Advantages of starting a company in Helsinki

A discussion about the startup ecosystem in Helsinki with speakers: Pia Santavirta, managing director of Finnish Venture Capital Association; Ekaterina Gianelli from Inventure; Ville Simola, CEO of startup campus Maria01; and Emma Lehikoinen, Chief Operating Officer at Swappie

4 min read

Carmen Nguyen

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Navigating Helsinki’s startup ecosystem

Insights from 90 Day Finn participants

They say preparation is the key to success. And when you’re planning to move to a new country and immerse yourself in its business life – like the participants of the 90 Day Finn programme– you want to guarantee your success.

That’s why Helsinki Partners organises virtual events for the 15 participants ahead of the programme to equip them with the information that helps them integrate into the business ecosystem in Helsinki upon their arrival in August.

The first of the sessions introduced the participants to the startup ecosystem in Helsinki. Speakers were invited from different sides of the ecosystem: Pia Santavirta, managing director of Finnish Venture Capital Association, Ekaterina Gianelli partner at Inventure, Ville Simola, CEO of startup campus Maria01, and Emma Lehikoinen, Chief Operating Officer at Swappie.

Exploring the Vibrant Present of Finnish Startups

Recent successes among Finnish startups include heavy hitters like Wolt, IQM, Swappie, Wirepas, Spinnova, and Sulapac.

And they are not isolated cases, Finnish startups attract the most venture capital in Europe adjusted to GDP, two times the European average. Foreign capital plays a key role here as half of the investments in Finnish startups come from outside of the country.

Investors in Finland are also a diverse group. The VC companies range from private to public and from general to sector-specific, and investors are looking for interesting startups in all stages, from seed to venture. There is also an active angel investor network. “All these investors are critical to boosting the ecosystem of the Finnish startups,” says Pia Santavirta, managing director of Finnish Venture Capital Association.

Advantages of Starting a Company in Finland

An easygoing startup ecosystem

“Finland is a great place to start a company,” affirms Ekaterina Gianelli, partner at Ekaterina Inventure one of the most experienced Nordic venture funds. She lists reasons that simplify the founding process: there’s lots of capital, no bureaucracy, plenty of talent, English is widely spoken, and the public sector supports new companies. She remarks that the small domestic market can also be an advantage for international companies as they have to aim for the European market and solving global problems from the beginning.

The startup ecosystem in Helsinki is also a pleasant environment. Emma Lehikoinen, Chief Operating Officer at Swappie mentions a few reasons: the availability of international talent means that hiring staff with specific skills – e.g. speakers of minority languages – is easy, the city is family-friendly, and the small ecosystem is easy to navigate. “Everyone’s eager to help. There’s this sharing and learning aspect, it’s easy to talk to people,” she says.

Ville Simola, CEO of startup campus Maria01 agrees. “We’re a community first,” he states, describing the Maria01 campus. With its focus on impact and responsibility and a mission to help early-stage startups, it is only fitting that the campus is located in the old premises of a hospital.

Responsibility and Sustainability

Both environmental and social responsibility surface in the discussion repeatedly. Maria01 has taken concrete actions to promote diversity, and it is one of the evaluation criteria in company applications. “It can be seen in statistics that teams that have more diversity – different knowledge, cultural background, expertise – can make better results,” Ville Simola says.

Gianelli agrees. “People are realizing that diversity is a sign of good business,” she says. She finds that the companies creating a positive societal change are the most interesting ones. They address issues such as the pressures of an aging society, loneliness, and climate change.

“We feel it’s our responsibility as investors to support the positive change of the society and these types of companies we are looking at,” she says. “In the Nordics, we have a lot of solid companies.”

The mainstream interest in the environment is one of the reasons Swappie, who sell refurbished consumer electronic products, has remained in Helsinki. “In Finland, people are very focused on sustainability,” Lehikoinen says, “so that has made Finland a very good test market for us.”

Ready to Make a Positive Contribution in Helsinki

Making a positive contribution in their environment is important for the 90 Day Finn participants. They will undoubtedly help the startup ecosystem in Helsinki develop, and benefit from the relationship in turn. Next fall, we will see what shape this cooperation takes when the participants arrive – well prepared.

This panel discussion was organised on March 29th, 2021, as part of the virtual programme for the 90 Day Finn Programme.

Interested in the 90 Day Finn Programme?

The 90 Day Finn Programme brings together forward-thinking professionals from around the globe. This unique opportunity is designed to help you grow your business and make valuable connections in Helsinki.

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Juhana Hurtig