Draper, Singularity etc. Estonians intrude unusual “universities”

A dozen Estonians have gone through a risk investors $ 9,000 costing startup boot camp.

US risk investor Tim Draper has invested into companies such as Skype and Tesla, and he also has eResidency. His personality and business ideology are so attractive that only four years after establishing Draper University around dozen young Estonians have gone through this Silicon Valley based bootcamp. Although named university, Draper’s seven-week training program isn’t a academic educational institution. Students meet with other entrepreneurs and investors seven days a week. And Draper himself also participates the highlight of the boot camp – a one week long survival camp in the wild nature.

If one would currently check Draper’s website, then there’s a big photo of an Estonian, 22-year-old Sander Gansen. Gansen underwent Draper’s program, costing $ 9,000 (about 8,550 Euros), in the summer of 2015. After reaching to Silicon Valley, 70 students from different nationalities were divided into teams of six, who had to solve various tasks as a team and individually – present their business ideas (startups call it pitching) and share contacts. Study days lasted late into the night.

“Most people went up there with the expectation that you get to spend a lot time developing your startup. Actually that’s not true,” said Gansen. “People only had time to develop their startups after ten o’clock in the evening. Another thing that people assumed was that they’d get a lot of one-on-one time with Tim and other entrepreneurs. It’s possible but you need to be active. Attention must be taken.”

“In reality, you’re paying for a very expensive conference and if you don’t do anything yourself, you’ll not get anything.”

Kaili Kleemeier went through Draper’s online program a year and a half ago, and she’s also one of the featured program graduates. She agrees that the participants get what they go looking for. “You can learn from the real people and real experiences,” she said. “And Draper is spreading around the world – one can’t say that it’d be somehow more special for Estonians to participate the program, it just might be more conceious choice amongst us. We want to learn, how to be more successful with startups. “Kleemeier, who previously worked for Skype, is now engaged with her startup Deekit, which is an online whiteboard for remote teams.

Gansen is very satisfied with the Silicon Valley’s experience. After returning to Estonia, he was invited to teach entrepreneurship at the University of Tartu, Univeristy of Tartu’s Pärnu College and the Viljandi Culture Academy. At the same time, he joined his father’s team to develop a startup named Shipitwise that brings together all logistics companies and allows, for example, a tourist in Bologna to transport a purchased antiques chair to home without needing to do anythign else but fill Shipitwise’s form.

It’s mainly about getting extra energy

It’s easy to find criticism about Draper’s venture – that the Hero City or heroes campus established by the famous Silicon Valley’s investor is more like a marketing campaign than a useful training program. “In reality, you’re paying for a very expensive conference and if you don’t do anything yourself, you’ll not get anything. It seems to me many people just went there, waiting for a miracle to happen,” explained Gansen. “In business, we must be ready to make another step, even if it’s very uncomfortable. This is something anyone can learn by observing Tim,” said Gansen. “And above all, one goes there to get extra energy, rather than knowledge.”

“You’ll not become an ENGINEER who builds NANOBOTs, but you can learn how they are working.”

Draper University is far from the only program that offers intensive short-term alternative to academic education. In 2012, Karoli Hindriks underwent a completely different “university”, Singularity University’s program. In ten weeks, six days a week, 14-16 hours a day 80 chosen ones got to listen to lectures on technological progress in various fields – be it food, medicine, or the discovery of space. Cross-peaks gave reports on the technologies used in these areas and what are the likely trends.

“You’ll not become an engineer who builds nanobots, but you can learn how they are working,” said Hindriks. Singularity University in California operates in the NASA research center. “You’re a pal with everyone in NASA’s base – already that’s pretty cool,” chuckled Hindriks.

Karoli Hindriks tegi kahe aasta eest läbi Singularity University programmi, kust saab indu arendada tehnoloogilisi lahendusi, mis võiksid miljardi inimese elu paremaks muuta. Foto: Eero Vabamägi (EPL-i arhiiv)

If Draper University calls itself a business boot camp, then Singularity promises to provide participants with the strength and skill to develop technological solutions that make life better for a billion people. “At Singularity, you discover that the business and social entrepreneurship, as well as charity aren’t so different at all. It certainly helped to think about how I can improve the planet Earth with my actions,” said Karoli Hindriks.

“Traditional education is moving more and more towards that when a person goes to university, then by the time he’ll graduate his qualifications have already expired and there’s no more need for such knowledge,” said Hindriks. “Therefore, there’s many boot camp’s, 12-week short programs. It’s also much more efficient and more intensive training – at Singularity I just fell into bed every night. The education I got from there’s not academic but it gives a broad picture and a strong network. No matter where I’ll end up, there’s someone from the Singularity’s network there to help me.”


Draper University’s participation fee’s rather: $9,500 last year, already $12,000 this year. Admittedly, because of the lower standard of living, most Estonians can get a discount. Also, Sander Gansen haggle’s $2,500 off his participation fee by promising to market the program in his blog. But even $7,000 was quite a large sum. He was able to get another $1,000 dollars using a global crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo. And then he also gathered the emails of all Estonian startup CEO’s and law firms to send a personal request for them to support his “university studies”. Doing that, Gansen was able to get both money and fame – rumors of his mission began to spread. “So before I went to the Draper, most Estonian startups’ executives had heard my name. And some also knew my face,”Gansen was satisfied.

Article is written by Teele Tammeorg and was first published in Estonian on 1st of July in Estonian newspaper named Eesti Päevaleht: http://epl.delfi.ee/news/eesti/draper-singularity-jt-eestlased-tikuvad-ebatavalistesse-ulikoolidesse?id=74948323

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