The gaming companies Supercell and Rovio, the food delivery enterprise Wolt, the software developer Smartly.io... it has been years since Nokia was the only Finnish tech company to enjoy worldwide recognition. Helsinki is now turning into a central start-up hub in Europe: the city offers a fruitful growth environment for varied fields, from the smart gaming industry to circular economy initiatives and cancer research.
IT and data analytics have become key sectors, as have urban and mobility development, the healthcare sector and educational sectors. At the same time, Helsinki has met its vision to become a city that utilises digitalisation to its benefit.
Support from the start and along the way
An entrepreneur needs support at the very beginning but also along the way. The City of Helsinki supports business founders with free-of-charge counselling and by finding potential funders and partners. Business Finland provides important services in terms of innovation funding and support for internationalisation. Hundreds of companies receive funding and expertise advice from the organisation every year.
Helsinki’s Employment and Economic Development Centre offices grant startup funding to new entrepreneurs to ensure their livelihood during the first period of business operations. The state-owned specialised financing company Finnvera offers loans, guarantees and capital funding for companies.
NewCo Helsinki offers cost-free advisory and support services for entrepreneurs. NewCo Helsinki helps start-up companies that have already taken their first steps towards finding funding and advises on internationalisation processes in ten languages. Out of all clients of NewCo Helsinki in 2019, immigrants founded one in every four companies. Nearly 80 percent of companies that received advice through the service were still in operation five years later.
International House Helsinki offers information on public services such as housing and education to people who have recently arrived in Finland. The House also helps businesses and the international workforce to find one another. The network of European Employment Services EURES does similar work on a European scale.
Open data is a goldmine for entrepreneurs
In addition to monetary support, the pursuit of ideas requires an encouraging atmosphere. Helsinki’s transparent public administration encourages an open flow of information, and the open data collected by the city is a goldmine in itself. Anyone is free to make use of open data in their business idea, be it concerning citizen wellbeing or public transportation. The principle of open data supports start-up business operations and can also be used to create an even more functional city.
Helsinki wants to be a leading expertise hub, for instance for companies working with EdTech or education technology, the built environment, health and wellbeing, and smart mobility, all of which aim to build a better world. The Testbed Helsinki website is a source of information for the development and testing opportunities of new products and services.
New business activities are also fostered through different start-up campuses: for example, the Maria 01 start-up campus brings start-ups, investors and companies offering international partnerships under the same roof.
The Meilahti campus has also quickly become an internationally recognised innovation and business hub in the healthcare sector.
Collaboration flourishes in a communal city
The cross-pollination of ideas is also accelerated by Helsinki’s “flat” hierarchy. New initiatives are being born from cooperation between different fields as well as between NGOs and the private sector. These cooperative efforts can help create, for example, new sharing economy or circular economy models.
It is also crucial to bring entrepreneurs and investors together. The internationally renowned technology and start-up business event Slush lures the hottest start-ups and investors to Helsinki every year. Pathways to innovations are also being paved in the city’s universities. The University of Helsinki does exceptional interdisciplinary research that is being used to support business operations.
Aalto University facilitates encounters between future talents, entrepreneurs and investors, and offers a great platform for business ideas and product development.
Health Capital Helsinki is a joint venture of the City of Helsinki, the University of Helsinki and the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa. It gathers together the capital region’s life science and health tech operators.
Peace of mind and work-life balance
In order to create something new, one must trust that there is someone to catch you if you fall. The progressive public sector of the City of Helsinki makes sure that entrepreneurs need not lose any sleep.
For instance, a doctor’s visit at a public health centre is free of charge, and the price of one hospital day in early 2021 was below 40 euros.
Entrepreneurial parents need not give up on their dreams either: the stories where a person on parental leave comes up with a business or sets up a company with small kids in the house are not fairytales. The Social Insurance Institution Kela pays out 105 days of maternal allowance after which the parents can decide who stays home with the child for another 158 working days with the support of a parental allowance.
The cost-free child health centres support families, and every child has the fundamental right to daycare. The world’s highest-ranking elementary education system as well as university education are practically free in Finland.
Bureaucracy is not a factor that discourages one’s everyday life. For instance, online tax services make it effortless to calculate and pay taxes, and the national tax office makes light-hearted jokes on social media as reminders of upcoming deadlines and deductions.
In the world’s happiest country, entrepreneurs also have space and time for themselves.