Founder and Executive VP of Growth at HappyOrNot
Heikki Väänänen is Founder and Executive VP of Growth at HappyOrNot, the Smiley reporting system servicing 4,000 companies including Heathrow Airport, McDonald’s, and Amazon. HappyOrNot has received 1.5 billion feedbacks in 135 countries. Heikki also held several board member roles, including Chairman of FutureBoard - an association that connects entrepreneurs in Finland.
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Disclaimer: all content within the Startup Ecosystem Summary and Editor’s Guide sections is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the guest editor. The guest editor is not responsible for content within the Country Snapshot and Community sections, as much of this content is compiled from external sources and does not necessarily reflect the guest editor’s view.
Finland’s startup ecosystem has a great deal going for it. We are bigger and more-developed when compared to several of our neighbors, with many startup companies now entering the growth-phase of $0.5-$10m. Our gaming startup sector is certainly a strong part of this, with figurehead gaming brands producing some of the best-known and best-selling games in the world (did you know Angry Birds hails from Finland?).
The Finnish government has for some time offered strong support to technology companies, investors, and entrepreneurs (dating back to before our days of pioneering communications technology, when tech startups like Nokia grew to become global brands).
We also benefit from the innovative culture and society shared by other Nordic countries. There is a prevalence here of qualified engineers, developers, and other tech-focused career professionals, both those hailing from Finland and those drawn to Finnish companies from throughout the Baltic region and beyond.
The unique Finnish disposition also suits itself well to technology innovation and entrepreneurship. We are, by and large, a diligent, focused, inquisitive, and quirky country – and that definitely works for us.
The outlook is bright for Finland’s ecosystem, for several reasons.
For one thing, within five years we will see many Finnish-born companies hitting the landmarks of 100 employees and/or 10m revenue (some at the same time). We are at that neat stage of being on the threshold of a lot of startups hitting those kind of sizes at similar times.
In my opinion, the quality of startups entering the market has improved in recent years, too. This could be due to various innovation industries becoming more established, and entrepreneurship becoming more fashionable here. Whatever the reason, our tech is smarter and our ideas better than ever before.
One challenge is our fairly small market due to our population (around 5.5m). Another, which we need to overcome, is the brain-drain that we do suffer to an extent, with the USA, UK, Sweden, Russia, and mainland Europe all being appealing destinations for Finnish-born tech workers.
Our other challenges are fairly idiosyncratic to Finland, I would say. Our language is a fascinating and unique one – but it’s also tough to learn, and while we have many very good English-speakers here, the Finnish language barrier can be a factor in attracting talent and doing business. We are also perhaps less canny at nationally branding ourselves than our neighbors. We Finns are typically an introverted sort, and our national identity doesn’t always translate as quickly to our commercial brands as some countries.
Finland’s size and societal closeness present great opportunities for us, though. We have a very strong community of entrepreneurs, with close relationships facilitating knowledge-sharing, recruitment, attracting investment, and networking.
Editor’s choice of the country’s top 10 emerging tech startups.
Health & Wellness
Health & Wellness
Editor’s pick of which ‘Featured Startup’ is especially worth following and why.
Editor’s choice of the industries with the most potential for technology disruption and growth.
Editor’s perspective of the maturity level of talent in the ecosystem.
Editor’s commentary on how the country’s culture and history have impacted the ecosystem.
Finland, geographically and historically, lies at an intersection of different cultures. We are Nordic, but we are also Baltic. We are Arctic, but we are also European. This complex identity makes us a nation where many ideas and influences meet, and certainly, in my mind, contributes to our success as innovators and entrepreneurs.
A unique Finnish term – one that doesn’t have a direct English translation – is sisu. Sisu is a multifaceted concept, but can vaguely be summarized as ‘grit and stoicism in the face of adversity’, or ‘perseverance when the odds are against you’. Hailing from our country of freezing winters and wild nature, sisu encapsulates braveness and resilience in the face of adversity, and I think for sure is a common hallmark of Finnish entrepreneurs and business-leaders. It’s actually a term we’ve seen crossing into business terminology in Finland and beyond, especially as our tech and gaming startup scenes rise to prominence.
Interested in becoming more involved in this ecosystem and connecting with local ecosystem leaders? Let us know.
Conor Venture Partners (Espoo): Conor invests in early stage technology companies with the potential and drive to become global winners in their industry categories. Our core expertise lies in designing the optimal business models, go-to-market plans and scaling strategies that unleash the potential of innovative technologies and engineering expertise. (Source: Conor VC)
Finnish Business Angels Network - FiBAN (Helsinki): FiBAN is a Finnish, national, non-profit association inspiring private startup investments. It is one of the biggest angel networks in Europe and one of very few national networks with over 600 approved business angels. (Source: FiBAN)
Icebreaker VC (Helsinki): Manages €70 million with its latest fund being €50M closed in April 2020. Icebreaker invests €150k - 800k in Finnish, Swedish and Estonian software-driven companies in angel and early seed stages. (Source: Icebreaker VC)
Maki.vc (Helsinki): Maki.vc is an early-stage venture capital firm partnering with deep tech & brand-driven companies obsessed with challenging category norms.
Open Ocean Helsinki (Helsinki): An early-stage venture capital firm investing in B2B software across Europe.
Sparkmind.vc (Helsinki): Sparkmind.vc is the first Nordic venture capital company focused on the learning sector. We invest in teams transforming early childhood, K12, higher, secondary and vocational education as well as corporate and lifelong learning. Our geographical home field is Europe, while we can also selectively do investments outside the region. We invest from seed to international growth phase with single investments up to €5m. (Source: Sparkmind.vc)
Superhero Capital (Helsinki): A seed fund whose initial investments range from €200k to €500k. Located at Maria 01 in downtown Helsinki.
Voima Ventures (Espoo): Voima Ventures is the 50M€ truly deep tech fund launched in the spring 2019. We are aiming to make appx 25-30 new investments from the fund. We invest across all stages starting from a spin-off and seed, up to series A and growth. We premerly invest in Finland, Nordics and Baltics. (Source: Voima Ventures)
VTT Ventures (Espoo): A fund investing in the sciences across electronics, IoT, and life sciences. (Source: VTT)
Aalto Startup Center (Espoo): Offers both incubation services and accelerating program. Startup center runs a Business Generator program for startups in Espoo, Finland. (Source: Aalto Startup Center)
Kiuas (Espoo): With intensive, fixed-length & free programs, Kiuas helps 50+ of the most promising early-stage startups in Finland every year secure their first customers, level up their progress, and enter the community of over 200 Kiuas alumni. (Source: Kiuas)
The Shortcut (Helsinki): The Shortcut is a talent accelerator. Our goal is to help people improve their skills and acquire new ones in order to enter the tech world by either creating a startup or joining one. We are a non-profit organization part of Startup Foundation sr. and a sister organization to Slush, Maria 01, Wave Ventures and Junction. Thanks to the support of a big network of startups, scaleups and high-growth companies in Finland, we are able to provide our services to participants for free. (Source: The Shortcut)
Spinoutlab (Tampere): Spinoutlab is a venture builder and business accelerator for research-based startups. We help entrepreneurs and researchers to team up, start up, and grow. (Source: Spinoutlab)
xEdu (Helsinki): xEdu is Europe's leading business accelerator for edtech startups creating transformative learning solutions with pedagogical impact. (Source: xEdu)
A Grid (Espoo): A Grid is a startup community and one of Europe’s largest centers for growth companies. As part of the Aalto University campus we work as a gateway to the university’s international network of resources, talented students and cutting-edge research and resources. We also serve as a vibrant space for entrepreneurial expertise, services and events. A Grid houses all kinds of startups, accelerators, such as the European Space Agency and Aalto Startup Center, as well as partners and established companies, like Fortum. (Source: A Grid)
Helsinki Think Company (Helsinki): Helsinki Think Company is the entrepreneurship society of the University of Helsinki.
Maria 01 (Helsinki): Maria 01 is a community campus for the startup ecosystem . We are a not-for-profit combination of a selective tech-club, a community house and a tribe of people building the products and services of the future. We provide the best possible environment for early-stage startup teams to work alongside venture capitalists, corporations, and other startup organizations. (Source: Maria 01)
Startup Sauna (Espoo): The Startup Sauna co-working space is a focal meeting point in Northern Europe for entrepreneurs and investors alike. It’s a 1500 square meter industry hall open for everyone – no membership or previous ties to Startup Sauna are required. (Source: Startup Sauna)
Tampere Startup Hub (Tampere): Tampere Startup Hub is a community built by Startups for Startups. It provides a platform for Startups to grow and collaborate with each other. We have office spaces in the heart of Tampere and we work together to help our members become global success stories. Most of the current startups were previously based in New Factory and grew in their incubator into a strong startup community. (Source: Tampere Startup Hub)
The Hub Finland (Virtual): The Hub is a free-of-charge community platform tailored to the needs of growth startups. The Hub provides an overview of the Nordic startup community by providing visibility to startups in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Northern Ireland. Through the platform, startups can get assistance with their recruitment of talent, connection with investors and access best practice tools (eg employment contract, pitch deck).
Tribe Tampere (Tampere): Tribe Tampere is the support organization for entrepreneurial and startup players in the second biggest startup scene in Finland, Tampere startup city. It is made to stimulate collaboration and action between all the key ecosystem players. (Source: Tribe Tampere)
Junction (Helsinki): Junction is a non-profit hackathon and tech community. Organized since 2015, our main event of the year gathers around 1500 passionate hackers together for a weekend-long hackathon. Held in the Helsinki area, Finland, the event is an annual meeting place for developers, designers and other techies, teaming up and creating new tech solutions in 48 hours. (Source: Junction)
Kasvu Open (Jyväskylä): Finland’s biggest sparring program, which connects companies with experts who offer knowledge and skills on a voluntary basis. (Source: Kasvu Open)
Polar Bear Pitching (Oulu): A pitch event held in Oulu in the winter in which pitches are conducted in an ice hole.
Shift Business Festival (Turku): The main startup conference in the Turku region of Finland. (Source: Shift)
Ship Festival (Kotka): Startup Festival including a pitch competition, master classes, and a mentorship program. (Source: Ship Festival)
Slush (Helsinki): Slush is a student-driven, not-for-profit movement originally founded to change attitudes toward entrepreneurship. Slush has grown from a single gathering in Helsinki to a series of events organized all around the world. We throw bigger events in Finland, and China, and smaller get-togethers around the globe, from Singapore to NYC. (Source: Slush)
Smash Helsinki (Helsinki): A conference focused on sports, health, and technology. (Source: Smash)
Finland Startup Funding & Traction Network (Helsinki): The Startup Funding & Traction Network brings together aspiring and experienced tech entrepreneurs to discuss, meet, and collaborate to build great new startups, and to push the local startup ecosystem forward. (Source: Meetup)
Nordic Founders (Helsinki): Nordic Founders is a group for anyone interested in practical aspects of running a startup or a small business in Finland (registration, accounting, shareholders agreement, funding, taxation, insurances, etc.). The group exists in order to facilitate the discussion and share know-how between all kinds of entrepreneurs. You are welcome if you already have a company, just started one, or only thinking about it. (Source: Meetup)
Business Finland Venture Capital Ltd: Business Finland Venture Capital Ltd is a state-owned company investing in venture capital funds which invest in companies in their early stages of development. The purpose of the company is to develop Finland’s venture capital market. (Source: Business Finland Venture Capital)
Finnvera Entrepreneur Loan: An Entrepreneur Loan can be granted to a shareholder of a limited company whose holding of the share capital and votes will be at least 20 per cent after completion of the investment or the transaction financed by means of the loan. The loan can also be granted to several founders or shareholders in the same enterprise. The maximum loan per borrower is 100,000 euros. The borrower must personally put up a self-financing portion of at least 20 per cent. (Source: Finnvera)
Helsinki Business Hub: Helsinki Business Hub is the international trade and investment promotion agency for the Finnish capital region. It helps foreign companies to set-up their business, grow and develop in Greater Helsinki. (Source: Helsinki Business Hub)
NewCo Helsinki: NewCo Helsinki's mission is to increase the number of entrepreneurs in the Helsinki area by offering services that support both early-stage and growth entrepreneurs. (Source: NewCo Helsinki)
TE Startup Grant: The Public employment and business services of Finland (TE) offers a monthly grant to startup founders for 6-12 months. You are eligible for this grant if you are unemployed or about to quit your job to start a business. The applying procedure is quite simple. You need to make a business plan and make sure that your company has not launched yet by the time you applied for the grant. (Source: Aurabear)
Aaltoes: Aaltoes, also known as Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, is a non-profit organization run by students, based in Helsinki, Finland. Founded in 2009, Aaltoes has helped the rapid emergence of a startup culture in Finland, pioneering events like Slush. (Source: Aaltoes)
Aalto University (Espoo): The university-affiliated Aaltoes is Europe's largest and most active student run entrepreneurship community that has founded major concepts such as the Startup Sauna accelerator program and the Slush startup event. (Source: Aalto University)
Soaked by Slush: Soaked by Slush is a shamelessly founder-focused startup media that delivers timeless company-building lessons, hands-on operational advice, and intriguing stories from the startup ecosystem to the people who build and operate high-growth companies. This is the startup media branch of the Slush startup event. (Source: Soaked by Slush)
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