11 movers and shakers from Finland’s startup scene
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Photo Credit: FIBAN

This list will show you who the key players in Finland’s startup and tech scene are, and where they think Finnish tech will thrive in the coming years. A quick hint: It’s not in gaming.

Finland is known for a number of things; The Land of a Thousand Lakes, The Land of the Midnight Sun, and once upon a time, The Land of the Nokia 7210. But lesser known to many around the world is the fact that Finland also happens to be A Land of a Whole Lot of Awesome Tech – and it’s not just in the gaming sector either, although their gaming sector is pretty awesome.

If you want to know which ingredients go into making Finland such a successful tech ecosystem, there’s plenty of fish we could stuff into that Kalakukko. But the one big fish found consistently across all successful ecosystems would be the people.

So, without further adieu, here they are: 11 movers and shakers from the Finnish ecosystem you might wanna get to know.

Investors

1. Ari Korhonen

Photo Credit: FIBAN

Photo Credit: FiBAN

About the man:

Ari is an angel investor and venture capitalist, and the founder of Lagoon Capital investment company. For 20 years, Ari has been a successful technology entrepreneur and for 10, a business angel. He developed his company Komartek into an international success story. Komartek was bought in 2004 by WM-data (presently CGI). His position in WM-data was Vice President.

For the last 10 years, Ari has made angel investments in 24 companies reaching up to 80 investments in total. These include MariaDB, DealDash, Surveypal, Miradore, In4mo, Thirdpresence and 360 Cities. From the above mentioned investments, he has had three successful exits from Severa, Paytrail and The Switch.

Ari is also an investor in venture capital funds that include Seedcamp, 500 Startups, True Global Ventures and Spintop Ventures. In Spintop, he is senior advisor and investment committee member and in Seedcamp, he is a member of their investment committee. Additionally, Ari is an investment council member in Finnish Industry Investments.

In 2009, he was nominated by EBAN as European Business Angel of the Year and elected by FiBAN as Business Angel of the Year in Finland in 2014, which he co-founded and served as Vice Chairman of the board from 2010-2012. He has also been an EBAN board member and Vice President since 2012 and is also a member of EstBAN. Ari has been featured in several business magazines and blogs. You can see a short interview with him here.

2. Oskari Kettunen

Photo Credit: PR

Photo Credit: PR

About the man:

He is a Managing Partner at Reaktor POLTE, one of the most active early stage seed investors in Finland. Oskari is all about meeting entrepreneurs, making investments, and living alongside his portfolio companies as they experience their highs and lows.

What do you think will be the most important trend(s) in the Finnish tech and startup scene over the coming years?

He had a rather simple reply: “With the risk of beating a dead horse, the most significant trend is that there is a startup scene. It took a lot longer to materialize than news articles imply. The groundwork was laid well before Nokia’s downfall or Aalto Entrepreneurship Society. Now that all that’s done, we will be reaping the benefits for years to come.

“New generations of the best and brightest are considering startups as their primary option. Startups help each other out. Future founders and CEOs are growing in the ranks of the current startups. International VCs are getting to know what’s going on in Finland. It’s a virtuous cycle that’s just getting started.”

Accelerators / Startup Advisors

3. Pekka Sivonen

Photo Credit: PR

Photo Credit: PR

About the man:

Pekka is one of the most famous entrepreneurs in Finland. He founded Digia, which grew from 1 to 1,600 employees, eventually became a publicly listed company on the NASDAQ OMX, and is one of just a handful of Finnish startups ever to have reported yearly revenue above €100 million. In 2004, 2005, and 2006, he was selected as the Entrepreneur Of the Year in Services in Finland by Ernst & Young.

After this success, he pursued another passion: mentoring and coaching new and established startups. First he ran AppCampus, a mobile application development program funded by Microsoft and Aalto University and managed by Aalto University. Now, he is the General Director of Vertical Accelerator, a health technology accelerator.

According to Pekka, he has raised the most private equity funding in Finland, 38 million Euros in two rounds from companies like General Electric, Cisco, Sony, Intel, TeliaSonera and Investor AB.

What do you see emerging as the most important trend(s) in the Finnish tech and startup scene over the coming years?

He told Geektime that, “The emergence of health technology companies is already massive and ramping up. Our HealthSPA ecosystem booster has been keeping the bathwater warm for early stage companies for 2.5 years and there are already over 400 companies in the cluster, 200+ of them being early stage. Finland is one of the 10 countries in the world that exports more health tech than it imports. Our compound revenue in the cluster in 2014 was over 3 billion Euros and our strategic intent is to triple that in next 10 years time. We have been the biggest single track of companies at SLUSH for 2 years already and this year it is already going to be massive. Having GE Healthcare and Samsung here boosting innovation with their investments is naturally adding speed into everything. Everybody’s guessing who will emerge as the next big fish splashing into our pond!”

4. Kasper Suomalainen

Photo Credit: PR

Photo Credit: PR

About the man:

Kasper Suomalainen’s mission is to help entrepreneurs network and flourish. He is the President of Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, which collaborates with projects such as the Slush Conference and Startup Sauna, of which he is also CMO. With a core team of six members, they organize almost 100 events annually for the Finnish startup community.  

He explained to Geektime how his international upbringing made him prepared to enter the global world of startups – and makes him different from other Finns: “I was raised in three different continents, so one could say I grew up in a fairly international environment, being educated in English my whole life. Therefore, I can’t say I’d be the typical, quiet Finn.”

What do you think is the most important factor for success in the Finnish startup scene?

When asked this question, Suomalainen gave a detailed, thoughtful response. He believes that timing, Finland’s great technical knowledge, pay-it-forward culture, and the bottom-up movement started by Aaltoes – through which Startup Life, Startup Sauna and Slush sprung up and grew – were contributing factors.

Regarding the aspect of timing, he explained that, “Nokia laid off a bunch of people a few years back, which left a ton of ‘recently available’ talent to be utilized in setting up new companies.” This technical talent and knowledge was there in large part due to Finland’s excellent education system, which is ranked one of the best in the world. He also cited Finland’s large supply of engineering talent, especially in Helsinkiand Oulu, as a great help to the Finnish startup scene.

He waxed a bit sociological about Finnish culture’s contribution to startup culture, saying that, “In Finland, we have a pay-it-forward attitude with everything we do. You can see it from the taxes, for example. Our coaches here at Startup Sauna help out startups pro bono, and they do it because they truly and genuinely want to help the startup ecosystem thrive.”

Lastly, he claimed that Finland’s grassroots style of organizing has also helped their startup scene grow. Specifically, he told Geektime that in 2009, “Aalto University students founded Aalto Entrepreneurship Society. For example, last year Aaltoes held over 100 events with nearly 10,000 attendees (hackathons, pitching, networking, talks, panels and basically anything related to entrepreneurship). The fact that this was all student initiated (Aaltoes, Startup Life, Startup Sauna, Slush) is something that is unique to Finland.”

Photo Credit: PR

Photo Credit: PR

About the woman:

After years managing global innovation projects at Nokia and running her own company on three different continents, she became a project manager and startup advisor at NewCo Factory, which was recognized as the Best Service Provider in Finland for Startups 2014 at the Nordic Startup Awards. Based in Helsinki, its mission is to help startups with potential for international growth. So far, 45 startups have participated in the accelerator program in fields such as ICT, health, cleantech, and fashion, and they have assisted more than 200 startups in Finland’s ecosystem.

What do you think will be the most important trend(s) in the Finnish tech and startup scene over the coming years?

She replied, “The Finnish startup scene is booming, and the number of startups, investors and accelerators is growing rapidly. Gaming and ICT sectors have been the first industries where we have seen the ecosystem starting to work. Other industries follow that and learnings from the lean thinking and development [are taking place].

Similar to others interviewed for this article, she believes one of the next big startup trends coming out of Finland will be healthtech: “The next industries where we will see globally interesting and scalable innovations are in health and wellbeing, cleantech and bioeconomy, as well as wearable technology and robotics. F.ex. Blancco, Planmeca, CRF Health, Zenrobotics and Enevo have already shown the potential for growth.

However, she also noted that, “Cyber security is one of our core competencies. The trend is to build the products more closely with the corporates like GE Healthcare, Sanoma, Posti, Samsung, Microsoft, UPM, Tieto and many others.”

6. Timo Nurminen

Photo Credit: PR

Photo Credit: PR

About the man:

He is the CEO and founder of Frontier Consulting, which helps Scandinavian ICT and software startups expand to Middle Eastern markets. Despite the fact that Saddam Hussein personally took his father as a hostage for three months after he invaded Kuwait in 1990, and his family vowed never to return to the Middle East, he has always considered the region as a second home. He spent a lot of his childhood in Iraq and Kuwait, and by 2008, he felt it was time to return to the Middle East.

Before establishing Frontier he founded one of Finland’s fastest growing IT company, Trackway, which was sold to Stora Enso in 2007. From this experience, as well as past work in technology and military industries, Timo decided to launch Frontier, putting his professional and cultural aptitudes to good use.

What advice would you give someone just starting out and looking to break into the Finnish startup/tech scene?

He answered, “Forget becoming the next Supercell or Rovio because it’s unlikely to happen. Set realistic targets and spend time and resources into drafting credible and well researched business plans. Get to know the Finnish innovation system and sources of early stage funding and R&D loans or grants.

“As a rule of thumb, you should finance the first phase of product development by yourself or through government funds and only take venture capital to finance the sales and growth stage. Don’t overvalue your company financially when trying to secure funding as you only have one chance at it.

He also warned about raising venture capital funding: “It’s also good to bear in mind that most entrepreneurs who have secured venture funding come to regret it at a later stage. So before going down that road think hard about whether you could grow the company without venture capital since investor money always comes with a straitjacket and handcuffs, and it’s not the investor who will be wearing them: It’s you.”

Entrepreneurs

Photo Credit: Mikko Makkonen

Photo Credit: Mikko Makkonen

About the man:

Tomi Astikainen is not your typical entrepreneur. From 2010-2014, he travelled to 42 countries and lived without any money, hitchhiking and writing about his experiences. In that time, he worked on organic farms, helped various social causes, and developed a Kickstarter campaign for a farm turned monkey refuge.

Before romping around the world, however, Astikainen received an MSc in Economics and Business Administration, and sees himself as both a storyteller and social connector. He recently started an organization called InventionCenter, which promotes the development and use of Finnish inventions by connecting inventors with needed allies. They also help revitalize dormant patents and translate scientific breakthroughs to commercial products and services.

What do you think is the most important factor for success in the Finnish startup scene?

He told Geektime that social entrepreneurship is crucial to Finland’s startup success because startups will grow farther if they work together: “Socially and environmentally meaningful business isn’t another fad, it’s a necessity. We already are one of the EU innovation leaders, but to build an innovation ecosystem on par with Switzerland, Israel or South Korea, the trigger is opening up to collaboration. There’s no point fighting each other in the backwoods for pennies when the real market is abroad.

“The unfair advantage of this tiny nation comes from the very fact that everyone is just two phone calls away. If we so wish, we’re able to push for the same direction and make miracles together. We’ve done it before and we can do it now. We have to. Make those phone calls, now!”

8. Atte Hujanen

Photo Credit: PR

Photo Credit: PR

About the man:

He is the CEO and Co-Founder of Singa, a beta-phase karaoke platform for mobile and tablet devices available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. They hope to disrupt the traditional global market of karaoke entertainment, both on the consumer and professional side, and have over 1,300 songs to choose from for your singing pleasure.

Atte is one of the most active connectors in the Finnish startup scene. He co-founded the now infamous Slush conference and has served as the Executive Producer of Slush since 2011. He also served as the Executive Director of Startup Sauna in 2013 and before that, served as a board member of Aalto Entrepreneurship Society in 2012.

What do you think will be the most important trend(s) in the Finnish tech and startup scene over the coming years?

First, he said that, “Mobile has always been and continues to be a big trend in Finland. In recent years it has shifted focus from the hardware and software heavy production to a wider gamut of mobile offerings, namely in the form of mobile games and services.

In general, he believes that “extremely good education, deep hardware and software knowledge across industries and the lack of later stage funding,” ultimately influence Finland’s startups, which tend to “steer the teams to work on ideas that can be built, tested and launched with relatively small budgets. Thus biotech, industrial and manufacturing startups will be less common in Finland in the favor of digital health, mobile, cleantech, wearables, SaaS and IoT startups. Service startups have a harder time starting in Finland due to the small and fragmented Nordic area, but thanks to the good conditions of the infrastructure (payments, internet, wealth) they will do well in the end if they just can scale to a global context early on.”

9. Henri Virtanen

Henri Virtanen (left) with NetMedi's team

Henri Virtanen (left) with NetMedi’s team

About the man:

Henri Virtanen is the Co-Founder and Head of Nordic Operations at NetMedi, a Helsinki and Bremen based Finnish startup developing user-centered software solutions for the future of healthcare. NetMedi’s first set of communication and treatment follow-up solutions is in use in some of the leading cancer hospitals in Europe, such as Docrates Cancer Center and Radiotherapie Hirslanden.

What advice would you give someone just starting out and looking to break into the Finnish startup/tech scene?

First, he quoted Sami Inkinen, the Finnish founder of Trulia, who said, “The best time to start a business was yesterday. The second best is today. The longer you hesitate, the harder it gets.”

The lesson? According to Virtanen, “If you have a great team, just start delivering. There are dozens of events organized at Startup Sauna in Otaniemi, Espoo, but also in the Helsinki region. They gather entrepreneur minded people together to share ideas and contacts. The Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation provides great support for the young companies. Thanks to this support all around, it is rather easy to start a business in Finland.”

Media

10. Dmitri Sarle

Photo Credit: Dmitri's Facebook Profile

Photo Credit: Dmitri’s Facebook Profile

About the man:

Originally from Estonia, Dmitri worked in various countries and in many industries before making his mark in Finland. He co-founded Wire.as, which is a startup pitching competition, and is currently the CEO of ArcticStartup, an independent technology blog that reports on digital startups and growth entrepreneurship from the Nordic and Baltic countries. It aims to provide exceptional coverage on the news and trends needed to support a developed entrepreneurship community in Northern Europe.

What advice would you give someone just starting out and looking to break into the Finnish startup/tech scene?

He told Geektime, “I remember when I just came to Finland in 2012 and did not know anyone at all. It took about two months to really get to know the scene and to meet all the key influencers. How did I do it? Mainly events. Going to events all the time will ensure that you meet the right people and will get to know who are the movers and shakers around here. There are plenty of events at Startup Sauna, Yrityslinna, HUB13. Then there are the conferences: Slush, Arctic15, Tomorrow. Additionally, I would also go to events in the whole of Nordics and Baltics too, as the scene is highly interconnected.”

11. Neil Murray

Photo Credit: PR

Photo Credit: PR

About the man:

Neil S.W Murray is the founder of The Nordic Web, the leading resource providing insight and analysis on the Nordic startup scene. Not surprising for someone whose job is to keep up with Nordic tech trends, he had a number of insightful answers to our questions.

What do you think will be the most important trend(s) in the Finnish tech and startup scene over the coming years?

“Health and Wellness is set to be the next biggest vertical emanating from Finland, following in gaming’s footsteps. I also think that we will see some interesting and important innovations and startups in both Edtech and Internet of Things.”

What do you think is the most important factor for success in the Finnish startup scene?

“Finland has a couple of investors and organizations that are very liberal in terms of backing early stage Finnish startups, I think this has made a big contribution to their past successes, and needs to continue to ensure future ones.”

What advice would you give someone just starting out and looking to break into the Finnish startup/tech scene?

“Email one, or all of the people on this list, who I am sure would be happy to point you in the right direction of what you are looking for, be it events, accelerators, media etc.”

Edited by Laura Rosbrow

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Avi Schneider and Rinat Korbet

About Avi Schneider and Rinat Korbet


Avi Schneider is a global editor and writer for Geektime, author of the book ‘How To Fight For Your Goals: Social Combat Theory’ and the SocialCombatMedia.wordpress blog, founder of Cluboom and former senior writer for Blonde 2.0. Rinat Korbet is a startup outreach manager & analyst at Geektime. Likes to geek-out, play video games, binge watch and blog about culture and media.

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