Continuing our series of looking at the BizSpark community in different European countries, we hear from Tarja Jernström, our new BizSpark champ for Finland. Tarja joins Microsoft from TTS, a Finnish research, development and training institute where she gained much of her insight into the local entrepreneurial community.
Finland is a country long used negotiating and trading with other countries for centuries. It gained independence from Russia early in the 20th century and before that, it was part of Sweden for over 600 years, so Finns have always had a multi-cultural influence. Plus, the fact that there are only 5.4 million in Finland – even though it is the fifth largest country landmass in Europe – means that domestic opportunities are limited, so entrepreneurs think about how they can export their ideas at an early stage.
A glance at the top BizSpark startups in Finland shows that in most cases, their websites and services are provided in English from day one. Take for example, Entertrainer, who have developed a Windows phone mobile app called Speedhero. Winner of the recent Helsinki Mobile Acceleration week, Speedhero is great for sports geeks, because it accurately measures the top speed of a football or hockey puck, then shares the results. It uses sound recognition technology and some sophisticated algorithms to measure from first impact to whatever the ball or puck hits.
Games development is pretty strong in Finland (we are the home of Angry Birds, after all). Another BizSpark I’ve met with recently is Star Arcade, who has created a mobile social gaming community that provides a cross-platform multiplayer real-time experience for users in over 180 countries, removing any barriers created by devices or platforms. For instance, a game-player in Cape Town with a Windows Phone can play against an opponent in Bangkok on Facebook. Again, it is cloud-based.
With local hero Nokia being one of the biggest employers in the region, it’s no surprise that many entrepreneurs ‘graduate’ from the company and start their own mobile ventures. In fact, the Nokia Bridge Program is designed to help ex-employees launch their own businesses. But there is a lot more to Finland’s innovation scene than just mobile.
Take for example two of our previous BizSpark European Summit finalists. Sopima’s cloud-based solution gives SMEs access to the kind of contract management tools that have previously only been available to large organisations. Techila makes high performance computing (HPC) as easily available as plugging into a socket to access the electricity grid. These are two success stories that have customers, revenue and are creating jobs. Techila has secured business from across Europe, so it’s a great export story too.
Partners are important
Our local BizSpark Network Partners play an important role in supporting BizSpark entrepreneurs and we are lucky to have some great ones on board – too many to list here, but I’d like to call out Conor Venture Partners, Demola, Inventure, Nebula, Spinno Enterprise Center, Techopolis, Veraventure, CIE, Turku Science Park and the Finnish Software Entrepreneurs Association.
I’m also delighted that Aalto Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE) is our first BizSpark Plus partner in Finland. It does a great job as a catalyst for local research and student-based startups, providing to them a range of services, including business advice, development support and desk space.
As we all know, funding is often the biggest challenge for young companies, which is why we are delighted to have Vision+ as one of our local partners. Launched in March this year, the Vision+Fund 1 focuses on investment in applications, games and services on digital platforms, including mobile. Vision+ is a new type of investor that does not invest in equity, so the model does not dilute the role of existing investors. Instead, the new investor’s return is based on royalties of the product’s cash flow. Typical investment size is 50,000-500,000 Euros. This kind of financial injection clearly makes a big difference to startups who want to go global with their dreams.
Of course I am biased, but I really believe that Finland is one of the most exciting places for a startup to be right now. In my first few months at Microsoft I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some inspiring entrepreneurs within the BizSpark community and I look forward to hearing about many more over the years to come.