Fulltime HEL: Episode 4 - Helsinki Startup Resources and Beyond
What’s happening Helsinki? A lot it seems if you receive the weekly newsletter from Startup Digest curated by Helsinki’s own Mike Bradshaw and Nithin Kumar. Most here in town are well aware of Startup Digest, but if you aren’t, it’s by far the best source of startup events in Greater Helsinki and Finland. What makes it so useful is the ability for anyone to add an event without having to seek approval, ensuring everything is included without a gatekeeper. It also means Mike and Nithin have a lot less work.
There’s a lot going on in not just Helsinki but Finland and I intend to see or be a part of as much of it as I can.
On this episode, the full Finnish startup scene, or as close as I can get. We’re going beyond the borders of Helsinki, but of course given the size of Finland I’m bound to miss something. So I’ll apologize in advance for 1) leaving something out and 2) mispronouncing names.
Aalto Entrepreneurship Society
Without a doubt, the center of Finland’s startup bonanza is Aalto Entrepreneur Society or AaltoES as it’s commonly called. I find myself wanting to simply call it “All Toes” given English’s tendency to add an -es to words ending in O. Established in 2009 by students from a number of universities in Helsinki, not just Aalto, AaltoES has lead to the creation of Startup Sauna, Startup Life, Summer of Startups and Slush. Those four alone account for probably the majority of international renown that Finland has developed for its startup scene.
AaltoES as its name implies is connected to Aalto University, given that it was founded by students of said university. One of the first things the organization did in conjunction with the university is establish Startup Sauna — the space. The accelerator came later. Formerly known as Aalto Venture Garage, Startup Sauna is a coworking space open to all that as its name implies is full of saunas. Situated just over the city-line in Espoo Startup Sauna is surprisingly easy to get to and is always full of people working to develop the next great thing. I’ll be interviewing the president of AaltoES Julius Hietala for a future episode of Fulltime HEL, so stay tuned for that.
The accelerator known as Startup Sauna is a five week endeavor for startups from the Nordic and Baltic nations, Russia and Eastern Europe. The course offers coaching, networking, industry help and more, twice a year. They also take what they describe as the best teams to the US to meet investors and others. Those that have come through Startup Sauna include Leeluu Labs and Entocube both of which will appear on future episodes of Fulltime HEL.
Summer of Startups
Summer of Startups is similar to Startup Sauna, that’s clear just from the fact that it’s by AaltoES and takes place at Startup Sauna. The difference comes in that Summar of Startups is geared towards those interested in working for a startup or being an entrepreneur. It’s in effect a crash course in startup life during nine weeks in the summer. Anyone can apparently join, an already established startup isn’t a requirement. The program culminates in Demo Day with the chance for the teams to pitch in front of a live crowd and a number of investors.
If Summer of Startups is about introducing people to entrepreneurship then Startup Life is about connecting Finns to Silicon Valley and giving them a taste of the fast paced nature of work in America. Startup Life provides paid internships which is a rarity anywhere, so it provides the few students who are accepted every year a great step up in their journey to joining the startup community.
Talking about the startup scene in Helsinki and Finland at large wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Slush. Initially described to me as an event created to connect investors and entrepreneurs that originally focused on just getting together to drink beer, the event has morphed under the auspices of AaltoES. Slush has expanded beyond Helsinki to events in Bangkok, Bangalore, Berlin and London. This November entrepreneurs, investors, media and more will gather in Helsinki for two days to pitch, demo, meet and greet. It’s without a doubt the premiere event of Finland’s startup community and I plan on being there.
The other big event in Helsinki is ArcticStartup or as it was known this year Arctic15. More a media company then anything else ArcticStartup is the Nordic Nations’ answer to TechCrunch, but also hosts a tech and startup conference in the spring that brings together entrepreneurs, startups, investors and the media.
Helsinki offers more resources than just AaltoES and its multiple outlets. NewCoHelsinki is a great example. Originally established under the name Enterprise Helsinki, in an attempt by the city of Helsinki to support and promote entrepreneurship. NewCoHelsinki provides courses in creating a business, working for a startup and other areas vital to running a business, as well as networking and job opportunities. It even has its own accelerator that lasts six months to a year. It’s courses and events are both in Finnish and English which is great for the international community of Finland, sadly they’re neglecting the Swedish minority.
Finnish Business Angels Network
Angel investors are vital to most startup’s growth, and Finland isn’t without its own. The Finnish Business Angels Network or as it’s known FIBAN, is just that. A non-profit organization aimed at improving investing and networking in Finland through events and other resources. If you’re a Finnish startup in needed of funding, it’s clearly the place to turn.
Chambers of Commerce
An often overlooked resource for young entrepreneurs is the age old institution the Chamber of Commerce. Every region of Finland has one and they can all be accessed through kauppakamari.fi. Helsinki’s an international community which means it has more than just its own chamber but also the International Chamber of Commerce or ICC, AmCham, the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce and more. Each is a resource that can be tapped for business development, networking and more. AmCham even has a program called Launchpad USA which is geared towards helping Finnish companies develop their American market. I’ll have more on Launchpad USA in a future episode.
Erika Halonen of Boost Turku.
Finland isn’t only Helsinki. Yes, this podcast is called Fulltime HEL but that’s because it’s a great name… doesn’t matter if you think so, I’m the creator of it and only my opinion maters. There’s plenty else happening in Finland, and Boost Turku is a great example. Similar to AaltoES and Summer of Startups, Boost Turku is both an entrepreneur society connecting Turku’s universities, coworking space called Startup Farm and startup course called Startup Journey. I went to the final day of Startup Journey where the nine startups participating demo’d their products and services and pitched to a panel of judges. While there I got a chance to briefly speak with Erika Halonen and Mika Marjalaakso, one of the coaches.
In attending the demo days of both Startup Sauna and Boost Turku I found myself wondering how difficult these programs were, because I wasn’t hearing any probing questions, what was asked tended to be what I call softball questions. And this occurred at both events. No one seemed to be saying to those participating that their ideas may not be feasible. Of course, what did I know, I hadn’t participated and Mika and Erika rightly corrected my assumptions. Startup Journey and Summer of Startups are not about creating the next unicorn. Rather, they’re about getting people to understand what’s required to run a company, think like startup founders, and to have a good time doing something new. And those difficult questions, well they’re asked during the program not just on pitch day.
Boost isn’t the only thing Mika and Erika are doing.
As for Shift, well there will be more to come as Erika introduces the world to all that awaits in Finland’s former capital. It’ll be exciting to have more events and opportunities in Finland that are beyond Helsinki.
And speaking of exciting, there’s Polar Bear Pitching which is part of Pitchfest Oulu. Where other than Finland would they expect you to jump into freezing cold water to make your pitch. Pitchouts Oulu also hosts Midnight Pitchfest for night owls and those burning the candle at both ends. If you can survive either event then you can probably survive anything. Like most events for startups these pitchfests are about networking, finding investors and of course having a good time.
That’s not all Oulu has to offer, there’s also Business Kitchen from the University of Oulu. Anyone who’s ever attended a house party knows the action centers around the kitchen, and the same is true for Oulu. Only difference? Their kitchen is designed for coworking, promoting entrepreneurship and assisting budding startups. Business Kitchen also organizes the Avanto Accelerator, a business incubator, the Demola Network to connect and aid companies in co-working, Oulu’s own student entrepreneur society OuluSES, and the Nestholma B2B-startup accelerator program, as well as other startup services.
Starttaamo is another community for entrepreneurs in Oulu, this one run by entrepreneurs. It’s in effect a society similar to FIBAN or a chamber of commerce.
Jyväskylä Entrepreneurship Society
Up north also holds Jyväskylä Entrepreneurship Society which promotes entrepreneurship among students at Jyväskylä University and Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences. They provide networking opportunities and host a large number of events.
Patteri Entrepreneurship Society and *SHIP
Back down south is the Patteri Entrepreneurship Society, which serves the Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences in Kouvola and Kotka. They organize *SHIP the startup festival which this year was in Kotka and included among its guests former US-Ambassador to Finland where startups from all over Finland were able to pitch their ideas to investors, accelerators, the media and more.
As you can see there’s a lot going on in Finland. Startups aren’t not merely a trend here, they’re a way of life. And while some may complain about the high taxes or restrictive business environment it seems that the country, its people and universities are doing everything they can to promote entrepreneurship, businesses and job creation.
If I missed anything, or you want to correct me on some of the details by all means, just contact me at here. Otherwise, you’re bound to see me at future events not just in Helsinki, but around Finland.
On the next episode of Fulltime HEL, the importance of good design.
Fulltime HEL was produced by me, Gregory Pellechi. Music for the show is courtesy of Chris Zabriskie.