Monday, February 08, 2010

Startup scene in Finland -- When should we start to worry?

Tietoviikko magazine listed 25 most interesting startups from Finland (February 2010). The list is put together by acknowledged experts from Forum Virium Helsinki, Technopolis and Arctic Startup. All of these corporations should have very good picture of the overall situation.

Finland has not exactly been the cradle of startups and entrepreneurship hasn't been that desirable alternative due to non-existing support systems, heavy bureaucracy and public image. Nowadays it is ok --or even cool and fun-- to be an entrepreneur!

Within the last few years there has been several good efforts to spur startups and "facelift" entrepreneurship in Finland. Few years back National technical research center VTT set up a division to spur research driven innovations and spin offs. Startup companies network e.g. at Open Coffee type of events and university students in Helsinki have set up Aalto Entrepreneur Society (AES). AES is one prime example of the new mindset. Traditionally Finns have been far from brilliant in pitching or even presenting things. I have heard many legends from the 1980s how Finns did things in their own way abroad. Maybe that is part of Finnish way of being -- it is good to be humble and make sure not to push your own persona or ideas too much. Otherwise you are annoying, too Swedish or American or just trying to be better than the rest. Lately the common understanding has been that if you want to make a difference, run a profitable company and make good exit you need to do networking and improve your sales skills. I personally am really thrilled to see things evolving. That's why I was surprised by the Tietoviikko list.

At first it struck me that this lists is (at least between the lines) suggesting that not that much is actually happening in Finland. 8 out of 25 most interesting companies were founded in 2005 or earlier. Naturally it takes sometime to make magic happen but is this really the case? Is a company doing RFID solutions for industrial logistics (founded in 2002) more interesting than any other more recent startups? Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against this or any other company on the list and I know it takes some time for businesses to evolve. I am just wondering how long do we expect the next big thing to come from these companies? Aren't there really any challengers? The other interesting thing is the fact that the list contains several consulting companies or companies offering services. Again nothing wrong with that but sounds rather local to me.

There were also some surprises on the list. One is Grey Area. I was involved in Nordic Game Program jury when Grey Area got small fund to develop their location based mobile game further. I personally believe that there are certain niches in location based gaming (e.g. exergaming) which will make good business as soon as people have GPS phones and flat fare data transmission deals. As a basic concept location based gaming is not new and it is relatively hard to monetize. Of course I might be wrong :) Still I wonder if I got the message right: do the experts believe that LBS gaming will be bigger than social gaming (when looking at Finnish startups and their potential to pull it through)?

Oh - and at least one of the companies - Vilant Systems - was also listed as one of the key growth companies (Kauppalehti Dec 2009). Certainly the criteria and focus of these lists is different but still interesting. The discussion continues at the Tietoviikko web site (in Finnish only).


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オテモヤン said...
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