One of Finland’s largest ever mergers and acquisitions, the purchase of Wolt by DoorDash (1), in November 2021 created a huge buzz again around the startup scene in Finland. With such record-breaking deals, it is easy to think that only few extraordinarily brilliant business minds could manage entrepreneurship and founding a startup.
In the best-case scenario, with hard work, a clever idea and some luck, your business can indeed turn into a unicorn like Wolt. However, as an entrepreneur, you set the goals for your business. The unique appeal of entrepreneurship is that it can take different forms based on your interests and expertise.
No matter what your vision for your business is, the Helsinki capital region is an ideal setting for developing your business idea. You certainly have plenty of support available around you.
Should I? Could I? — Plunge into the idea of entrepreneurship
The first step is to ask yourself: could entrepreneurship be something for me? We all start from somewhere, and baby steps are allowed along the way. Your skills and competence will grow by seeking information, experience and feedback.
Once you have your business idea, you can determine the scale of your endeavour. You can start with anything from light entrepreneurship to visionary business-building with global reach. Entrepreneurship incorporates a huge variety of options.
When contemplating the thought, you can explore the forms of enterprises in Finland e.g.
- on the InfoFinland website or
- in the Guide for Becoming an Entrepreneur on the NewCo Helsinki website.
Polish the key: your attitude
Secondly, as an entrepreneur, you need to be prepared to work on your attitude.
In speaking with business and talent advisors and startup entrepreneurs, three main themes tend to come up: flexibility, openness, and adaptability.
Teemu Seppälä, a Business Advisor for NewCo Helsinki, offers that to be successful as an entrepreneur, you need to find the balance of being open to feedback and confidence in your vision.
Of course, any successful entrepreneur needs to have confidence in their abilities and, in some sense, be slightly stubborn. But as Teemu summarises his experience of working with thousands of startups, “you need to be open to feedback and criticism.” This fail-fast mentality fosters quicker development and can help you crystallise your ideas, product, or initiative (2).
Echoing Teemu’s advice, Jochen Faugel, an experienced business coach and current Project Planner for the City of Helsinki initiative The Spouse Program, emphasises a similar must: “Learn from others, ask for advice, and appreciate all kinds of feedback; good and bad. Because success is not about having a great concept but your ability to implement it.”
Satomi Peltola, one of the founders of the Finnish zero-waste culinary startup Misola, stresses that openness not only represents being open to feedback from others but also a willingness to ask questions. As she says, “The City of Helsinki offers many services and support for entrepreneurs. When getting help, I decided early on not to be afraid of being embarrassed or looking ignorant.”
No matter how well you draft your business plan, surprises tend to come along. “It is critical to be flexible and adaptable when becoming an entrepreneur. Not everything goes as planned, so you need to be willing to adjust to what comes your way.”, pinpoints Bahman Doaeian, Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer of the MedTech startup Phonolyser.
Build up your know-how through business advising services
Thirdly, like Satomi points out, the region provides you with a wide range of services — thanks to strong national and regional commitment. Discover and utilise these services!
The burgeoning startup scene in the Helsinki region is internationally renowned. The vibrancy of the scene is crucial to the cities in the region as well. Thus, they heavily invest in leveraging their entrepreneurs’ success. In practice, this translates into high-quality public services available for you, free of charge.
For example, the City of Helsinki has committed to being a “hotbed of business opportunity in Europe.” As the recently released Helsinki City Strategy for 2021-2025 explains, “Helsinki must be an enticing place for testing out new solutions in an urban environment. We effectively arrange innovation competitions, funds, and other tools.”
A vital component of the City of Helsinki’s entrepreneurial initiatives is NewCo Helsinki.
NewCo Helsinki is there to help you get started and to support you throughout your entrepreneurial journey. Their business advisors guide from translating your initial ideas into a business plan, starting a business, acquiring funding and even potentially taking your business abroad. You can book one-to-one sessions, join their numerous multilingual events and explore the extensive material bank available to you online.
The strong commitment reaches through to the national level as well. E.g. Business Finland creates a backbone for success with its services such as funding, support functions and information resources. It has developed for example a Startup Kit and launched with Finnish Immigration Service the Startup Permit for entrepreneurs who move to Finland. National funding is channelled also through TE services as startup grants for new entrepreneurs.
You indeed have plenty to explore.
Unlock the strength of the startup community through networks
You definitely do not have to walk alone as an entrepreneur in the Helsinki region. The local startup community is known for its strong networks and geared to supporting each other to excel. The community is also highly international.
Networks help you to develop your business know-how and to evaluate your business concept. Check out for example the following ways to build your networks and skills:
- Maria 01 campus: The leading startup campus in the Nordics provides its members with the tools, working spaces and knowledge for developing their businesses. The hub focuses on tech startups and investors. Recently Maria 01 was awarded with the Internationalisation Award for the year 2021 by the president of Finland.
- Coaching and training services and networking events such as those organised by Startup Refugees and The Shortcut
- Free entrepreneurship courses such as the Entrepreneurship Course by Startup Refugees and the Aalto University online course Starting Up developed in collaboration with Reaktor, Kiuas, Maki.vc and Aalto Ventures Program
- Open working spaces, such as Startup Sauna
- Startup accelerator and incubator programs and centers, such as Kiuas, Urban Tech Helsinki by the City of Helsinki, Aalto University, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and University of Helsinki, and Health Incubator Helsinki
- Mentoring programs, such as the Mentorisi.fi program (for members of the interest and service organisation for small and medium-sized enterprises Suomen Yrittäjät)
And yes, Helsinki is home of Slush, one of the world’s leading startup and tech events. Slush is all about world-class networking with your colleagues, investors and just about anybody interested in new trends.
Are you a student? Build up your entrepreneurship skills already during your studies!
Finally, if you are a student in a Finnish higher education institution, explore the opportunities available to you in your institution. As it happens, also higher education institutions want to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation in their students.
Your time as a student is a valuable opportunity to not just develop your know-how, but to also build up your networks and try out new things with a low threshold.
For instance, the Wolt CEO Miki Kuusi started his startup career already as a student, harnessing the drive of a creative student community to launch the now already renowned startup networking hubs Startup sauna and Slush (3). Having fun with your friends can turn into something meaningful!
Often you have access for example to
- entrepreneurship courses and workshops
- courses developing your innovation thinking
- student entrepreneurship societies
- events and hackathons
- startup incubator programmes.
Again, the cities collaborate with higher education institutions to encourage entrepreneurship through e.g. joint events, workshops and new initiatives. For instance, in January 2022 the City of Helsinki announced a new network of business incubators collaborating with the region’s higher education institutions, Aalto University, University of Helsinki and Metropolia.
As Jussi Laine, Project Manager of the Campus Incubators programme, says, “My goal is to create a framework on behalf of the city that enables sharing best practices between institutions and bringing the city’s special expertise close to the institutions’ incubator activities”. The Campus Incubators programme strives to create 100 new companies annually by connecting top researchers, the Helsinki region’s startup ecosystem, and students in higher education.
Next: write your story in the business ecosystem of the Helsinki region!
To sum it up, you are in the place to be for gathering up the courage and knowledge to start your business.
In fact, the Helsinki region ranks among the top 20 emerging startup ecosystems in the world (4). Precisely the scope of funding for startups, talented workforce and the strong startup network are seen as an asset for the region (5).
There is room for everyone in the Finnish entrepreneurship thinking. While successful startup entrepreneurs can become rock stars of the business world attracting top talents’ eye to Finland, the vast majority of Finnish companies, 93 %, are small enterprises employing less than 10 people (6).
On the other hand, Finnish entrepreneurship is internationalising also in terms of ownership. The number of immigrant-owned enterprises has grown dramatically in the past two decades. Immigrants’ self-employment rate is nowadays similar to natives. (7.)
Dive in or simply just start by dipping your toes into the ocean of entrepreneurship. By trusting in your own skills and expertise, remaining open to failure, and utilising the resources and networks of the capital region, you can find the style of entrepreneurship that best fits you.
Vejay Nair is a Project Planner for the City of Helsinki and a Communication Specialist from International House Helsinki. He relocated to Helsinki 5 years ago from San Francisco, USA, and completed his MA in Intercultural Encounters from the University of Helsinki in 2019.
Marika Antikainen is a Project Planner in Metropolia. She works in a collaboration project with the employment services of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa-Kerava to increase employment among international professionals in the Helsinki region.
- Levingston, I. & David, R. 2021. Wolt’s $8 Billion DoorDash Sale Joins Largest Finland Deals. Bloomberg. Published on 10 November 2021.
- Giles, S. 2018. How To Fail Faster — And Why You Should. Forbes. Published on 30 April 2018.
- Armstrong, S. 2015. The 2015 WIRED 100: Miki Kuusi (No.32). The Wired. Published on 29 Juy 2015.
- Startup Genome 2021. Rankings 2021: Top 100 Emerging Ecosystems. The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021. Published on 22 September 2021.
- Startup Genome: Finland – Greater Helsinki. Viewed on 22 December 2021.
- Suomen Yrittäjät. Entrepreneurship in Finland. Viewed on 22 December 2021.
- Fornaro, P. 2018. Immigrant Entrepreneurship in Finland. ETLA Raportit – Reports 83. ETLA Economic Research. Published on 13 September 2018.