November 22, 2019

Five for Friday: Finland’s startup scene

Get up! Startup! Finland has a winning approach to following through on great ideas.
Get up! Startup! Finland has a winning approach to following through on great ideas.
Julia Bushueva/Adobe

On a global scale, Finland might be a small country by population, but it is also a hotbed for innovation talent, home to a strong startup ecosystem and host to some of the world’s coolest startup events.

In 2018, Finnish startups attracted the most venture capital investments relative to GDP in Europe. Of the record-breaking total of 479 million euros in investments received, venture capital accounted for 203 million euros.

Whilst Slush 2019 in Helsinki is warming up the November chill with the hottest startups from around the globe and is continuing to put the Nordic region at the forefront of tech innovation, let’s have a closer look at Finland’s vibrant startup scene.

Here are five important things you need to know about Finnish startups.

1. We are digital innovators

Finland’s particular strength lies in digital competency, where it is ahead of all EU countries and one of the top performers globally. A frontrunner in digital knowhow, Finland makes the most of it to build innovative companies from the ground up.

Earlier this year, the country was recognised as the most digitally advanced nation in Europe, ranking highest in digital public services and human capital. On top of that, it leads the world in communications technology and ranks seventh in the IMD World Digital Competitiveness index.

2. We share knowledge

Openness and transparency, being typical features of the Finnish culture in general, are also encouraged in business life. Finnish companies and institutions consider knowledge to be an important factor in competitiveness, but what matters even more is knowledge sharing. Surprising to some outsiders, this makes perfect sense to Finns, especially those in the globally renowned games scene.

“The Americans are really surprised at how much we share between different companies,” revealed Teemu Huuhtanen, CEO of Next Games. “But it helps a lot in so many different ways. It’s smart for investors, as well. The more these companies share, the more likely it is that they are not all going to make the same mistake.”

Similar principles of competence sharing, networking and collaborative learning underlie Hive Helsinki, the recently opened coding school that provides free tuition to people from all walks of life. The school that pledges to train the next generation of world-class coders is funded by Finnish gaming giant Supercell and supported by many industry greats.

3. We do sustainable research

Finland is steadily moving toward a sustainable future, with such heavyweights as Neste, Outotec, UPM-Kymmene, KONE, Metso, Nokia and Kesko included on the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World list.

In Finland, sustainable research is hard to imagine without VTT Technical Research Centre, one of the leading research organisations in Europe that goes beyond the obvious to help the society and companies to grow through technological innovation.

In recent years, many thriving startups have spun off from VTT with their innovative sustainable solutions to change the world, such as the award-winning Paptic and Infinited Fiber Company that focus on developing new sustainable materials.

Infinited Fiber Company produces cotton-like textile fibres from waste materials and residue biomaterials. Paptic has invented a new wood fibre-based material that has the properties of plastic.

The iconic Finnish design brand Marimekko has partnered with Spinnova, another VTT spin-off startup, to develop wood-based textiles free of chemical solvents. Meanwhile, Sulapac and Kotkamills have developed innovative plastic-free packaging materials and solutions.

Proving that even nutrition production can be more sustainable with novel innovation, Solar Foods has developed a new kind of protein out of air and received funding for its further development.

4. We have a healthy future

Finland’s medical tech and digital health industry is booming with international investors continuously monitoring the activities within it. Strong healthtech innovation skills generate top-notch solutions for improving healthcare efficiency and patient wellbeing.

Finland is one of the leading countries in cancer research and care and offers the latest treatment options and equipment to both domestic and international patients. The Helsinki University Hospital, for example, is the first in the world to have a hospital-adapted boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) machine for cancer treatment. Meanwhile, Docrates Cancer Center utilizes the unique digital patient monitoring system developed by Kaiku Health.

Data analysis and artificial intelligence are being widely used to significantly facilitate medical practices. Avaintec, for instance, equips hospitals and healthcare centres with digital tools for more accurate diagnoses, while Optomed enables diabetes and eye diseases diagnoses with a smart AI-based fundus camera.

Finnish healthtech innovations are internationally sought after, with Newicon being one of the most noteworthy examples. Its medication management and pharmacy automation solutions have been deployed in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

5. We have possibilities for everyone

In early 2018, Finland made it possible for international growth entrepreneurs to move to the country and join the fast-growing startup ecosystem through the Startup Permit. The first results in luring more international talent were not long in coming.

In its first year, the initiative attracted over 100 applications from innovative startup founders from outside the European Union, with 23 of them granted residence to set up a business in Finland. So far, the Startup Permit has proved attractive mainly to tech professionals. Read about Grace’s experiences in Finland after obtaining the Startup Permit and moving here from China.

Text: Zhanna Koiviola

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