TENS of thousands of businesses, including a growing number in the UK, have taken advantage of a way to beat Brexit by setting up electronically in a small Baltic country – and their number is growing steadily.

From the comfort of their home countries, they have become part of Estonia’s e-Residency programme, which started in late 2014 in one of the world’s most digitised societies.

Last year, despite the economic and social havoc caused by Covid-19, the number of e-Residency applications grew by almost 13,000 taking the number of e-residents to more than 62,000.

“E-residents started 3350 companies with the majority being in sectors including IT and communications, professional, scientific and technical services, trade and commerce, and finance and insurance,” said the programme’s Hannah Brown. “The e-Residency Marketplace added 19 new service providers offering everything from company establishment and bookkeeping, to legal and country-focused tax consulting services and PR, marketing and sales support.”

Vicky Brock and her husband Stephen Budd, along with entrepreneur Alan Murray, developed a free online tool that works in a similar way to anti-virus software, instead detecting threats to consumers rather than computers.

Developed in conjunction with Police Scotland and HMRC, it has been embedded on the websites of Trading Standards Scotland and national advice service consumeradvice.scot.

It also features an extension for the Chrome browser and has picked up fake coronavirus testing kits, home-made sanitiser and “miracle” cures for coronavirus.

Fake products include food, batteries, electrical equipment, toys, medicines and beauty products and their dangers are well known. Because they are untested, they can pose fire or health risks and their production is frequently linked to organised crime.

The company Vistalworks operates from Estonia, and speaking from the snow-covered capital Tallinn, Brock, told The National: “We’re a Glasgow based start-up and used e-residency to plan our Brexit strategy. Our team are all Scotland based, but Stephen and I are currently over here to get our EU office set up.

“I personally think Estonia/Scotland is a perfect tech start-up pairing, even if in 2021 I shall probably spend more time here than there, having taken temporary residency here, so we can work in our Estonian company from inside the EU without restrictions.

“We’ve been planning the Estonian company for almost the entire life of the UK company, but delayed pressing the button on fully resourcing it until it was clear there was no deal for fintech and service companies, and that we’d need to think about both UK and EU operations to effectively keep trading.”

Another “Brexit refugee” is Mark Izatt, a Scottish marketer based in London, who wanted options to keep his company Mission Critical within the EU after the UK voted to leave the bloc in 2016.

He said: “My e-Residency was born out of three things: one was Brexit, two was just aligning with a dynamic and advanced country, and three, as I have learned, e-Residency is much more convenient. It is easier to run my company in Estonia than it is here in the UK.”

Brock added: “We’re continuing to grow the Scotland company too, but were it not for Brexit I wouldn’t be Estonian. I probably would not have even been to Estonia, and that would have been my loss.”