Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Helsinki Startup Day – Entrants to cross-border markets gain big advantage from community spirit

Once again, Helsinki Startup Day was a success. More than one thousand people had registered and those who participated in the event praised the diverse programme and also the sense of community. People felt welcome, whether they were sent by a small startup enterprise or by a company that is already well on its way to growth.

Marja-Leena Rinkineva, who is Helsinki’s director of economic development, reiterated in her opening remarks that the organisers of this and the previous event had intended it as an opportunity for local startup players to get together.

This year, the organisers wanted to include young companies from the other Nordic countries and the Baltic States, i.e. the New Nordics area. Now, the event themes were games as well as health and wellness.

As the world is shrinking, the competition is getting tougher. Rinkineva asserted that Helsinki is already a veteran startup city, but to be successful globally, bigger players are needed. For the Nordic countries and the Baltic States, it would pay off to rally together and to expand the companies and the market to dimensions that are large even in a European perspective.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

There is clearly a big demand for this kind of event, said Tommo Koivusalo, head of NewCo Helsinki, and Marja-Leena Rinkineva, director of economic development.

The idea is to give the participants all at once a comprehensive grip on the Helsinkian startup scene, new and useful information and valuable new connections. The timing of the event, i.e. the first week of June, has been chosen quite on purpose, as that is the super week of international startup events in Helsinki.

– We in the municipal organisation do not start up businesses, but we can create the best imaginable business environment. This is what we work for, and that is what Startup Day is about, Rinkineva concludes.

All startup companies and everybody with an interest in joining the ecosystem was eligible to participate in the event programme, as the organisers wanted to enable entrance to all interested.

Rinkineva pointed out that the Finnish gaming industry is world-famous, but that there was now great potential in health care.Therefore, she was pleased with the fact that companies representing both industries but also interested investors were in attendance in such large numbers.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Aside from speeches, the Startup Day programme included, among other things, workshops and speed business meetings.

Head of unit Tommo Koivusalo reminded the participants of the notion that no one is able to succeed on his own. Particularly in the modern world, you cannot advance without access to networks.

Koivusalo asserted that there is an abundance of confidence in the world’s happiest country. This facilitates communication and network building substantially. In Helsinki, these are sought after, especially coupled with Scandinavians and people from the Baltic States.

– NewCo Helsinki is a great place to work, because there our job is to help new entrepreneurs and enterprises, Koivusalo added glowingly.

Rinkineva and Koivusalo hypothesised that the popularity of the event is a sign of the community spirit of startup companies in the Helsinki Capital Region.

– People have a need to meet others, to make contact and to find new ideas, Rinkineva said.

– There is an urge to work together here. There is an intimate atmosphere and people are prepared to share information. Why not describe this as startup casual? Koivusalo suggested.

Another sign of the community spirit was a piece of news that broke that day. The community of gaming companies in the Capital Region is about to establish a new gaming association that will promote the growth and culture of gaming companies. Joint voluntary work will make the association come true and keep it running.

Growth programmes in common

The programme of the event included several interesting speeches. Svein Berg of Nordic Innovation, who was one of the anticipated speakers, underlined the importance of scale-ups, i.e. growth-oriented companies.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Svein Berg encouraged startups to grow.

Nordic Innovation sets innovations in motion and finances them. Its key partners are Nordic small and medium-size businesses. It has also teamed up with Maria 01, which is a cluster of Helsinkian startup and growth companies.

– As much as we are talking about startups, we as nations need growing companies above all.

He thinks that the Nordic countries and the Baltic States form a region that has everything that is needed to generate even fast business growth. There is a business-friendly atmosphere, there is no corruption and the infrastructure works.

According to statistics, in years 2013–2016 the Nordic scale-ups generated 200,000 new jobs.

He pointed out that nobody was born to lead a growth company. The entrepreneurs need acceleration programmes and mentoring.

– It is an excellent thing that we are able to join forces, share information and support entrepreneurship, Berg asserts.

Christine Ritter came from Denmark to talk about acceleration programmes. She summed up the three greatest needs of startups: they should get assistance to obtain funding, to recruit staff and to find suitable facilities and equipment.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Christine Ritter thinks it would be excellent for startup enterprises to be provided with facilities and equipment.

Funding for the gifted and the hard-working

Olavi Mertanen, of FiBAN that represents business angels, had one of the most popular workshops of the event. He stayed on to answer questions still a long time after closing up shop.

Mertanen made the point that a good startup will still be able to obtain funding, even though economic growth is expected to slow down.

– There are plenty of interesting enterprises in the Capital Region. Personally, I follow keenly what is going on with the education startups that get a tailwind from the good reputation of the Finnish education system.

According to Mertanen’s shortlist of keys to success, you need a good business idea, and in addition to that, a well-functioning network and the capacity to introduce the story of the company, as demanded, in three minutes, or in two or one, in Finnish and in English.

– The story can never be too good, you should invest yourself in it with due care.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Olavi Mertanen of FiBAN that represents business angels set up a very popular workshop.

Funding available in Estonia as well

Startup Estonia's Maarika Truu gave a talk about the situation for startups in Estonia. She assured that funding is to be found for good ideas and talents in Estonia as well.

– We have about 550 startups, which is a lot for a country of 1.3 million inhabitants. Soon startups will employ approximately 5,000 people, and our companies too do suffer from a shortage of labour.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Maarika Truu talked about the Estonian startups and their situation.

Truu reminded that the Nordic countries and Estonia have cooperated previously as well. For instance, Skype was set up jointly by the Swedes, the Danes and the Estonians.

There is strength in cooperation, emphasised Suvi Latva of Baltic Games Industry and Per Strömbäck of Dataspelsbranschen, who were interviewed as part of a panel discussion.

Strömbäck made the audience laugh when he stated that the Swedes love the Finns in particular: In case the Swedes do not win the hockey games themselves, they want the Finns to come out as winners.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Suvi Latva and Per Strömbäck on stage being interviewed by Koopee Hiltunen (centre).

The gaming industry benefits from diversity

Taina Myöhänen gave a presentation about the recently established Women in Games Finland association, which works for diversity within the gaming industry. The community was originally a Facebook group, but as the number of followers had reached one thousand plus, an association was set up.

In spite of its name, the association does not promote the female angle only, but rather diversity more generally.

Myöhänen points out that there are many hidden jobs in the gaming industry. The management recruits people from among their acquaintances, or then friends of friends are selected to fill vacancies, and so diverse backgrounds are not perceived as a plus for game development.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Taina Myöhänen provided a reminder of the great benefits of diversity to the gaming industry.

Reach out to people!

Information was disseminated also unofficially, in the corridors and during the quarters of an hour of speed meetings. The speed meetings or matchmaking was one of the most successful parts of the big event, as about 700 bilateral meetings took place. Some had set up meetings already in advance and some were set up in the course of the day based on data from the matching system.

The participants gave much praise for the 15-minute meetings, and many had several. One of them was Jesse Tran, who had made quite a few inspiring appointments on behalf of his Rens Coffee Shoes Company, which produces running shoes from coffee grounds and recycled plastics.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Jesse Tran introduced shoes produced by his enterprise, Rens Coffee Shoes, to Truc Doan.

Fedor Tyurin addressed some questions about Maria 01 to Tiina Nyman. The startup cluster had attracted Tyurin’s attention, as he had heard about it from other young enterprises and was aware that many talented people have come together in the facilities of what formerly was a hospital.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Fedor Tyurin of Enable Banking wanted to know more about Maria 01. Tiina Nyman explains.

Tyurin had come to Startup Day to network. Even his colleagues had pushed him to get moving to reach out to people as he otherwise spends most of his working days in the company of his laptop.

The Barracuda Disaster was appreciative as well. This enterprise develops a comedic game for childlike adults.

– It was excellent to get here, because we need people to test the game and then we collect their feedback, Henri Taussi explained.

The enterprise is also on the lookout for a publisher and for funding. Taussi thinks it is great that Helsinki Startup Day is open to everybody without an entry fee.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Jenni Pennanen, Henri Taussi and Teemu Viisanen of Barracuda Disaster had the opportunity to collect feedback from gamers.

Roshnii Chou of the recently established company Peaso described her mood as that of being extremely impressed. She wanted to find out whom of the City of Helsinki staff she should thank for the event.

Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Peaso’s Roshnii Chou at a speed meeting with Otso Mursula of KÄÄPÄ Health wanted to know whether she would be able to use the latter company’s laboratory for testing.

Chou’s company is geared towards the health and wellness industry and reforms the Japanese miso soup to be Western, gluten-free and completely vegan. Her goal is to export new “Nordic style” health food to all of Europe. She had a speed meeting with e.g. Otso Mursulan of Kääpä Health.

– Here, I got completely new ideas and new perspectives on how to develop a company, Chou rounded off.

Original text in Finnish: Kirsi Riipinen
Images: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Further reading

NewCo Helsinki
Maria 01