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Finnish startups invest big in growth

Naava’s air-purifying green walls are one of several Finnish solutions that have attracted funding in recent weeks.


Finnish startups have announced seven-figure funding rounds and major acquisitions in pursuit of global growth in the early weeks of 2022.

Two of the larger funding rounds were wrapped up by Jobilla, a Helsinki-based developer of digital recruitment solutions, and Naava, a Helsinki-based developer of intelligent green walls.

Jobilla in February announced it has completed an 8.25 million-euro funding round led by Juuri Partners and Trind VC. The funding will enable the startup to offer its artificial intelligence-powered recruitment platform to a growing number of companies grappling with modern-day labour-market phenomena, such as the great resignation.

The platform has been designed to analyse and optimise each step of the recruitment process from the viewpoint of candidates and, according to its developer, has already disrupted recruitment processes on five continents. It combines artificial intelligence-powered candidate filtering, a mobile-supported recruitment funnel and marketing strategies that make sure the best candidates, regardless of their employment status, take note of the job opportunity.

Adopted by the likes of Pfizer and German Red Cross, the platform was last year named the best recruiting marketing platform by G2, a peer-to-peer review site based in Chicago, the US.

Jobilla said it registered an increase of 150 per cent in revenue between 2020 and 2021, setting itself up for expansion particularly in Germany and the US.

Henri Nordström and Tommi Siro of Jobilla posed for a photo in a park. Image: Jobilla

“We are currently growing exponentially in every market our solution is available in,” statedHenri Nordström, CEO of Jobilla. “With the help of our investors, we can accelerate that growth even further by developing partnerships with key players in different markets that can offer our solution in the respective market.”

The platform, he pointed out, has no direct competition because no other service provider is “thinking of recruiting so purely from the [perspective of] candidate experience”.

Naava reported two weeks ago that it has secured a seven million-euro equity investment from a group of “superstar investors”, such as ex-Marimekko CEO Mika Ihamuotila and ex-Rovio CEO Mikael Hed, led by Stockholm-based Nidoco. The investment will allow the startup to solidify its position in the market for green walls and furniture with living plants by scaling its current offering and investing in marketing, sales and expansion in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

It will also provide a fertile ground for future growth and the development of products and solutions with a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of millions of people in homes and offices, according to Arttu Salmenhaara, CEO of Naava.

The intelligent, active green walls developed by the startup have been shown to reduce pollutants in indoor air dramatically more effectively than ordinary potted plants or static green walls in three independent studies by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the Building Research Establishment (BRE), and the University of Jyväskylä and University of Eastern Finland. The walls feature a system of active biofilters that magnify the natural ability of plants to reduce harmful organic compounds in air.

Investor Mika Ihamuotila (right) and Aki Soudunsaari of Naava posed for a photograph in front of an intelligent green wall developed by the Helsinki-based startup. Image: Naava

“The green walls – and the company’s future products – reduce stress, improve overall wellbeing, lessen issues relating to illnesses such as asthma, and quite honestly just look good and bring joy to any environment,” saidPatrick Castrén, CEO of Nidoco.

Both announcements fuel expectations of yet another great year for venture capital investments in Finland.

The Finnish Venture Capital Association in November said Finnish startups needed only six months to break the record for venture capital raised in a single year, collecting 560 million euros from domestic and foreign investors between January and June 2021. The previous record, 507 million euros, had been set in 2020.

Smartly in January announced it is acquiring Ad-Lib.io, a UK-based provider of a creative management platform that works with 10 of the top 30 global advertisers.

The Finnish specialist in automated social advertising said the takeover broadens its cross-channel reach from social to include dynamic creative optimisation across programmatic, connected television and the entire ecosystem of Google. Ad-Lib.io’s tools for Google Ads, YouTube and DV360, it said, are a great supplement to its software-as-a-service solution for advertising on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and TikTok.

“The past two years have proven that creative technology has become the most important lever for driving digital advertising performance,” statedKristo Ovaska, CEO of Smartly. “Ad-Lib.io is a clear leader in the creative space by innovating on the mission-critical dimensions of workflow, automation, brand governance, personalisation and insight.”

The acquisition was announced at a time of booming demand for solutions that bring creative and media closer together across channels.

Adit Abhyankar, CEO of Ad-Lib.io, told that while brand marketers and agencies are increasingly integrating their social and programmatic teams into digital creative and media investment teams, these teams continue to rely on multiple technologies or software partners.

“But going forward they won’t have to,” he added. “The Smartly and Ad-Lib.io solution will provide the connective tissue to maximise creative effectiveness, media buying and creative intelligence.”

His excitement about the joint offering was echoed by clients.

“Both Ad-Lib.io and Smartly have enabled the developing partnerships between our creative and media teams. This has massively simplified the way our teams work. And with this merger, it only gets better, as we look to unify our advertising relevance across channels,” attested Dean Weaving, head of display, video and paid social at Deliveroo.

Vaaka Partners, a Helsinki-based private equity firm, in December announced the launch of its fourth buyout fund for supporting the ambitious growth targets of medium-sized companies in Finland.

The 250 million-euro fund drew great interest from both existing and new investors, becoming heavily oversubscribed in only 11 weeks. One of the international investors chosen to back the fund is Alfred I. duPont Charitable Trust, a key supporter of paediatric health in the US. The Nemours Foundation, the sole charitable beneficiary of the trust, has funded hospitals that treat half a million children every year regardless of their ability to pay for the treatment.

“As a long-time investor in global private markets, we seek long-term partnerships with high-integrity teams investing in and growing small businesses globally,” saidSean Kelly, associate director of investment at Alfred I. duPont Charitable Trust.

“In addition to finding a high-calibre, high-integrity team in Vaaka Partners, we have found Finland to be an attractive investment environment due to the favourable business climate and depth of intellectual and managerial talent. We couldn’t be more excited to partner with Vaaka on their journey to building Finland’s next great business champions.”

Vaaka has on average more than tripled the revenue of its portfolio companies during its period of ownership. Half of the growth has been organic and the other half driven by strategic acquisitions.

“We are not a passive investor; we bring our portfolio companies new knowhow and previous experience in, for example, internationalisation or growth through acquisitions,” stated Juha Peltola, managing partner at Vaaka Partners.

Its current portfolio includes AINS Group, Staria, Framery and Jungle Juice Bar.

Helsinki-based Sniffie is on a mission to democratise e-commerce by ensuring also small and medium enterprises have access to advanced pricing tools. Image: Sniffie

Sniffie in January said it has raised 2.5 million euros in seed funding to support its mission to democratise e-commerce by enabling small and medium enterprises to use essentially the same, advanced pricing methods as their larger counterparts.

Over half of the funding came in the form of an investment from Superhero Capital.

The Helsinki-based software developer said the funding should enable it to build a leading machine learning-powered pricing platform in the next five years on one of the most popular e-commerce platforms in the world, Shopify.

“Taking advantage of machine learning is one of the big trends in e-commerce as internal data can be used to improve one’s way of doing business,” said Aleksi Kukkonen, head of data at Sniffie.

“When the market is big and you sell goods to nearly 30 different countries, it is simply impossible to make correct pricing decision without the help of AI,” confirmed Minna Kätevä, chief commercial officer at LiveHelfi, a supplement retailer based in the Netherlands. “When your product portfolio is growing, you must learn how to handle data in an effective manner.”

The market for pricing-focused software was worth some 1.42 billion US dollars in 2019, according to Gartner.

Droppe in February reported that it has secured 2.2 million euros in a funding round led by Lifeline Ventures, with participation from Ilkka Paananen, CEO of Supercell, and Miki Kuusi, CEO of Wolt.

The Helsinki-based startup is building an online marketplace that brings together industrial equipment makers and buyers across Europe with the aim of creating shorter and more responsible supply chains and tackling the top challenge of industrial buyers: finding and stocking supplies that are easy to buy in bulk, low in cost and responsibly sourced.

The marketplace is already used by some of the biggest industrial players and publicly listed companies on the continent.

“The online marketplace streamlines the buying process and makes it easier for industrial buyers,” summed upHenrik Helenius, co-founder of Droppe. “Buyers are now able to order directly from multiple manufacturers across Europe at the same time, all on one invoice – something that the industry hasn’t seen before.”

The funding will enable the startup to expand to Germany and accelerate growth in Finland and Sweden.

By: Aleksi Teivainen