The Startup Scene in Helsinki

Arctic Evening
Arctic Evening - March 2009

I was lucky my trip to Helsinki overlapped with a meeting of Arctic Startup, an occasional meeting of high-tech entreprenuers. The event was held in the Dubrovnik Lounge, a cozy event space in downtown Helsinki which had room for about 100.

It reminded me of other Web 2.0 events that I’ve been to outside of silicon valley in Tokyo and on the East Coast of the US. A gathering of the faithful who spend their days virtually tapped in to what is going on in the valley come together face-to-face to compare notes and talk about the latest news and gossip. Everyone wants to know how things are in the Valley and if it’s really like what they’ve read. The organizers do a great job of bringing everyone together and encouraging people to help each other out and share stories of what works connecting people.

The evening’s event centered around a panel discussion about the state of VC funding in Finland and I was suprised to learn how active the Finnish government is in helping get startups off the ground. It’s difficult for a nordic startup (there were visitors from Sweden and Estonia) to secure VC funding from overseas so their best bet is to use the University system to build a prototype and secure an grant from the “tekka” (I know I’m spelling this wrong) that has become more open to funding alternatives to the pure R&D projects they have traditionally funded.

I met with Indrek Vainu from Estonia who implored me to let people I know that there’s government grants available for businesses that establish themselves in Estonia. As long as you can bring $2M to the table, the Estonian government will match that amount as a grant, doubling your runway. The application process takes some time but it’s worth it. Indrek consults on helping with the application process so if you’re interested in getting in touch, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.

I also learned about the rather infamous case of Riot On, a mobile entertainment startup in early 2000 which famously swindled its investors and ended up giving startups a bad reputation that they’re still trying to overcome. There’s a great documentary about that crazy time and how it all went down. You can see the whole thing on Joost.

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