Every few months there seems to be another region somewhere in the world that claims to be the next Silicon Valley. Sometimes the new high-tech hub is hyped up, but other times, it’s evident that there’s something special brewing.
These countries have digitized governments that will put our Healthcare.gov problems to shame, fast broadband Internet speeds beyond comparison, and instead of hookup apps, you’ll see innovations in energy alternatives. These are exactly the reasons why America’s magical tech land should keep its eyes on the countries below.
You can’t talk about digital excellence without mentioning Estonia, one of the three Baltic states so innovative, it’s nicknamed "E-stonia." In 2000, its government deemed Internet access a basic human right and free Wi-Fi became the norm throughout the land.
It was the first country to offer voting for general elections online and most Estonians file their taxes within minutes on their mobile phones. Their health records are stored in a digital cloud and can be accessed at any time with their electronic personal access key, which is also used for other services, such as registering a firm.
The country is investing in its next generation with programs such as ProgeTiiger ("Programming Tiger") aimed at teaching basic coding to kids starting at the age of 5. How did Estonia become a world leader in technology?
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonia gained it’s independence in 1991 and needed to build a new administration quickly and cost-effectively. Estonia is said to have the world’s most digitized government.
Today, Estonians are the brains behind Skype and Kazaa, an early file-sharing program, and has one the fastest broadband Internet speeds in the world.
South Koreans are so innovative, they don’t even use credit or debit cards. Instead, residents use T-money, which can be spent on trains, taxis, buses, bars, restaurants, or retail stores.
Like Estonia, South Korea has one of the fastest broadband speeds among all. As most of the world continues to struggle with 4G connection, South Korea is investing in 5G, meaning its residents will be able to download HD movies without any problems by 2020. The country’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) announced it is investing $1.5 billion in this project alone.
The South Korean government promotes its startup economy by pouring $2.7 billion in funding startups and offering tax breaks for big companies that invest in startups.
A recently published Bloomberg Global Innovation Index ranked South Korea first among all by examining factors such as research and development capability, productivity, tech density, and patent activity.
Israel’s entrepreneurship spirit comes from the fact that the country itself is a startup. With little natural resources and constant political turmoil, Israelis are fighting for better lives by creating energy alternatives. As a result, we’ve seen some amazing companies come out of Israel.
The country boasts more startups per capita than any other country and currently has 70 companies listed on the Nasdaq, making it third only to the U.S. and China on the stock exchange. Not bad for a population of 8.2 million.
In 2008, per-capita venture capital investments in the country were 2.5 times more than the U.S. and 80 times that of China, according to authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer in their book Start-Up Nation.
Zhongguancun is sometimes called the "Silicon Valley of the East," and for a good reason. When Steve Blank, lecturer at the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, visited this Beijing northwestern district in 2013, he described it as what "Rome looked like in the time of the empire or New York in the 1920’s ... now it’s Beijing announcing that China has arrived." The country is only second to the U.S. when it comes the venture capital spending, mostly investing in the technology, media, and telecommunications sectors.
"I've seen startup clusters all over the world," says Blank. "But Beijing blew me away. They've built an ecosystem on a scale that puts Boston or Seattle to shame. Beijing compressed 30 years of startup learning into five years."
With its massive 1.3 billion strong population, entrepreneurs in China will be the ones who can identify unmet needs and use their resources to provide services and tools to meet those needs. Entrepreneurs outside of China can only dream of being able to fill gaps in this massive marketplace.
Bottom Line: What do most of these countries have in common? Most of them tend to lack in natural resources and technology has enabled a new way to get ahead of the curve. Their investors are willing to take big risks on science and engineering—a much-needed area where some experts argue that VCs in Silicon Valley aren't willing to do because "the returns take forever."
Still, all of these countries have a lot to prove if they’re going to be the next Silicon Valley, but the fervor in their entrepreneurship spirit is definitely heard and felt.
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Estonia as part of the Baltic Republic. It is one of three Baltic states.
—Vivian Giang most recently launched the entrepreneurship vertical at PolicyMic, where she recruited, edited, and brainstormed story ideas closely with writers. Prior to that, she launched the careers vertical at Business Insider focusing on the evolving office, growing industries, and how technology, education, and the rise of freelancers play a role in the future workplace.