Anna Fatima Sambou, originally from the Gambia, enjoys an international environment. Before settling in Oulu, northern Finland, she studied and worked in marketing and business development in Africa, Asia and elsewhere in Europe. In fact, Anna Fatima was working in Taiwan when she learnt about the University of Oulu’s Business Kitchen concept, which, at the time, helped students with their business ideas. So with her sights set on entrepreneurship, Anna Fatima moved to Oulu in 2018 to do a master’s degree in economics and business management.
After graduating, Anna Fatima started to work on her dream. Now she runs a company which develops a platform for connecting lonely senior citizens to local helpers and pursues international markets. But it isn’t all work for Anna Fatima. She still finds time for volunteering and an occasional game of ice hockey.
The reason I wanted to start a company in Finland is… I knew already before coming here that entrepreneurship was what I wanted to do as a career. So I came here with that mindset and intention to start a business after graduation.
However, before starting my own business, I first did some internships and worked in both a Finnish and a Swedish company to better understand the working environment and culture.
What I enjoy most about being an entrepreneur is… the ability to direct the organisational culture.
Also, being able to find my own work-life balance. One of the benefits of running your own business is the flexibility that comes with it, whether working from wherever you want and setting your own hours or wearing a nightgown or even sitting next to your pet while you work.
The Finnish startup ecosystem is… great and friendly. Finland has created an enabling environment for startup companies to thrive. It does an incredible job of providing government support options that aim to encourage people to open new businesses rather than present roadblocks that discourage innovation.
The Finnish ecosystem is also becoming more diverse and inclusive. In my opinion, if Finland aims to attract many international companies, all information about startups, business regulations, funding and other relevant things should be available in English.
The main difference in working life in Finland compared to other countries where I’ve worked is…. that those cultures have been more open to diversity and other cultures.
Finns are very comfortable with their abilities, and sometimes they might ignore what another person can contribute or bring to the table. In my experience, they tend to accept the Finnish way of doing things as the only option available, and something different might be overlooked. However, it is changing a bit now, and I’m beginning to see a lot more openness and willingness to embrace different options.
I love the fact that Finns are very smart and hardworking. I’ve learnt a lot working with them. They are dedicated to their work, uphold company values and are very honest. You can rely on them to get the job done. They have the knowledge and understanding of what they are doing and most are highly efficient.
The organisations that have been helpful for my professional growth in Finland include… During my startup journey, I’ve been part of a few startup accelerator programmes, such as the Startup Refugees Business Programme and Helsinki Female Tech Founder Frontrunner. I’ve gotten a lot of support from these two programmes and learnt how you can turn your idea into a real business.
For example, during the startup refugees course, I received information and practical tips about product development, marketing, and financial and legal issues. I also got to network with and learn from business practitioners. They helped me with funding, business development and consultation in the early days of my company.
On the other hand, the female tech founder mentoring programme has given me a lot of visibility in Finland and abroad. As part of the programme, I’ve been mentored by successful entrepreneurs who have been able to develop multi-million-dollar companies. I’ve also learnt practical skills to navigate the funding process from the perspective of both an entrepreneur and investor.
The advice I would give to anyone considering starting a company in Finland is… believe in yourself and take action. You never know if you don’t try.
The hobbies that I’ve really enjoyed in Finland are… When I moved here, I tried activities like picking berries, kayaking, swimming, ice hockey, sauna and travelling to different places in the country to enjoy the beautiful nature.
I still enjoy swimming, ice hockey, saunas, running, reading and meeting new people. Also, aside from work, I love engaging in community activities, and I mentor international mothers to discover their passions and convert them into scalable businesses.