Microsoft announced roughly a week ago it will make a substantial investment in building a server farm powered entirely by emission-free electricity in Espoo, Southern Finland.
“We haven’t communicated the exact amount of the investment, but the estimate is that this is the all-time largest one-off investment in ICT in Finland,” Pekka Isosomppi, communications lead at Microsoft Finland, stated to Helsingin Sanomat on 17 March.
The undertaking is exceptional not only because of its scope, but also because the location was chosen specifically with heat recycling in mind. Fortum, a Finnish state-owned energy company, will capture the excess heat from the cooling processes of the data centres and transfer the heat to residential and commercial premises connected to its district heating network.
The waste-heat recycling dimension of the undertaking will be the largest of its kind globally.
“In this unique collaboration, Microsoft and Fortum combine their world-leading expertise in cloud computing and sustainable energy solutions, transforming the design thinking of data centres of the future,” envisioned Cindy Rose, director of Microsoft in Western Europe.
Markus Rauramo, CEO of Fortum, revealed that the heat captured from the servers will enable the energy company to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by about 400 000 tonnes annually while providing clean heat for homes, businesses and public facilities in and around Espoo. The recycled heat will account for almost 40 per cent of the clean heat distributed in the region by Fortum.
“Developing solutions for the global climate challenge together with partners is a strategic priority for Fortum, and we are proud to embark on this exceptional journey together with Microsoft,” he said.
“This is a significant step for a cleaner world, made possible by our joint ambition to mitigate climate change.”
District heating is presently the most popular heating method in Finland. The infrastructure is undergoing a major change as fossil fuels are being replaced with renewable ones and sustainable solutions such as heat pumps and waste-heat capture methods.
The joint announcement elicited statements also from leading policy-makers in Finland.
“The decision to invest in a data centre that also provides surplus heat to our cities and homes is a win-win,” phrased Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. “It will accelerate Finland’s digital growth while making our energy system greener. I also hope that this collaboration can serve as a model to other countries and cities looking [for] means to achieve the double transformation of climate neutrality and digital competitiveness.”
Finnish business climate retains its appeal
Statistics from Business Finland suggest that foreign companies continued to set up and expand their operations in Finland in 2021. The number of companies that entered the country rose by over 10 per cent from the previous year to 331 despite the lingering economic volatility caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Three-quarters of the market entries were made through acquisitions.
Sweden, the UK and Norway accounted for the majority of new foreign investments in Finland. A bit over half of the investments were made in Uusimaa, the nearly 1.7 million-resident region centred around the capital of Helsinki.
Foreign companies already in the country made about 165 expansion investments, most commonly in sectors such as retail, health and wellbeing, and information and communication technology. Expanding operations during a pandemic sends a powerful message of commitment to develop operations in Finland, gauged Invest in Finland.
“This is a clear sign that foreign-owned companies are satisfied with the Finnish business climate,” Antti Aumo, head of Invest in Finland, said on 9 March.
Funds set out to support metaverse, life sciences
FOV Ventures in March reported that it has established its first early-stage fund that invests in startups building the metaverse after raising 16.5 million of its target of 25 million euros.
The fund will make investments of 250 000–500 000 euros in up to 25 pre-seed and seed-stage businesses developing products and services, such as avatars, entertainment and creator tools, for the much-discussed network of three-dimensional virtual worlds that can be accessed with virtual or augmented reality headsets.
Dave Haynes and Petri Rajahalme, the founding partners of FOV Ventures, have previously made angel investments in the cross-game avatar platform ReadyPlayerMe.
“We believe the metaverse represents a trillion-dollar opportunity over the next decade, fundamentally changing the way we play, socialise and shop, but also the way we work and collaborate,” said Haynes.
“We’ll also need creator tools to build this new reality.”
The UK-based partner was previously part of the investment team at Seedcamp and led the 100 million-US dollar Vive X fund at HTC. Finland-based Rajahalme, in turn, was the managing director at Nordic XR Startups and board chairperson at Immersal.
“For the past five years, Dave and I have had front-row seats and have built a strong network by being very active in the ecosystem,” said Rajahalme.
Innovestor in February announced the launch of an early-stage fund focusing on health and life science companies in the Baltics and Nordics.
The fund has wrapped up an initial closing of 60 million euros, but the plan is to augment its budget by 30–60 million euros in the next 12 months. Finnish Industry Investment (Tesi) contributed half of the initial capital together with its fund of funds, KRR, highlighting that the fund’s objectives align with the growth strategy of health research and innovation activities in Finland.
“For many years, there has been an obvious need for a domestic, specialised fund like this; creating it will significantly complement funding offer for life sciences,” said Petteri Laakso, investment director of Tesi.
The fund is the first in over 10 years to focus on life sciences in Finland.
The fund aims to discover the next billion-dollar innovations in the field with the help of a team of accomplished professionals, including Milla Koistinaho, associate professor of neurobiology at the University of Eastern Finland, and Pekka Simula, ex-chief executive of Herantis Pharma.
“We have exceptionally good insight into seed-stage inventions in universities and strong relationships with researchers in neighbouring countries,” told Koistinaho. “Being based on scientific evidence and high-quality research, this fund is [the] first of its kind in Finland. We have an unrivalled ability to understand and evaluate inventions.”
Simula revealed that the fund intends to co-found half of the approximately 20 companies it will invest in to support them not only with capital but also with expertise.
“Through university co-operation, we are able to screen for innovations that have potential to reach unicorn level,” he affirmed.
ICEYE and Swappie bag big bucks
ICEYE in February said it has raised 136 million US dollars in an equity funding round led by long-standing investor Seraphim Space.
The Helsinki-headquartered new space startup has thereby raised 304 million US dollars for creating and developing its constellation of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites and services that take advantage of the ability to detect and monitor changes on earth, regardless of the time of day and weather conditions.
Reliable and frequent satellite imagery is critical for, among others, insurers determining the extent of crop damage, decision-makers responding to natural catastrophes, agencies responsible for national security and organisations monitoring the effects of climate change.
The constellation currently consists of 16 satellites following the launch of two from Florida, the US, in January 2022.
The latest capital injection will be used to expand the offering of natural catastrophe solutions, to develop the constellation and technology by reducing time to access and increasing the frequency of the satellites, and to pursue global growth through the advancement of analytics services.
“ICEYE has gone from strength to strength since we first invested in the company in 2017,” told James Bruegger, chief investment officer of Seraphim Space. “We’ve watched the company prove the impossible possible by launching the world’s first miniaturised SAR satellite capable of imaging the planet day and night, to now having grown into being the world’s largest operator of SAR imaging satellites.”
Swappie stated last month that it has closed an equity funding round worth 124 million US dollars led by Verdane, a Northern European growth equity firm specialising in technology-enabled sustainable business.
The Helsinki-based retailer of refurbished smartphones said it will use the capital to scale operations in its 15 existing markets across Europe, especially in Italy and Germany. It claims to stand out from the competition because it controls the entire supply chain – from testing and repairing to consumer sales.
“Our main priority is accelerating growth in our current European markets, with a view to expanding further afield in the next few years to meet rising demand,” revealed CEO Sami Marttinen. “People are increasingly looking for ways to lessen their environmental impact and locking on to the fact that smartphone purchasing is an area we can all address.”
Janne Holmia, partner at Verdane, said Swappie has demonstrated its potential to become the market leader in refurbished smartphones in Europe.
To date, the startup has raised over 170 million US dollars in equity funding.
Yeply, a Helsinki-based mobile bicycle maintenance service available in 77 cities across Finland, Germany and the Netherlands, in March reported that it has raised 2.5 million euros in a seed funding round led by Inventure.
The seed funding enables the startup to tap into the cycling boom set off by the pandemic and increase in bicycle purchases from vendors that do not operate a repair shop – that is, online vendors.