Exploring the Finnish Innovation- and Startup-Ecosystem
I explored the Finnish innovation and startup ecosystem on the ground in Helsinki and gained some interesting experiences and insights. Read more in this post.
This is MadeMeThink.xyz – A weekly newsletter for visionaries, innovators and critical thinkers exploring the world of tomorrow. Written by Prof. Thomas Metzler, Ph.D.
This MadeMeThink last week…
In the last issue of MadeMeThink, I wrote about my experiences and insights regarding the Estonian innovation and startup ecosystem (check it out). Today, I'm focusing on what I learned about the Finnish startup and innovation ecosystem during my exploratory trip to Helsinki.
Finnish startup and innovation ecosystem…
The Finnish startup and innovation ecosystem has developed tremendously over the past 10 years. But Finland has probably not always been a founder-friendly country, as Henrietta Hietala from Startup Sauna points out in her presentation with the following quote from a Finnish University Professor dating back to 2008:
“Being an entrepreneur is the worst thing you could do with your life.” - Finnish University Professor back in 2008 👀🥶
That same year, 2008, the first Slush - now one of the largest startup conferences in the world - was held with a small crowd. The goal: to support startup founders in their activities and to positively influence the attitude towards entrepreneurship in Finland. And the attitude towards entrepreneurship has changed drastically over the years, as Jami Suominen from Slush points out in his presentation. 👏👏👏
Perhaps the rather reluctant attitude towards startups at that time had something to do with the success of Nokia, a leading global tech player back then, which certainly managed to attract a lot of Finnish talent. In 2000, Nokia was responsible for 4% of Finland’s GDP, 21% of Finland’s exports, and it accounted for 70% of the market cap of HKI stock exchange 🧐🧐🧐 I think it is self-explanatory that this success came with a risk to the Finnish economy. And perhaps it was the collapse of Nokia that sparked the Finnish startup scene's development.
But how big is the Finnish startup scene today? There is no government data on how many startups are active in Finland, but Youssef Zad (Chief Economist at Finnish Startup Community) estimates that there are probably around 4,000 Finnish Startups. What we do know for certain is that there are 11 Finnish Unicorns (see below).
And investments in Finnish startups have increased massively in recent years. In 2022, approximately 1.8 billion euros were invested in Finnish startups (see below). According to Djorde Rodriguez (Maria01), Finnish startups attract the most VC investment in Europe as a percentage of GDP (0.320% of GDP).
One startup hotspot in Helsinki that has certainly contributed positively to this development is Maria01. Maria01 is a former hospital that has been transformed into a huge startup hub with 20,000 square meters of available space (and the plan is to expand this even further to 70,000 square meters). Currently, more than 170 startups and 1,500 people are based in Maria01. From 2016 to 2022, Maria01 startups have raised 715 million euros in 352 funding rounds. Although Finland and Maria01 are certainly a vibrant location for startups, their typical barriers to growth are not significantly different from other regions (see below).
However, Finnish entrepreneurs pride themselves on being good at dealing with resistance and barriers; there's even a word for it: “Sisu”:
Sisu is a Finnish concept that is deeply ingrained in the country's culture and character. It doesn't have a direct translation in English, but Sisu is about having a level of endurance that goes beyond the norm, an ability to keep fighting after others might have quit, and a resilience that enables people to push through extraordinary circumstances, particularly in the face of significant adversity or against the odds.
The concept of sisu has a significant place in Finnish culture, influencing both personal and national identity and, of course, also the identity of entrepreneurs.
There would be so much more to say about the Finnish startup and innovation ecosystem, but I don't want to blow up your inbox with this newsletter issue. Below I would like to share a few more impressions from my journey, beyond startup and innovation topics.
A few more impressions and fun facts...
Finland in October was really cold. I mean, I’m used to a lot, because I am from Austria, but the cold wind in Helsinki was even hard for me. So I was not surprised to hear that there are 3 million saunas in Finland with 5.5 million inhabitants. Saunas are everywhere, at the university, in the student apartment, in the startup space, even in the parliament. But no wonder with the cold weather 🥶🥶🥶
However, the weather did not surprise me. What I didn't expect, though, was that Finland has been ranked No. 1 in the World Happiness Report for five years in a row. That surprised me. I had rather associated Finland with winter depression due to the below-average sunny days. But even the Finns I've asked about it are puzzling over how that result came about. I guess I'll have to explore that topic in more detail on my next visit to Finland.
What else? An interesting detail that I noticed in passing. Our bus driver had an Alkomat next to his steering wheel. When asked about this, he reported that he always has to take a breathalyzer test when the bus is switched off for five minutes, and if he has over 0 alcohol promille, the bus doesn't start. I think that's a good thing. Apparently, this will be rolled out across Europe in the future (even for normal car drivers).
But with the prices of alcohol in Finland is better to stay sober anyway. 12.60 euros for a pint of Guinness is, even if expected, a steep price 🙈🥶 But the pubs and clubs were very nice and the atmosphere was always great.
However, with the hefty prices of alcoholic beverages, it's better to go out to eat instead of partying ;) And Finnish cuisine is delicious. I tried various dishes, from lightly salted reindeer to Baltic herring, everything tasted very good.
Well, that was it now (almost)... below you find some more impressions.
To recap this trip, I created a short video with some footage from my Innovation Ecosystem Explorers study tour to Tallinn and Helsinki. Have fun watching it :)
A word of gratitude…
Our trip to Tallinn could not have taken place without the support of Advantage Austria. For those who don't know Advantage Austria, it is the trade promotion organization of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber. With over 100 offices in 70 countries, Advantage Austria supports businesses from Austria in their global ventures. After the United States, Austria has the second largest trade promotion organization in the world 👀🔥 Many thanks to Martin Glatz and Henry Anttonen for their fantastic support with this trip. Cheers also to my university (FHV- Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences) for making this course possible as part of the elective program. And last but not least, thanks to the students for joining in and exploring the startup- and innovation ecosystems of Tallinn and Helsinki together with me!
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Disclaimer: The thoughts published in this publication are my personal opinion and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation for any type of action. I am not a financial expert. The startups or corporates highlighted in the newsletter have caught my interest. This mention is not an endorsement or recommendation to engage with them. Readers should always do their own research.