Why Helsinki became Antler’s next venture capital destination

The amount of funding raised by Finnish startups has increased tenfold over the past decade, and grew to a whopping €1.8 billion in 2022. In the wake of this surge in capital raised, Singapore-based early stage investor Antler was one of the VCs that expanded into Helsinki.

6 min read

  • Helsinki is known for being home to success stories such as Supercell, Europe’s first decacorn, and Wolt, acquired for €7 billion – so it’s no wonder the city has caught the attention of international investors. 
  • In 2023, despite a downturn in startup funding across Europe and the U.S., Helsinki maintained robust seed and early-stage investments, showcasing its resilience and attractiveness as a tech hub. 
  • With its unique operating model, Antler found a new way to attract entrepreneurs and invest in them, and is already recruiting entrepreneurs for its second Antler program in Helsinki.

Founded in 2017, Antler is an early-stage investor that has now launched its operations in Helsinki. Rethinking how early-stage investing is done, the company invests in entrepreneurs pre-team and, in many cases, even pre-idea. Today, Antler partners with entrepreneurs in 28 cities across six continents, and has invested in and helped to create more than 1,000 startups spanning a wide range of industries and technologies. Of these, more than 200 are early-stage startups across the Nordics with a combined value of €640 million.

Since 2019, Antler has expanded its Nordic presence with offices in Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, and, most recently, Helsinki. The team has an ambitious goal of backing more than 6,000 companies by 2030 – and is well on its way to delivering on that promise.

Tapping into Helsinki’s thriving startup scene

Antler’s expansion into Finland comes after the company launched its second Nordic fund, with a target size of €150 million. Their innovative approach to early-stage venture capital provides immediate support and investment, allowing entrepreneurs to receive initial funding early on to help demonstrate their potential. This significantly lowers barriers to entry. 

We have noticed that the talent pool in the Finnish startup scene is highly experienced. We are starting to have more and more entrepreneurs who have already built one successful venture, and are now onto a next one.

Antti Törmänen, Partner at Antler

“Think VC meets Y Combinator meets accelerator, but with two main points of differentiation: the talent is not required to have found a suitable co-founder or even a well-polished business idea at the outset. Entrepreneurs relocating to Helsinki are even provided a stipend to allow them to test their business idea,” says Jussi Kallasvuo, Partner at Antler.

Both Kallasvuo and Antti Törmänen, the two Partners leading Antler’s team and investments in Helsinki, believe that a well-established startup ecosystem makes it easy for investors to settle in Helsinki. Besides the wide talent pool, specific support systems available to startups include networking events and regulatory support.

“We have noticed that the talent pool in the Finnish startup scene is highly experienced. We are starting to have more and more entrepreneurs who have already built one successful venture, and are now onto a next one,” Törmänen continues.

Accelerating impact-led innovation in Helsinki 

Finland has a dynamic startup ecosystem, characterised by innovation, government support, and a strong tech focus. According to Kallasvuo and Törmänen, Antler’s second fund is generalist but has special focus on impact startups, especially those working on climate tech solutions. 

“In addition to the fact that there are major underlying megatrends supporting the growth of impact startups, I think people are generally very impact conscious in the Nordic countries. We see Finland as the best place to build deep tech products that go hand in hand with impact since trial and error here is less capital intensive than, for instance, in the U.S.,” Kallasvuo explains. 

“Followed by impact, deep tech is now the most funded segment in Helsinki. Finland boasts strong public-private collaborations and substantial VC investment in high-tech sectors like AI and quantum computing,” Törmänen adds.

We see Finland as the best place to build deep tech products that go hand in hand with impact since trial and error here is less capital intensive than, for instance, in the U.S.

Jussi Kallasvuo, Partner at Antler

Finland leads the way in Europe’s innovation race, and could be the Nordic’s next big unicorn factory. Thanks to significant government incentives for R&D, collaborative business environment, and strategic location between east and west, Helsinki’s VC investment ecosystem is growing faster than in London and Paris

High rank in the Talent Competitiveness Index, small but dynamic startup ecosystem, and one of the lowest corporate tax rates in Europe makes Finland an easily accessible gateway to Europe. Several international VCs have started their European expansion from Finland, taking advantage of the country’s strong entrepreneurial spirit, technological know-how, and forward-thinking mindset. 

Already 50 founders building new Helsinki-born startups

Antler in Finland is currently running its first cohort with 50 founders chosen from 1,050 applicants. Two first-time founders, Christa Schauman and Anna Klaile, are currently taking part in the first Antler program in Finland, designed to generate future startups. Schauman and Klaile are working on a platform for smooth scheduling for busy people. 

“The Antler program has been a great crash course, as well as a major confidence boost. I truly enjoy the pay-it-forward culture in the Helsinki startup ecosystem that prioritises social collaboration, problem-solving and idea-sharing,” says Schauman.

“Finland needs even more innovation and female entrepreneurship, and that is why we are here. Whether you have a crystal clear idea to get started or not, with Antler you can work on developing it much faster than alone. Antti and Jussi have been invaluable sparring partners,” says Klaile. 

Program participants come from all walks of life, with different educational backgrounds and career trajectories. Some are first-time entrepreneurs while others are more seasoned founders building their next ventures.

Finland needs even more innovation and female entrepreneurship, and that is why we are here. Whether you have a crystal clear idea to get started or not, with Antler you can work on developing it much faster than alone. Antti and Jussi have been invaluable sparring partners

Anna Klaile, Antler program participant in Finland

Niklas Slotte has been an entrepreneur most of his working life, and is now creating a solution for streamlining onboarding processes in large organisations. 

“Even with two decades of entrepreneurship experience, it can still be hard to access the right people. With Antler’s network and massive HR operations, it is notably easier to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs. What’s more, their playbooks and templates to support launching venture-backed startups have been very useful,” says Slotte. 

Beyond strategic and financial benefits, Helsinki is home to a lively cultural scene, oddball architecture, and urban sauna traditions. Entrepreneurs are choosing Helsinki due to work-life balance, proximity to nature, and family friendliness – some of the reasons why Finland is the world’s happiest nation for the seventh year in a row.

Ready to build a game-changing company in Helsinki?

No founder, whether an individual or a team, is too early-stage for Antler. Applications are now open for the next Antler program in Finland. As Europe’s most active early-stage investor, Antler is looking for business operators, technologists, or serial entrepreneurs working on groundbreaking ideas. 

“We want to have as diverse groups as possible, creating a balance between tech, business and science backgrounds. In Helsinki, we have 15 nationalities represented, and we’ve been systematically working on the share of female founders which is now at 30%,” Törmänen says. 

Some of Antler’s best-known cases include Airalo, the world’s first eSIM store providing global pre-paid mobile data connectivity for international travellers, and Reebelo, a marketplace for buying and selling refurbished devices and lifestyle products. Airalo has raised over $57 million so far, and Reebelo over $42 million. While Antler’s Nordic portfolio is still quite young, they have seen significant funding rounds and are confident about continuing their global success across the Nordics. In April 2024, the very first investment in the Finnish Antler operations was made for Daze, a company revolutionising online returns. 

In Helsinki, we have 15 nationalities represented, and we’ve been systematically working on the share of female founders which is now at 30%,

Antti Törmänen, Partner at Antler

“With a global platform and a community of over 1,000 portfolio companies, we will help companies become international faster in terms of client, investor, and talent acquisition. If there’s one thing we can promise, it’s that starting a company will not be lonely in Helsinki!” Kallasvuo says.

The second Antler program will start in August 2024 in Helsinki.

Investors new to Helsinki?

Helsinki Partners offers comprehensive, personalised support services for international VC funds and LP companies, free of charge. Whether you are a VC ready to explore the Nordics or a LP interested in the outstanding performance of Finnish VC funds, Helsinki Partners is happy to help you get started.

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