take on this important work.”
• Piret Noorhani, Chief Archivist, Estonian Studies Centre, primary event organizer

For more information on Latitude44 and Estonian Music Week, please go to:

Karin Ivand, Toronto



Amber Kanwar & Viljar Lubi. Photo: Elis Jaansoo (2019)Amber Kanwar & Viljar Lubi. Photo: Elis Jaansoo (2019)