Moving to Finland meant a completely new start for Natalia Gromova. After living in the US, Croatia and Malta, Natalia returned to Russia in 2009 to start a family. But after two maternity leaves, building a new house and a career in the education sector, she began to feel the need for a change. Finland wasn’t a self-evident choice. In fact, Natalia was standing in front of a world map pointing at the US when her husband mentioned Finland.
Finland’s reputation as an education superpower and a good place to raise kids as a working mum sealed the deal, but the move wasn’t easy. The family didn’t know anyone in Finland, and Natalia went back to university at 32. But slowly all the pieces started to fall together. Natalia was swept away by the startup community and now runs her own company, which offers professional training for teachers in Russian-speaking countries.
Why I wanted to start a company in Finland is… to fulfil my ambitions. Already during my studies at the Lapland University of Applied Sciences, I started to look for opportunities. I took two long-term internships, I had a part-time job and I took a Finnish language course but, still, I felt there was a mismatch between my ambitions, self-perception and the job market.
I wanted to stay active, confident, independent and happy and also tightly linked to the community. This is when I got introduced to the Finnish startup culture and was amazed by its vibe. In Tampere, it’s also systematically supported by the city. So I decided to try to develop my business idea. When it really worked, I understood it was my path!
What I enjoy most about being an entrepreneur is… the freedom and the opportunity to make an impact. I can choose my projects and partners and still follow my passion. I’m always on the frontline in my field. A startup is the best way to achieve all of this.
Also, subcontracting is a very popular form of co-operation in Finland. For example, soon after my arrival, I got interested in international talent integration, which is a popular topic nowadays. I’m an international talent and I could remember the amount of support me and my family received from the city, so I really wanted to help other international talents in Tampere. And now, besides education exports, my company helps the city run a project in this sector. The project is called Tampere Talent Ambassadors.
As an entrepreneur, I’m constantly learning and I continue my integration path by being an active, independent and self-sufficient member of the community. I feel I belong to the vibrant startup community and ecosystem in Tampere and they are here to help me when needed.
The piece of advice I would give to someone contemplating becoming an entrepreneur in Finland is… that Finland is a country of support and there are many services, including financial support, aimed at aspiring entrepreneurs.
I’ve been living in Tampere for just five years, but in that time many organisations, such as the International House Tampere and Platform 6, have risen to provide systematic assistance to international talents on their integration path in the city. I, as an entrepreneur, received a startup grant, a grant from the city, an education course, a bunch of networking opportunities and connections with local business ecosystems. There are also acceleration programmes, entrepreneurs’ associations and cluster support for different niches.
But it is very important to be active yourself, network, apply your knowledge and test the opportunities you get from the ecosystem. I’m still learning and making mistakes, but I feel confident about my progress and my company and my satisfaction level prove that.
Finland’s strengths in the education industry are… Finland has shaped its education system so that it prepares the pupil for the future. Education here is very practical and competence-oriented and linked to psychology and the deep understanding of personal development. I received all the skills needed to open and run a business in Finland during my MBA programme.
Also, I like that the different stages in education are interlinked and aligned here. There are no dead ends. It helps to form a tradition of lifelong learning, which is very popular in Finland.
The main differences in working life between Finland and other countries I have worked in are…. I worked on educational projects in four countries before coming to Finland and, I have to say, only here did I understand how effective trust and honesty are in business. Finns are very reliable: if they promise something, they do it. It makes many processes much quicker and working more productive and less stressful.
Another interesting thing I have noticed here is the collaboration mindset. The Finnish ecosystem is based on collaboration and trust, and the industry works together rather than competes. The state provides a platform to communicate and bring value to each other. A great example is Education Tampere, an education export community run by the city, to which my company belongs. It has already brought a lot of value to the community and us.
The Finnish word that best describes working here is… yhteistyö (‘collaboration’).
The organisations that have been helpful for my professional growth in Finland include… Ensimetri, which provided initial instructions on how to open a business and provided a startup grant to me.
International House Tampere, with its integration and consultation services for international startups and to the families of working professionals. Family integration is very important as spouses often have different integration paths and paces, but their wellbeing, mindset and professional self-realisation are crucial for an entrepreneur’s future.
Platform6, a local startup ecosystem that provides my office space and community support, networking platform and access to expertise in the field.
What I enjoy most about living in Tampere is… I love the Tampere spirit! The City of Action, we call it. Historically, Tampere has been the industrial capital of Finland and this to-do mindset is still there. The city is future-oriented and advanced with a lot of world-class innovations, venues and events in different spheres. But at the same time, its size allows for a relaxed mode of doing things. You can get anywhere in the city in 15 minutes by car. I point this out also to international groups, you can manage to do and see a lot of amazing things in one day without needing to hurry.
I really love this city, especially because I can combine family life and work-life here. I’m happy we chose Finland and Tampere because it is ideal place to grow and run a family.
The hobbies that I have really enjoyed practising in Finland are… I love everything that is connected to nature: walking, hiking, sports in the open air. We now live five minutes from a downhill skiing centre and 10 minutes from a golf club. There is a football field almost at our door and a lake with a beach two kilometres away. The kids have hobbies close to home, they bike to school every day through the forest and fields. It was truly my dream to combine all of this.