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Finland's capital, Helsinki. | Courtesy Rob Hurson. Flickr.
Finland's capital, Helsinki. | Courtesy Rob Hurson. Flickr.
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How The Demise Of Nokia Helped Finland's Startup Scene

Picture of Peter Ward
Tech Editor
Updated: 28 November 2016
If you asked about technology in Finland 10 years ago, you’d have been told all about Nokia. Ask the same question now, and the answer would probably involve video games. As the startup scene in the Nordic country grows, the response in the future could be much more varied.

Finnish startups attracted record amounts of investment in 2015, and in 2016 one of its biggest successes, Supercell, was bought by Chinese internet company Tencent for $8.6 billion. Supercell is a mobile games developer, famous for creating the highest grossing app of all time, Clash of Clans, and laid a marker for all other Finnish startups. Finland is also famous for being the birthplace of another mobile game: Angry Birds, and all the merchandise, movies, and theme parks that spun out from it.

The blossoming of the country’s startup community, including mobile game development, appears to have coincided with the wilting fortunes of Nokia, formerly the biggest private employer in Finland and the most widely recognized name in Finnish technology.

Nokia was one of the principle names in mobile phones. But the company’s decline, which culminated in the sale of its mobile phone division to Microsoft in 2014, has contributed to a resurgence in Finland’s startup ecosystem. Nokia is still operating today, and primarily offers network equipment.

Roope Heinilä is CEO of Smarp, a Helsinki-founded company specializing in employee communication and advocacy. “Nokia’s failing helped create the whole ecosystem in Finland. You could no longer rely on a lifetime of employment in one place, and it freed up some great talent. And it also made it so the government had to back up these high-risk initiatives,” he says.

Nokia’s campus in Espoo, Finland.
Nokia’s campus in Espoo, Finland. | Courtesy Nokia.

Evidence of Finland’s growing importance in the startup world can be found in the extremely popular Slush event, held annually in Helsinki. The event runs in November and in 2015 attracted 15,000 attendees. In 2016, direct flights from San Francisco to Helsinki have been arranged in order to accommodate the swarms of people making the trip for the event. Slush has grown dramatically from a 300-person conference to a major bookmark in the startup world’s calendars.

The attitude towards young companies in the country has changed as well, according to Heinilä. “The mentality used to be that failing was not okay, and saying you’re an entrepreneur meant that you were most likely unemployable. That was the mentality and there was a complete U-turn. Now it’s about boosting entrepreneurship and about seeing value and wanting people to take risks. That’s coming from the government as well.”

Finland’s government provides financial support in the form of loans and grants to promising young startups. Away from government, a supportive community is also being formed. “We get quite a bit of support. The nice part of Finland is there is this culture of supporting others without asking for anything in return,” says Heinilä.

In 2017 Finland will celebrate its 100th birthday, and to mark the occasion will host a hackathon, which will last seven months and has a one million euro prize. Teams of three to five people will compete in the Ratkaisu 100 challenge to design technology products around the theme “the better use of everyone’s skills.” It’s an apt title for a celebration of a country making the most of its skilled entrepreneurs.

Here are five exciting startups founded in the country.

Smarp

Smarp is an employee communication and advocacy tool. The technology encourages employees of a company to share the content of the business on their own social media channels. The company was founded in 2011 by Roope Heinilä and Mikael Lauharanta (pictured below).

Smarp founders Roope Heinilä and Mikael Lauharanta.
Smarp founders Roope Heinilä and Mikael Lauharanta. | Courtesy smarp.

Yogaia

Want to try out some yoga without joining a class? Yogaia offers live streamed interactive yoga classes that can be enjoyed at home. The company’s monthly subscription fee is considerably less than a gym membership and gives you access to recorded yoga classes as well as live ones.

Enevo

Any company that labels itself the “Internet of Shit” is already winning a lot of prizes. Enevo provides sensors and logistics solutions for waste management. The company was founded in 2010 and claims it can save up to 50 percent of the waste management costs of cities.

Enevo’s waste management sensors
Enevo’s waste management sensors | Courtesy Enevo.

Seriously

Seriously is one of the numerous game developers to come out of Finland since the success of Rovio and Supercell. The company has produced Best Friends and Best Friends Forever since it was founded in 2013.

Kiosked

Kiosked is an advertising platform hoping to increase the relevancy of the ads you see. The company was founded in 2010 and has raised nearly $17 million in investment.

Kiosked’s ad platform in action.
Kiosked’s ad platform in action. | Courtesy Kiosked.