Thumbs up for startups in Finland

In Finland, startups are admired and encouraged. If they get off the ground, everybody wins.

“Establishing a company in Finland is easy and affordable, and if you do it online, it only takes one hour. Getting your company registered may take a while though,” says Ville Heikkinen, cofounder and partner at Butterfly Ventures, a Finnish venture capital firm.

“Butterfly Ventures invests in early stage startups with a technology and science focus. We are looking for fast-growing and scalable startups that have a strong team and good market potential.”

In his work, Heikkinen meets hundreds of new startups and listens to them pitching. He says the industries where Finnish startups have outstanding expertise are medical technology, gaming, artificial intelligence, wireless communication and the Internet of Things.

Strength in technology, modesty in marketing

Portrait of a man standing by a crosswalk, with a moving bus in the background.

Ville Heikkinen of Finnish venture capital firm Butterfly Ventures looks for fast-growing, scalable startups with strong teams and good market potential.Photo Juuso Haarala

Typically, Finnish startups have excellent skills in their own technology, but are less skilled in marketing and sales. Modesty is a Finnish virtue, and praising our own pond does not come naturally to us.

“But the recent years’ efforts to build strong and supportive ecosystems are starting to bear fruit, and occasionally I meet young entrepreneurs who show amazing courage and maturity. The startup mindset is moving from secretive non-disclosure thinking to a more Silicon Valley type of pay it forward attitude where companies help one another,” Heikkinen notes.

Counselling and funding

To get started, you can get counselling from ELY Centres (Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environ­ment). If you come from a country outside the EU you can apply for a Finnish Startup Permit via Business Finland. Once established, you can apply for e.g. Tempo-funding from Business Finland.

“If you have an innovation-driven startup with no revenue stream but potential for fast scalability, you can seek venture capital, whereas SME-driven startups with slower scalability but existing customer revenue can apply for a bank loan,” Heikkinen explains.

Universities and budding entrepreneurs

Portrait of a woman leaning on a tree.

Senior lecturer and project manager Anne Määttä of Kajaani University of Applied Sciences says that foreign students are very welcome in Finland. Her school offers degrees, taught in English, in esports and other subjects.Photo Anu Kovalainen

“The Finnish government is endorsing entrepreneurial education in universities. Innovations and enterprises are fundamental to the success of a sparsely populated country,” says senior lecturer and project manager Anne Määttä of Kajaani University of Applied Sciences (KAMK). Her duties include advising students who want to become entrepreneurs.

“All our students have a mandatory basic business skills study module, on top of which you can opt for a longer business course. Our Young Entrepreneurship Startup studies involve a trial year when you can develop business ideas with mentors. If you decide to set up a business, you can use the services of our Business Accelerator unit, which assists you with funding applications, commercialisation and internationalisation,” Määttä explains.

Määttä says foreign students are most welcome to Finland. “There is a wide choice of academic studies available for them. At KAMK alone, we offer five English-taught degrees, the newest one being esports.”

KAMK has given rise to many gaming spinoffs. The startups in the Kajaani gaming cluster employ a lot of local talent, making them a source of much pride for the region.

By Leena Koskenlaakso, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2019