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There's probably a startup in there © Paul Itkin / Unsplash
There's probably a startup in there © Paul Itkin / Unsplash
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Inside Finland's White-Hot Startup Scene

Picture of Claire Lancaster
Tech & Entrepreneurship Editor
Updated: 30 November 2017
This article is part of Culture Trip’s Finland 100 campaign, celebrating everything Finnish on the country’s centenary.

Despite being the EU’s most sparsely populated country, Finland nets 10% of the world’s startup exits.

We spoke to Finnish startup HappyOrNot, the company behind the smiling customer feedback stands found in airports and McDonalds across Europe, about the country’s unique entrepreneurship scene, the combination of public support and private investment and the importance of collaboration for the nation’s entrepreneurial community.

Culture Trip (CT): How has the Finnish startup scene developed over the past five years?

HappyOrNot (HoN): There’s been huge growth in terms of investors, angels, accelerators, and startups. The entire domain is booming.

[According to the latest data for startup funding in Finland 2016, compiled by Finnish Business Angels Network (FiBAN) and Finnish Venture Capital Association (FVCA), some €383 million was invested into more than 400 companies last year. That’s a new Finnish record, and a growth of 42% compared to 2015. For the first time, foreign investments surpassed Finnish ones, as €216 million was injected from investors outside Finland.]

Suomenlinna Maritime fortress, Helsinki | © Anton Kudelin/Shutterstock
Suomenlinna Maritime fortress, Helsinki | © Anton Kudelin/Shutterstock

CT: Is most of the investment public or private?

HoN: The Finnish government has been active for a long time [there is a dedicated funding agency for innovation (‘Tekes’), as well as government-led mentor programs], but a lot of private money is also involved. Major local and international VCs are investing. The Finnish business angel network is one the biggest angel networks in the Europe.

CT: Which sectors are the nation’s startup scene focused on?

HoN: The gaming sector is very strong in Finland, with Supercell (developers of Clash of Clans) and Rovio (Angry Birds creators) both being Finnish. There are other digital sectors too, such as education, software development, clean-tech, forestry, metal and machinery manufacturing, ICT industry and services, and health and wellbeing.

CT: How does local culture impact the values of the startup and entrepreneurship scene?

HoN: The winters are long and dark – what else is there to do other than focus on your startup? There’s also unique Finnish concept called sisu, which has a mystical and magical meaning to Fins. It roughly translates into ‘strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.’

Also, Nordic business circles are smaller, making networking easier. [The country is home to events such as the Oulu-based Polar Bear Pitching process, where founders pitch to investors while submerged in ice cold water, ‘Startup Sauna’, a feedback and accelerator program, and Slush, one of the biggest startup events in the world]. I think that the communities and networks are really [the] key reasons for why the Finnish startup scene is doing so well. People are quite open to share knowledge and experiences.

Scenic summer panorama of the Market Square (Kauppatori) at the Old Town pier in Helsinki, Finland | © Scanrail1/Shutterstock
Scenic summer panorama of the Market Square (Kauppatori) at the Old Town pier in Helsinki, Finland | © Scanrail1/Shutterstock

Like this? Find out How the Demise of Nokia Helped Finland’s Startup Scene or check out our round-up of 10 Startups to Watch From Finland.

This article is part of Culture Trip’s Finland 100 campaign, celebrating everything Finnish on the country’s centenary.