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Happiness is starting your own business in Finland

Helsinki was ranked by Forbes as one of the top two cities to live and work in.

Helsinki Partners / N2 Albiino

Finland remains the world’s happiest country – what implications does this have for the local entrepreneurial spirit?

Finland in 2023 was named the happiest country in the world for an unprecedented sixth year running, underlining the heightened sense of satisfaction that people have with their lives here. Whilst things such as stability, order, free healthcare and education hold particular importance for Finns, one key aspect that ensures greater harmony among the populace is the local ability to balance wellbeing with their workday.

“I’ve learnt that Finns take hobbies quite seriously, which is an excellent way to achieve a work-life balance,” said Brazilian Talita Tobias Carneiro, a system-on-chip architect who has lived in the country permanently since 2016.

“It is nice to have the freedom to prioritise your personal life,” she added.

Windi Muziasari was named the Young Research Entrepreneur of the Year in 2021.

Windi Muziasari

In Finland, emphasis is placed on efficiency rather than accumulation of overtime and thus around only four per cent of employees work very long hours, much less than the OECD average of 10 per cent. Furthermore, full-time workers here devote an average of nearly two-thirds of their day to eating, sleeping and leisure. Rather than endless hours tethered to screens to meet mounting deadlines, workdays are usually capped at around eight hours and annual holidays are around four to five weeks in duration.

“More ‘human’ working hours mean you can enjoy a work-life balance that is the best in the world,” emphasises Laura Lindeman, head of the Work in Finland unit at Business Finland. “We place a high value on work-life balance because happy workers are more productive and innovative as a result.”

Finding the right balance

This balanced approach to working life can present a fresh experience for people who move here from cultures that take a different approach.

“You get more paid days off here, and you can leave work after five and get your mind off work,” said Hoang-Mai Nguyen, originally from Vietnam. “In Asian countries, it’s not that easy. The competition is incredibly tough, pushing everyone to work hard.”

This work-life balance first caught the attention of Indonesian Windi Muziasari back in 2009. Having befriended a Finn during her studies in South Korea, their discussions about Finnish working life eventually saw her set her sights on this northern land as a place to set herself up in and seek academic opportunities. 

Fast-forward 12 years and Windi has firmly planted roots in Finland. With a PhD in her back pocket, she went on to found, together with the same Finnish friend from South Korea, a biotechnology company, Resistomap, that specialises in monitoring antibiotic resistance in the environment. The company just announced a two-million-euro funding round. Windi’s hard work hasn’t gone unrecognised and she was named Finland’s Young Research Entrepreneur of the Year  –  all of this without yet being able to master the local language.

“Working as an entrepreneur in Finland doesn’t necessarily require Finnish language skills, especially when your business targets international markets,” she said. “So, it is easier for me to work as an entrepreneur since my Finnish skills are very basic.”

Other aspects of the Finnish startup ecosystem, too, have been a pleasant surprise for Hyunseok Choi, a South Korean entrepreneur fostering business networks between his home country and the Nordics.

Hyunseok Choi’s (third from right) work includes such things as arranging meetings and doing market research for companies in Finland and South Korea.

Hyunseok Choi

“Firstly, [people] aren’t afraid of failing. Some even have an attitude of ‘try fast, fail fast’,” he said. “Also, stories of failure are welcomed by people. This atmosphere has helped me to become less afraid of failure, and I have developed the discipline to learn from it.”

Hyunseok also points to the supportive nature of the startup community here and its free flow of ideas between people.

“What is especially impressive is that it’s so natural for experienced entrepreneurs to help newbies or wannabe entrepreneurs, so they don’t make unnecessary mistakes. Having been influenced by this culture, I also try to help others if they need my help. I think this culture is one of the reasons why the Finnish startup ecosystem thrives,” he added.

Ready to launch

Such glowing testimonials align with the recent news that Finland was named the second-best country for launching a startup in. Favourable business tax rates, GDP growth, and the cost of startup procedures all contributed to this ranking along with the cost of living and quality of life. What’s more, Finland was once again found to have some of the world’s most content employees, helping to drive productivity, growth and innovation.

Kunal Garg turned his fascination with science into a thriving business.

Kunal Garg

Indeed, Finland ranks among the world’s top 10 most innovative countries. Collaboration between companies, universities and research institutions is commonplace and makes for a thriving business environment and startup scene. This collaboration was paramount for Kunal Garg, an Indian entrepreneur who in 2016 founded Tezted here to develop a complete diagnostic test for tick-borne diseases. 

“The reason I wanted to start a company in Finland is that I didn’t find publishing scientific papers a sufficient incentive to continue pursuing science,” he recalled. “I’m not undermining the importance of making one’s research findings public for the benefit of our communities, but I had long dreamed not just of building knowledge but also of creating economic value.”

Anjana didn’t let the pandemic get in the way of finding success here in Finland.

Bhavesh Ratnam

And that he did. In 2019, Garg was named the Young Research Entrepreneur of the Year in Finland and, one year later, made it to the Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 in Europe, in the Science and Healthcare category. When it comes to achieving entrepreneurial success, Garg echoes the comments of Hyunseok.

“The advice I would give to anyone considering starting a company in Finland is to find a mentor that connects with your professional goals and is willing to help you achieve those goals. Starting a company is like painting on a blank canvas. Mentors can teach you to hold the brush and recommend the starting colours to gain meaningful momentum.”

A pivot to happiness

When, six years ago, Anjana Sinha’s husband landed an on-site assignment in Finland, she decided to resign from her job in India and go with him. Anjana arrived without knowing a single person in the country but ever so gradually created her own networks. And much more. She went on to establish her own networking company – one that also began to turn a profit.

“The Finnish startup ecosystem is easy to get involved in,” she stated. “I invested a lot of time in making my company work. As an immigrant and a non-Finnish speaker, I thought opening a company in Finland would be super difficult, but it wasn’t. Many organisations constantly conduct events on how to open a company, get investment and many other business skills.”

Among the perks of living in Helsinki is a strong focus on community and a healthy lifestyle.  

Helsinki Partners / Aleksi Poutanen

Just when the company’s momentum was really taking off, COVID-19 happened, skittling out her enterprise. Yet rather than languish in the ashes of her collapsed venture, Anjana promptly pivoted to studying software development. It was a strategic move, too. Rather than settle on a niche profession with limited employment opportunities, she chose one with much demand – a decision that bore fruit; and one that she enthusiastically tells others to replicate.

“I would recommend searching which job profiles have the highest numbers of open positions. Then, based on what job profile suits you, pick your path and start working triple hard.”

Sinha’s can-do spirit is not an isolated case: she has also seen first-hand how many newcomers to Finland have embraced the opportunities afforded to them here that they may not have had in their own countries.

“Many people who were housewives in their home country have pursued careers in Finland. And many people have become self-taught developers and got the job. Others have pursued their passion and become entrepreneurs,” she commented.

A happy place to be

Helsinki was recently ranked by Forbes as one of the top two cities to live and work in. Highlighting the healthy work-life balance enjoyed by Helsinkians, the Finnish capital places a strong focus on community and a healthy lifestyle. Forbes also pointed to fair parental leave, generous annual leave and flexible working arrangements, which help employees to balance their work responsibilities with personal obligations.

Finns have also in 2023 been on Forbes' radar with the publishing of its 30 Under 30 Europe list. Five Finns made it to the annual listing of young European entrepreneurs, leaders and stars this year.

Originally published in March 2023, updated in November 2023

By: James O’Sullivan