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Photo courtesy of The Foundation for Estonian Arts and Letters

It was sometime in mid-December, and my wife had just gotten home from a Board meeting for The Foundation for Estonian Arts & Letters, the nonprofit that is responsible for helping to keep Estonian culture alive in New York, and the U.S. at large.

She’d just come from one of the first planning sessions for the NY Eesti Kultuuripäevad, or Cultural Days; a celebration that is put on annually here in New York City, when she asked me with a knowing smile, “Do you want to do something with startups in April as part of the event?”

Fast-forward three months and that little question that was met with an initially hesitant yes, had evolved into a truly special event called ‘Innovating Disruption at the 59th Parallel.’

Little did I know when I started down the path as a first-time event organizer that it would turn into the largest Estonian startup event ever put on in New York, or anywhere in the U.S. for that matter.

I’m very proud of what was accomplished on April 3rd, and am immensely thankful to our supporters, sponsors and hosts, everyone who traveled more than 4000 miles to participate, those who came and joined us here from New York; and of course each and every person who showed up to learn more about this amazing country and the powerhouse tech ecosystem that it’s birthed.

As a native New Yorker who found his way abroad to Estonia, where I lived and worked for almost 4 years, I’ve made it a point to keep a solid footing in both places since returning back to the States in late 2014.

Today, it often feels as though if the words "New York, Estonia, and startups" manage to make their way into the same sentence, there's a good chance I either am involved – or will be soon – having naturally become a connector between both places, and I'm so pleased to have been able to be the one to have built this bridge between both of my homes.

The Estonia I know and love is an open, international hub that excels at connecting innovation centers around the world and is itself an endless supply of innovative disruption and positive change.

And it was an amazing experience to find myself breathing life into this event, taking it from an idea to a successful first step towards fostering more cooperation and new business opportunities between the tech and investment communities of Estonia and New York.

This year, and with two and a half months of active planning and prep, we managed to have 28 people fly in to join us, with more than 20 Estonian startups and supporting organizations represented.

This is certainly only the first of this event series, and plans for the second annual event are already in the works - which promises even more amazing teams of all stages, and opportunities to connect and explore new deals, new tech, and new innovations from the 59th parallel.

And while I may have been a solo-organizer this year, none of it would have been possible without the generous support and sponsorship of those who believed early on in the importance of making this happen.

To Google, SAP, the Consulate General of Estonia in New York, Enterprise Estonia and the Estonian Investment Agency, Startup Estonia and the EU Regional Development Fund, and the Foundation for Estonian Arts & Letters… I owe all of you a debt of gratitude for your belief in me, your support in making that wonderful day a reality, and for sharing a vision for a more open and accessible world that can create new opportunities and expand possibilities.

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be able to show off Estonia, its business environment, its startup ecosystem, and the amazing people, resources and organizations that help to support what has truly become Silicon Valley’s best-kept secret unicorn hatchery.

And I can’t wait to work with everyone again next year as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Estonian Cultural Days in New York!


James York is the founder and president of Oscar Diggs Digital, a boutique marketing agency and consultancy based in New York City.


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