February 9, 2018

Five for Friday: Things we learned at Polar Bear Pitching

Polar Bear Pitching saw Oulu keeping a cool head in the midst of some serious innovation.
Polar Bear Pitching saw Oulu keeping a cool head in the midst of some serious innovation.

This week, the coolest pitching event in the world shined a global spotlight on the city of Oulu.

Located 600 kilometres north of Helsinki, the city of Oulu is an innovative hub of great ideas and tech brilliance. The growing popularity of Polar Bear Pitching (PBP), has seen the city play host to a range of side events and workshops, designed to further escalate the future prospects of the town.

Here’s what caught our eye up north.

Oulu is the place to invest

The two-day programme kicked off with ground zero for VC investors, business angels and Oulu-based companies: Oulu Investor Day. Altogether, some 100 one-on-one meetings were organised between investors and companies, along with some inspiring speeches from local and international investors.

“This is a place where positive things happen,” declared Juha Ala-Mursula, the director of economic development at the City of Oulu/BusinessOulu. “When people ask how are things in Oulu, the Finnish reply is, ‘not so bad.’ This is our [humble] way of saying we are actually doing pretty good.”

When in doubt, sisu

Oulu’s geographical isolation is matched by a climate that is pummelled by the Arctic chill, seesawing levels of daylight and an often-soggy summer. Therefore, when the local economy teetered on despair back in 2013, there was only one solution.

“With Finnish sisu, there is nothing you can’t do,” stated PBP founder Mia Kemppaala, referring to uniquely Finnish combination of grit, determination and perseverance.

“Instead of hiding our differences, I thought that, ‘let’s turn it upside down and make it a focal point, the wow factor’,” she recalls. “We should put entrepreneurs in a hole, and in doing so they cut to the chase and make themselves understood. They have to talk in simple terms to get the point across.

“It’s so crazy, we just have to do it.”

Finnish politicians take a fresh approach

Finland’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen was on hand at this year’s PBP. Actually, he was more than that, plunging into the ice hole to deliver a warm welcome, albeit in sub-zero temperatures.

“I want to make sure…that we are an open, international society, we welcome all ideas, all entrepreneurs, all startups and investors to Finland,” he declared.

Education has an innovative approach

This year, Business Oulu organised a media tour for representatives from the US, South Korea, Japan, France and China, that coincided with PBP. One of the many highlights was a visit to the University of Oulu, where a number of research groups and spin-off companies were introduced, all in the midst of the university’s innovative space, Tellus Innovation Arena.

“Here at the university, we are pushing the boundaries of the human world,” stated university vice rector Helka-Liisa Hentilä, hitting the nail on the head.

Oulu remains in great health

Part of the international media tour also included presentations from a quartet of health-related companies. Whilst Oura Health‘s wellness ring has previously been on our radar, the trio of Near Real, Spektikor and Nukute also impressed with their healthtech solutions.

Near Real’s one-click service helps doctors to treat patients remotely, Spektikor develops portable vital sign monitors for emergency medicine and professional use and Nukute’s technology helps pre-screen and assist diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea patients and snoring. These are all in keeping with Oulu’s healthy approach.

“There are more than 500 health and life science companies here,” OuluHealth’s network director Noora Jansson told us back in December. “People in Oulu are not afraid of technology. If you always play it safe, you achieve nothing.”

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