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Boosting Innovation Through Hassle-free Talent Relocation


By Catherine Jewell, Information and Digital Outreach Division, WIPO

Meet the CEO of Jobbatical, Karoli Hindriks. She is on a mission to make talent relocation a seamless and hassle-free experience. In the face of the biggest talent shortage in history, Jobbatical is creating opportunities for businesses to access the high-caliber talent they need to thrive and for governments to address prospective labor shortages resulting from aging populations and other factors.

We can all create ideas that change the world.

How did your innovation journey begin?

In a student project at school, we had to set up a company and develop a new product. During our brainstorming sessions, I had the idea to create fashionable reflectors to clip onto cloths and other accessories. They looked super cool in the daytime but could save your life at night. It turned out to be a unique idea. I told my late father about it. He was really supportive and encouraged me to patent it. So that’s what I did. In so doing, I became the youngest inventor in Estonia. I actually built my first company around that invention. That experience shifted something in me. I realized that my idea could make a difference and that you don’t actually need to be super smart or have a lot of money to change the world. We can all create ideas that change the world.

My aim as a female founder is to show that it’s perfectly possible for a woman to build a successful company, and in so doing, help change that mindset and the world.

What prompted you to set up Jobbatical?

Karoli Hindriks (above) is making it easier for companies
to access the brainpower they need to grow, thereby
enabling innovation and creating more opportunities
for countries to win in the global talent competition.
(Photo: Erland_Staub 53)

In 2012, I was in California, and while running one day, I started wondering why is it that the game-changing Googles of the world are located in California? After some reflection, I realized that it’s not that people in Silicon Valley are smarter, it’s that smart people move there and help build these companies. Then I started thinking about what we had to do to entice these people to places like Tallinn, Stockholm, and Kuala Lumpur. At first, in late 2014, with Jobbatical, we created a community of borderless, highly skilled people and introduced them to founders and companies in those locations. In that process, we learned that the biggest problem facing employers was not hiring the talent but actually getting them into the country.

So in 2019, we pivoted and started building a technology platform around the immigration and relocation process. Today, we are fully operational in eight countries: Estonia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the UK, and the US, and can relocate to 17 other countries. Over the next two years, we’ll be expanding our on-the-ground operations to 30 new countries.

What is driving demand for these services?

There is a huge appetite for them. We’re growing insanely fast because of two tailwinds. First, we’re facing the biggest talent shortage in human history, because of an ageing population, education mismatches and other factors. Hiring talent has always been difficult and will become insanely hard. Forecasts suggest that by 2050, Germany will need 7 million people to meet its labor requirements and countries like Brazil, Indonesia and Japan will each need around 18 million people to do so by 2030. Those people exist somewhere, but you have be able to get them into these countries. And that is what Jobbatical is working to solve.

We’re facing the biggest talent shortage in human history.

The second tailwind is digital nomadism. In this post-pandemic era, employees know they can work remotely. And faced with talent shortages, employers, especially large tech companies, are becoming increasingly flexible with respect to where their employees work. Many see a work visa as a new perk; talent can choose where they live and work with the assurance that their employer will clear all immigration issues. That’s a whole new market opportunity.

Karoli Hindriks sees digital nomadism as a whole new market opportunity. (Photo: Vasil Dimitrov / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Some countries are embracing digital nomad visas. Is Jobbatical involved in this process?

In some cases, yes. We actually created the world’s first digital nomad visa in collaboration with the Government of Estonia. Now other countries, like Spain, are following. That’s good news, because Jobbatical can only help if the relevant policies are in place.

What services does Jobbatical offer?

Our platform automates and removes paper from the immigration/relocation process, making it a seamless, hassle-free experience for businesses and their employees. Imagine you’re relocating from the US to Germany. We integrate with your employer’s platform or they upload your details (e.g. passport details, education certificates) to ours. You then log-on to the platform, which guides you through the whole process. Essentially, we take over from the moment you’re hired or decide to relocate. Our tech-enabled smart system extracts information from your documents and automatically completes the relevant forms. Our support team is there to help with any problems. You and your employer simply track the process. We do everything else.

Why did you decide to set up in Estonia?

Estonia is a fully digital country and offers a magnificent user experience. I set up my company within 10 minutes from a cafe while drinking a cappuccino. It’s just so easy. You don’t have to waste time on bureaucracy. That’s the main reason. But I also wanted to demonstrate that it could be done in a country like Estonia.

How did you come up with the name Jobbatical?

You guessed! It’s a combination of “job” and “sabbatical.” Back in 2014, people saw a job as a boring routine thing you had to do, with an opportunity every few years to take a sabbatical, live your dream and travel the world. I predicted that in the future, people would want to work remotely from the location of their choice on topics that interested them. And now we’re seeing that play out. Today work is “jobbatical.” People are choosing to work with employers that reflect their values, and because talent is in short supply, they can demand the flexibility they want to live their dream.

I remember the exact moment I coined “jobbatical.” It was two in the morning, my one-year old daughter was sleeping, I typed “jobbatical” into Google and nothing came up. That was great news. Everything “jobbatical” is created by the company. That’s our intellectual property (IP).

Jobbatical’s platform automates and removes paper from the immigration/relocation process, making it a seamless, hassle-free experience for businesses and their employees. (Photo: metamorworks / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

What role does IP play in your business?

We are a technology platform, so IP plays a very big role for us. Much of the future our investors invest in is the IP we have built. Our IP enables us to attract investors, stand out among our competitors and maintain our competitive advantage.

How is Jobbatical supporting the creation of innovation ecosystems?

We are moving brilliant people from one country to another, opening up completely new opportunities for them and the companies they work for. They get to do the work they want to do and the employers gain access to brainpower they need to grow. It’s a win-win. We’re essentially removing the friction of labor mobility. When you do that, you enable innovation and create more opportunities for countries to win in the global talent competition.

We are moving brilliant people from one country to another, opening up completely new opportunities for them and the companies they work for.

What are the potential economic gains from facilitating the global mobility of talent?

The scale of the talent shortage today means that the economies of the countries who are able to attract talent are winning. It’s as simple as that. By removing the friction of labor mobility you make it easier for people to enter your job market and contribute to your economy. Countries that remove labor mobility friction enable their companies to focus their time and energy on building their business rather than on navigating wasteful bureaucratic processes.

The scale of the talent shortage today means that the economies of the countries who are able to attract talent are winning.

Siim Sikkut, Estonia’s former Chief Information Officer, estimated that through digitalization, Estonia, a country of 1,3 million people, saves two percent of its GDP every year. That’s equivalent to saving a stack of paper as high as the Eiffel Tower every month. Imagine what larger countries could achieve. By removing paper from the process, we’re making immigration a more efficient and user-friendly experience, and we’re also saving the planet.

What is your vision for the future?

We want to become the one-stop shop for relocation and help remove the friction that currently inhibits labor mobility. Our mission is to make immigration and relocation so affordable and easy that companies and people relocate because we exist. We are working with governments to digitize immigration systems using our technology to save them time and money. Our research shows that embassies around the world spend around one-third of their time responding to queries about the status of their passport and visa applications. Digital passports can address that problem. With our system, passport and visa applications can be processed in hours.

Traditional passports just don’t work for business anymore. In fact, they often discriminate against the countries where highly talented individuals are found. We believe that by digitalizing and tagging information relating to an individual’s passport, talents, and work experience, we can meet employers’ talent needs within hours.

What five lessons you’ve learned on your entrepreneurial journey?

“Traditional passports just don’t work for business
anymore. In fact, it often discriminates against
the countries where highly talented individuals are
found, says Karoli Hindriks.
(Photo: PeopleImages / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

First, it’s important to build a transparent company culture. When your team has the company information they need at the fingertips, they make better decisions.

Second, when you hire people, trust them and give them the freedom to use the power they have to do their work and grow. To build a fast-moving, high-achieving team, you have to embrace failure – that’s part of doing.

Third, you have to build resilience to cope with unforeseen developments. The COVID pandemic was a real test of our resilience.

Four, you have to be an optimist. As Steve Jobs said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” That’s my like tagline.

And five, to be a great leader you have to take care of yourself.

How can government support economic recovery?

The number one thing is to modernize and improve the immigration experience to enable employers to hire better people faster and win in the global competition for talent. There’s a real opportunity in facilitating the process of getting people from A to B. Estonia is a tiny country, but we now have more unicorns per capita – one per every 130,000 people – than any other country, at least in Europe. That’s possible because in Estonia you don’t have to waste time with bureaucracy, you can just build your company.

As the female founder of a company have you experienced gender bias?

Yes, and I’ve become a very strong feminist. Women still face huge bias, especially in the techology world. In 2022, female founders in Europe won just 1 percent of funding.

Also when pitching to funders, the questions we get as female founders tend to focus on risk. If you get questions about risk, you talk about risk, and all investors hear is risk. Whereas with male founders, they more readily talk about opportunity and vision. I now keep that in mind and switch the focus to opportunity where possible. My aim as a female founder is to show that it’s perfectly possible for a woman to build a successful company, and in so doing, help change that mindset and the world.

Women still face huge bias, especially in the techology world. In 2022, female founders in Europe won just 1 percent of funding.

What advice would you have for women aspiring to become inventors or entrepreneurs?

As we build our vision, we will inevitably have successes and failures. Failure is normal and has nothing to do with being a woman. As women, we tend to make ourselves smaller in this big world, but actually the world is much smaller than we think and our ideas are much bigger than we tend to think. We have to find the courage to think bigger and to believe that our ideas can be global.

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