No stable business is built overnight, believes Parneet Bajaj. A compliance expert, Parneet had been working in the aviation and maritime industry in the US, UK and Qatar for 20 years when the coronavirus pandemic hit. His was one of the 400 000 jobs in the aviation industry wiped out by the pandemic. He had recently got married and returned home to India to think about his next steps.
Unfortunately, the industries Parneet knew the best were struck hard. So he started thinking whether he could use his skill set differently. Parneet was used to presenting training compliance plans and knew training staff in small meeting rooms wasn’t a viable option any more. Instead, Parneet took a leap of faith at a challenging time in his life and developed a business plan for virtual mandatory training programmes. Attracted by the Finnish startup ecosystem’s good reputation, he applied for a startup visa and, in August 2021, moved to Helsinki to execute his vision.
Why I wanted to start a company in Finland is… Finland offered a lot of positive reasons for us to start our company here. Finland’s education standards are well known worldwide, and I was keen on making Finnish pedagogy an integral part of our training methodology.
Furthermore, our target clientele is companies with a headcount of 20 000 employees. Finland’s reputation in corporate governance adds an extra layer of confidence for our global clients. The amazing startup ecosystem and support from Business Finland were also some of the features that led to this decision.
The words of advice I would have for someone contemplating becoming an entrepreneur here are… that entrepreneurship is about self-belief and setting the narrative. As a CEO/ founder you are often seen as the most prominent ambassador of your business idea. Therefore, you need to form a solid narrative and fall in love with it.
Also, harness the ecosystem in Finland, establish deep connections with advisors from Business Finland and other such agencies, and build an advisory board. Set aside a certain percentage of the company for expert advisors who advise you on your growth plans. Our company has one expert advisor for finance and another for business development. Both advisors are beacons of growth for raising finance and opening up newer markets in Europe and the rest of the world.
Your narrative will help you build high-performing teams and eventually onboard investors who come believing in you and your company’s narrative.
Finally, it is better to be the 50-per cent owner of a five million-euro company than to be the 100-per cent owner of a company valued 0.
Finland’s strengths in the mandatory training industry are… political stability, fairness of the law and Finnish corporate governance, which is the gold standard. For the success of our company, these were important ingredients. In our business, clients need to be given a compelling reason for entrusting us with their safety and security standards.
Also, Finnish pedagogy is world-renowned. A little known fact is that Finnish pilots are considered amongst the best trained in the world within the aviation industry.
Then there are the technological strengths. Due to its mature gaming industry, Finland has a fairly advanced VR [virtual reality] ecosystem. Our company creates VR training for our clients, and it is easy to find talent here that offers top-notch finishing to our VR experiences. Setups like Helsinki XR Center further assists companies like ours. They help to deliver high-quality experiences at a fraction of the price as we do not have to worry about investing in expensive infrastructure for VR production.
The main differences in working life in Finland compared to other countries where I have worked are… I think it is the work-life balance that surprised me the most. In Qatar, we were expected to spend at least 10 hours a day at work, so returning home at 7 pm was commonplace. It was interesting to see people in Finland leaving for home at 4 pm and sometimes even earlier on Fridays. That was a pleasant change – your hours at work do not translate to efficiency.
In my past life receiving emails from agencies like immigration and licensing agencies were more of a hit and miss. Sometimes you’d hear back – most times you wouldn’t. But not here. When you email public agencies here, you’ll generally receive a response to your query. Sometimes within 2 days, sometimes within a week, but typically you get a reply.
I’d also like to highlight random interactions. In my personal experience, it is a myth that Finnish people are introverts and don’t respond much to strangers. I often approach people randomly at my office building in A Grid. I have managed to have 20 to 25–minute–long sessions of sharing ideas and discussing plans with someone whom I met for the first time. At times we collaborated later on projects.
The organisations that have supported my professional growth in Finland include… Business Finland, which helped me with the startup permit and initial funding needs. NewCo Helsinki inducted us into their accelerator programme and have guided us ever since. Helsinki Partners helped hone my business plan and introduced me to many important stakeholders in the startup ecosystem, including a berth in this year’s Slush startup event.
Business Espoo helped with my company setup and financial calculations. To date, they help me with answering queries from the tax office and the patents and registers office. Then there is Aalto A Grid, the co–working space I use as my office. They have helped introduce me to my current partners and team members.
The challenges that I have encountered and overcome while adjusting to working life in Finland are… I think the most common challenges are the language barrier, weather and initially finding enough people to trust in your vision.
I’ve been lucky so far in finding a lot of people who speak English proficiently. On a rare occasion, if you find anyone who is not as proficient in the language, they still genuinely try to help with whatever English language skills they have.
However, receiving notifications from the tax office, banks, insurance companies etc. in Finnish is a challenge. Therefore I rely on my new friends in Finland to help me to translate when Google Translate does not work accurately.
What I found missing is soft–landing services for new entrepreneurs arriving in Finland. It can be overwhelming to deal with a new country, language and extreme weather at times. Meeting with the registry office, procuring a Finnish ID and opening a bank account as a process could be simplified. In my opinion, a soft–landing service would greatly assist in assimilation.
Also, the weather is extremely cold. However, if you are well prepared and well layered, it is not a challenge. The triple-glazed windows at houses and apt insulation keep indoors warm and comfortable. Invest in a good jacket, merino underwear, merino socks and a good pair of winter boots, and Finland suddenly won’t seem that cold. I have so far experienced -24 degrees Celsius and felt it was bearable with my gear.
As a foreigner, you need to cultivate trust with Finnish people. Once you do that, you have a friend you can trust with your eyes closed. The initial barriers are obviously there, but they can be removed with time and honest conversations. The initial effort has to be yours though.
What I enjoy most about living and working in Helsinki and Espoo is … I actually enjoy the best of both worlds. My office is on Aalto University campus in Espoo, and I reside in an area close to Pitäjänmäki in Helsinki. I love the open spaces and greenery in Espoo and adore the proper city feel in Helsinki. Travel between Helsinki and Espoo is seamless, and places don’t seem too far. I use public transport daily and take the bus to work, which takes 20 minutes. While at the office in Espoo, metro connectivity takes you quickly to the centre of Helsinki.
The hobbies that I have really enjoyed practising in Finland are… community service at the Gurudwara in Helsinki. Every Sunday, I go to our local Sikh temple called Gurudwara (Door to the Guru) and serve meals to our local Sikh community members. I find immense happiness in being able to serve food with my own hands. While in Qatar, I missed doing community service as no Sikh temples were established in Qatar. I’m glad that Finland has been inclusive and respects diversity.
One activity I’m excited to try is ice swimming. Our community manager at A Grid has convinced me to try it in tandem with controlled breathing this winter.