All of these warmly welcome international applicants unless otherwise noted.
Aaltoes Ignite – For students interested in becoming entrepreneurs.
Aalto Startup Center – Home and incubator for many research-based startups at the Otaniemi campus in Espoo, a short metro ride from Helsinki.
EIT Food & Beyond
ESA BIC – Incubator for startups using space technology, including GPS. Operating next door from Aalto Startup Center.
Health Incubator Helsinki
Helsinki Education Hub (coming during 2021)
Kasvu Open / Kasvun Roihu
Kiuas – A completely free acceleration program. Their annual program takes place in June-August, and the application period in April-May.
NewCo Accelerator – A completely free acceleration program by NewCo Helsinki, a part of the City of Helsinki. They provide coaching, partnership matchmaking and other services also outside their acceleration program.
Sampo Accelerator – A no-equity program, asking for a contribution back only if your startup makes it big. Ran three times a year, starting typically around October, January and April.
Urban Tech Helsinki – A free-of-charge incubator for clean and sustainable urban solutions. They help startups turn business ideas into growth-oriented ones that focus on solving the challenges of modern cities.
LIAA & Startup Latvia – The national one-stop-shop for startup support. They manage the startup visa, support aspects of the new startup law, financial instruments and other ecosystem support programs, business incubators and other ways to help companies innovate, start a business and especially grow. They’re also happy to help organizations connect with others in the ecosystem. LIAA is short for the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia.
Startin – Central uniting organization of the Latvian startup ecosystem. They help you identify potential partners working with startups in Latvia and connect with them. They also represent the startup sector’s interests e.g. for developing the legal framework.
Swedbank Latvia – Their co-creation and event space is the center of many acceleration and incubation programs. They manage some of those programs themselves, coaching and connecting startups with the Swedbank ecosystem. Recent focus areas include fintech and sustainability.
TechHub Riga – A central space for startups in Riga. They organize both physical and virtual activity for startups, corporations, investors and others to connect and spread information, ranging from Friday breakfasts and startup barbeques to startup-investor matchmaking, specialist and mentor meetups etc.
Greentech Latvia – National cleantech/greentech cluster, connecting organizations, people and opportunities in the field.
Buildit Latvia – Hardware-focused accelerator in Riga. They help startups become investable. They also invest starting from €20k up to €250k.
Finnish Chamber of Commerce in Latvia – Supporting companies in doing business between Finland and Latvia.
Change Ventures – The first and largest pan-Baltic seed fund backing ambitious Baltic founders building world-scale technology businesses.
Overkill Ventures – A B2B fund and accelerator focusing on early-stage startups from Eastern Europe and Nordics.
ZGI – In addition to their main focus on private equity, ZGI invests into fast-growing startups approaching or above 1M€ in turnover.
LVCA – Latvian Venture Capital Association. They don’t facilitate investments but are the contact point on topics regarding the whole venture capital sector.
More organizations are being added soon 🙂
A list of Finnish investors who are actively seeking smart & clean startups to invest into, and their initial ticket size ranges.
Butterfly VC – Early-stage deep tech hardware fund. €50k – 1M.
Ensto – A family company providing industrial-grade electricity hardware, interested in synergistic startups.
Gorilla Capital – The most active early-stage fund in Nordics. €50k – 200k.
Grid.vc – An early-stage energy sector fund started by three regional electricity utility companies. €50k – 400k.
Helen Ventures – Investment unit of Helen, the Helsinki City electricity company. €300k – 3M.
Icebreaker – Software-only fund with multiple smart & clean startups in their portfolio. €150k – 800k.
Innovestor – Syndicate management, invested into multiple smart & clean companies. €250k – 1.5M.
Inventure – Generalist fund with many investments in smart & clean space. €250k – 2M.
Kiilto Ventures – Family office of Kiilto Group, family company producing professional chemicals for cleaning, adhesives etc. €50k – 1M.
Lifeline Ventures – One of the most successful Finnish funds. Early-stage investments in a broad range, including deep tech and smart & clean companies. €200k – 2M.
Nordic FoodTech VC – Food-related technology investments. €200k – 1M.
Nordic Ninja – A large fund with multiple Japanese corporations as investors, with investments in mobility etc. €500k – 10M.
Redstone – Multiple funds, some with smart & clean focus, managed for 50 CVC partners. €25k – 10M.
Spintop Ventures – A Finnish-Swedish fund with multiple smart & clean investments, especially platforms and digital solutions. €500k – 1.5M.
Suomen vaikuttavuussijoitus (Fiil Good) – Angel group doing impact investments. €5k – 200k.
Valkea Growth Club – An investment unit and accelerator of Fortum, the largest Finnish energy corporation. €100k – 2M.
Valo Ventures – A late-stage fund by Fortum, managed in Palo Alto, California. $2-15M.
Voima Ventures – Research-based deep tech fund. €200k – 4M.
Potentially relevant investors I haven’t spoken with yet:
Maki VC – Website at https://maki.vc/.
Metsä Spring – Coming up, more information on their website.
Seeking drone companies from Finland or nearby? Here’s a list of those I’ve come across.
DR1 – Industrial-grade drone solutions, e.g. remotely managed 5G drone swarms. Used for security, firefighting, agriculture, delivery, and monitoring of power lines etc. (Website under construction. Their older webshop of hobby and enterprise drones is at verticalhobby.com.)
Fleetonomy – Developing and managing next generation decision-making systems, including autonomous driving and flying of vehicles, such as drones and cars.
Flyby Guys – Experienced with large-scale drone operations of up to hundreds of units in the air simultaneously, and consulting companies on a variety of drone-related topics. They have a wide network of partners, through which they have been able to put together proposals for comprehensive projects in days.
Holtan FlyOne – Building inspections, heat imaging, photogrammetric 3D imagery production etc. Certified and trained personnel. Winner of the building inspection category of world’s first drone olympics in 2019. Website in Finnish.
LAC Camera Systems – Drone camera solutions with automatic following and indoor/rough condition capabilities, even without GPS. Drones avoid obstacles automatically and can be set to fly preplanned routes or controlled manually with very little training. Used for security, monitoring, sports, construction etc.
Mericon – Producing measurements such as high-quality orthophotos and photogrammetric point clouds, tied to the local coordinate system. The end product of the service can be a surface or a 3D-model of the described object in CAD format or a classified point cloud for example in las-format. Rapid mass calculations on large objects or areas.
Skydata – Over 10 years of experience in hardware solutions, pilot training and consulting companies on how to utilize drones efficiently and safely. Ready to offer turnkey solutions, including training, technical support, rental and backup hardware, auditing and development services and insurance covering insurance and responsibilities.
Viasor – 3D-modeling of buildings and construction sites. Can be used e.g. for planning and guidance for maintenance, or following the development of construction sites remotely for accurate forecasting and management.
Hepta Airborne – Infrastructure inspections. Flies 3,000km/mo for paying customers in over 10 countries. Offering both full service with drones, pilots and software, or modular service, like SaaS for other drone operators.
KrattWorks – An Estonian-British company that combats wildfires with AI-powered drones. They focus on developing advanced technology that can be used in multiple applications, e.g. noiseless automatic surveillance flights.
SKYCORP – Experts of hydrogen & drones. Built Europe’s first hydrogen drone at 2018. In addition to their drone work, they’re also often called on to consult on hydrogen projects beyond drones. Among other projects they’ve been working on combining manned and unmanned drones, and connecting drones to the internet.
If you know any that are missing, please let me know 🙂
In addition to finding co-founders, smart startup entrepreneurs surround them with experienced people. Good advisors and board members can make the difference between a successful and failing company by guiding the founders with their hard-won experience and connecting them to others in their extensive networks.
Here are a couple of places to start looking for a mentor, advisor or board member in Finland – or to find a company to offer your mentoring for.
Boardio – A platform of 2500+ advisors, mentors and board members. No technical limits for geography, although most if not all members are interested in Finnish companies.
Yrityskummit (Business Mentors) – Free voluntary business mentors. Organized in regional chapters across Finland.
Nestor Partners – Experienced veterans of multiple industries, offering at least one day of free mentoring for free, and further mentoring upon agreement.
Hallituspartnerit – Experienced board professionals and other mentors. They’re a close partner of the Certified Board Member training program. Unfortunately their website is only in Finnish, but they’ll likely be more than happy to help people in English as well if you reach out through their contact page.
Great co-founders can be found in many places. You’re typically looking for a person with specific skills who is also interested in building a startup, and you rarely find large groups of people who have both.
Startup events and groups have people interested in startups, so you have to find a suitable one for your startup who has what your team needs. Domain-specific groups, like developer networks or circular economy events, have plenty of people with the skills and interests you might be looking for, and you’ll have to find the ones interested in joining a startup.
Here are a few places where you can start looking for a co-founder for your startup.
The Hub – You can post a job ad for a co-founder for free. This website has a lot of visitors. Unfortunately posting is for companies / teams only; you can’t post an ad of yourself as an individual person looking for a team.
Kiuas Inside – A platform made for co-founder networking by a local non-profit accelerator. They have 100+ profiles already, but you can’t browse those without signing up.
Stealth – The brand new successor of Founder2Be, which was a big and old global platform. Their tagline: “Discuss ideas, find co-founders, get startup resources, connect with freelancers, and more.”
Icebreaker – Icebreaker VC organizes a lot of activities to bring promising co-founders together, such as the Pre-Founder Project. This helps co-founders meet and get things going, and the nice investors at Icebreaker to be the first to get into discussions with many new startups.
There used to be plenty of events listed at Startup Events List’s Helsinki page and NewCo Helsinki’s event page, but at the time of writing there are only a few. These are worth checking out time to time though.
Pre-covid, NewCo Helsinki ran In Search of Team Members events on a monthly basis. Who knows, perhaps these will continue soon in Startup Space Helsinki?
Smart startup entrepreneurs look beyond the core team from day one. To help in this I wrote a separate article on how to find advisors and board members in Finland.
Do you know of some other ways to find a co-founder? Let me know through comments below or the contact page and I’ll be happy to update this page 🙂
I listened to two great podcast episodes today on scaling and market entry. I like to write and rewrite the key points I’ve learned to understand them more thoroughly. Both podcasts were in Finnish. Here are my key takeaways in English:
Three universal stages most startups go through:
Every new country for Wolt undergoes surprisingly many steps from scratch, although not necessarily the above ones. They make use of the technology built and lessons learned from previously conquered markets, but they will have to get clients, restaurants, and delivery people starting from zero, and with a different culture, competition, legal and other aspects of the environment.
Business model development stage varies a lot between companies. It’s about unit economics, how does it scale. If it does, it’s a question of how big is the sector, which leads to how much should you raise capital and how fast to grow. The bigger the sector, the higher likelihood that someone is going to grow fast there, so the faster and better funded you need to do it.
The above were from the last few minutes of the podcast. There were many other interesting points earlier. Here are a few of them.
The aim of startups is to build more value than the money they’ve raised and invested. The more value for investment, the more efficient company.
There’s a rule of thumb for 1/3. That is, after scaling, the capital you raised along the way should account for less than a third of the company’s value.
For example, if you’ve raised €15B and your company is now valued at €50B, 30% of your value is the capital you raised. This is not bad, but not very efficient either.
Many later-stage investors are very interested in this efficiency of raised capital to value created. The more value you create for every euro invested, the more interested they will be in investing into your company.
You can also backtrack from your potential company value to the amount of capital to raise. If the market size and competition mean that your company could realistically be valued at €100M, you will have a much easier time attracting investors if your realistic plans seek for a total of €20M than €50M down the road. One creates five euros of value for every euro invested, the other only two. All else (like company stage and risk) being equal, the less efficient one is the far less interesting for investors.
On the other hand if your company could be a ten-billion-euro one, a €50M total funding goal would be just 0.5% of that. This would be extremely effective and make for a theoretically attractive investment opportunity. However, it might not be enough considering the likelihood of plenty of other players entering such a huge market with bigger budgets to compete with. Your sales will not be very high if your competitors will be able to offer similar solutions much earlier and with better marketing everywhere on the globe.
Miki mentioned that after reading the early parts of Blitzscaling he noticed he had a different view on some aspects of scaling. To simplify, his impression was that blitzscaling means the extreme approach of going fast and breaking things while entering new markets. Uber is a prime example of this, having entered dozens of countries with the same operating practices, regardless of whether those practices were appreciated or even legal in the country. This is highly inefficient for almost anything other than raw speed of market entry. While there are benefits for being the first in a market, there are huge losses to be done with ill-advised market entries.
The approach Miki had learned from his mentors was to first build a scalable operation in one market, and then expand it one market at a time. Every market will be different, and some things you did in the previous markets won’t work in the next ones. By entering many markets at once you would be multiplying your mistakes, so better enter only one or very few at a time.
As a testament to Wolt’s approach, they are now operating in 23 countries and almost 100 cities. They’ve grown faster in every new market they have opened due to learning from all of the previous ones.
This is very similar to what Jussi Salonen, Goodio‘s head of US said in the episode of the Puttonen & Vilkkumaa podcast I listened to today. They talked about three different countries where they’re selling their chocolate now: Finland (their home country), US (the most competed market in the world) and Japan. The markets work very differently.
In US, consumers want packaging to be big and to contain as much product as possible. In Japan, packaging should be small and it’s not expected to contain very much of the product. It’s more important that it’s kawaii, cute. Another person on the podcast (Vilkkumaa) added that the associations with colors and packaging are also very different. For example in Japan people prefer golden color in packaging. Some traditional Finnish chocolate packages were not regarded highly due to their similarity to Japanese tobacco packages, and others were similar to that of a non-edible product (rubber bands or similar). The markets have other differences as well, such as wholesalers and other partners playing a much bigger role in how your FMCG product succeeds in Japan than in the US.
Using an approach that worked for one country they would have had big difficulties in another of these markets. They’re still producing the same chocolate with the same value-based story (radical openness in the food industry; knowing where your food comes from and where it’s made) and branding, but with many adjustments in how it is offered in each market.
Regarding market entry, Goodio realized in the beginning that the Finnish market is not big enough for them, but the US is and they had experience there. They chose US as their must-win market and made sure their products were appealing to US customers and retailers.
It took them two years to get the deal with Whole Foods in the US, and some additional hassles to sort through before getting their product on Whole Foods’ shelves. As this was a must-win market, they might not have been able to afford conquering Finland and only then starting the long process of entering the US market.
As a thought experiment, let’s take an imaginary setup that might be similar to what Goodio faced:
Alternative strategy 1: Focus on the Finnish market first, start to enter US market after first sales in Finland.
Alternative 2: Go into both at once.
Alternative 3: Go into the US only, forget about Finland.
Total differences (not annual):
|After 1 year||After 2 years||After 3 years||After 4 years||After 5 years|
|Alt. 1 gross profit||0||500k||1,000k||11,500k||22,000k|
|Alt. 1 fixed expenses||-600k||-1200k||-2,800k||-4,200k||-5,800k|
|Alt. 1 net||-600k||-700k||-1,800k||7,300k||16,200k|
|Alt. 2 gross profit||0||500k||11,000k||21,500k||32,000k|
|Alt. 2 fixed expenses||-1,600k||-3,200k||-4,800k||-6,400k||-8,000k|
|Alt. 2 net||-1,600k||-2,700k||6,200k||15,100k||24,000k|
|Alt. 3 gross profit||0||0||10,000k||20,000k||30,000k|
|Alt. 3 fixed expenses||-1,500k||-3,000k||-4,500k||-6,000k||-7,500k|
|Alt. 3 net||-1,500k||-3,000k||5,500k||14,000k||22,500k|
All three of these scenarios are good after five years, but have plenty of differences both then and along the way.
Alternative 3 is the simple one. You go for the big market and minimize other complications. However, you need a lot of capital, and this might require a big part of your team to be based in the big market to keep your learning speed high. It’s always easier to learn about a market when you’re in there.
Alternative 1 is almost as simple. You start with just one market, but it’s your small local one. You have fast learning with minimal costs. Unfortunately your company won’t get profitable there, only once you’ve conquered the big market, which is delayed in this strategy. Goodio said they avoided this to avoid the danger of optimizing their product for the small market, and because they had the expertise and resources to go after their must-win market right away.
Alternative 2 combines both of the above. It has almost the same expenses as going after the big market alone. It’s a bit more complicated to manage, but you can learn things about your product from two markets at once, which makes it easier to expand into new markets once you’ve conquered the must-win one.
Goodio chose strategy 2 of going after their must-win market and tiny home market simultaneously. Wolt chose strategy 1 of sticking to their home market and expanding only once things were going well there. They faced a different situation than Goodio in both numbers and otherwise.
One aspect is fundability: it’s likely that once Wolt proved good unit economics and scalability in Finland, their funding opportunities increased significantly. Also, conquering a new market requires much more of that funding when you have to build a new multi-sided network of clients, restaurants and drivers in each country and city, compared to when you can make one deal with one retailer and start selling chocolate nationwide.
Smart & clean, short for “smart cities and cleantech”, refers to sectors wherein it’s possible to significantly reduce resource use or emissions.
Here’s a list of relevant networks in Finland. Most of them focus on helping the right people meet, for example by matchmaking startups, corporations, investors and mentors. I will be updating this page as the ecosystem develops so it’s worth checking back monthly.
Smart homes, real estate, construction, infrastructure etc.
PropTech Finland – Part of the international PropTech organization network
KIRAHub – Has organized more than 150 pilot projects between startups and corporations.
Client: Combient Foundry organizes piloting calls by 30 corporations, several of which are looking for smart solutions related to buildings and construction. They organize 2-3 calls for solutions per year.
ITS Finland – Part of the international Intelligent Transportation Systems network
Jätkäsaari (Helsinki) Mobility Lab – Testbed that organizes pilot projects for startups as well as networking and informational events
Smart Otaniemi – Focuses on helping companies form consortiums to apply for national/EU funding for pilot projects
Valkea Growth Club by Fortum – Incubator and VC
Helen Ventures – Helen is short for Helsinki Energy, a large utility company
Grid.vc – Founded by three utility companies and with other industry corporations as partners
Also note the Valkea Growth Club by Fortum above. Fortum is the largest utility company in Finland, with many international branches.
Food & Beyond by EIT & VTT
Corporation: Fazer (Lab) – International food industry giant, looking to pilot new solutions as a client and potential investor
Investor: Nordic FoodTech VC
CircVol by 6Aika – Circular economy of volumes, such as land mass and liquids
Event: Digitally Circular – Bi-monthly, always with a different theme like energy, food, corporate-startup partnerships etc. Excellent speakers from the industry every time. This is where I’ve met many good contacts in the industry.
Forum Virium – Organizes dozens of pilot projects every year. A part of the City of Helsinki.
Testbed Helsinki – List of piloting opportunities in Helsinki. Maintained by the City.
6Aika – Consortium of the six biggest cities in Finland: Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Turku and Oulu. They develop the innovation ecosystem jointly so that a startup solving a challenge in one city can start offering the same solution in other cities with less hassle. Many things they do become de facto standards in Finland. They organize many piloting and ecosystem support projects, such as CircVol, so that each city has a representative facilitating the activity there. They have plenty of ongoing and upcoming projects that are worth staying informed about.
Smart & Clean Foundation – Brings together public sector, corporations and others to help them identify and implement sustainability-improving solutions. The project is active until 6/2021.
CLIC Innovation – Organizes innovation cluster development and ecosystem support activity on energy, circular economy and bioeconomy.
Synbio – Synthetic biology startup and innovation network.
Photonics Finland – Photonics (optics) related startup and innovation network.
Baltic Blue Biotechnology Alliance+ (Submariner) – Network to help biotech startups related to the Baltic Sea to find mentors, partners and clients.
After spending a part of my summer holidays exploring the Lithuanian startup ecosystem I feel like I’ve met most of the key players. Here’s a summary to help you find your next partners.
Most of these are actively investing into early-stage companies, aiming at hald a dozen to a dozen new investments per year. Ticket sizes are typically between €50-500k.
Contrarian Ventures – Specializes in energy-related use cases
Iron Wolf Capital – Ticket size up to €1.6M
LitCapital – Later stage, €2-5M tickets into companies with proven traction. Approx. two deals per year
Open Circle Capital – Portfolio is almost full, not actively seeking new investments. Will seek co-investors for later rounds from Q4/2020 onwards.
Baltic Sandbox – Multiple batches per year, each with a different focus
Katalista Ventures – Focuses on sustainability (triple top line), invests into best participating startups
Startup Wise Guys – Multiple batches per year, operates across Baltics, invests into best participating startups
70 Ventures – They help B2B companies grow their sales by hiring, training and funding a sales team in Lithuania. Initial tickets €50k (sales team for half a year – year), followed with €200k+ into companies that perform. They do approx. 20 investments per year and are seeking more quality deal flow from e.g. Finland.
Coinvest Capital – A co-investment fund, investing alongside three or more angels or VCs who are not backed by public money. Participating up to 70% of the round. They cap their returns at 6% annually, with the excess given to the others in the syndicate. The investments have to benefit Lithuania (e.g. company has to have/open an office with employees there).
LitBAN – Lithuanian Business Angels’ Network, organizing pitch events for half a dozen startups a month. Compared to those in other Baltic/Nordic countries, Lithuanian startups tend to have lower valuations, benefit from excellent governmental financial leverage (e.g. Koinvest) and public grants, and a large, qualified talent pool in e.g. business and IT sectors with a lower salary level. The angel investment scene is still young and can offer excellent opportunities for international angel investors, especially experienced lead angels.
Rockit – In the west side of old town, at the end of Gedimino street. At the entrance is a cafe that’s open for everyone to visit and enjoy the startup atmosphere. Private rooms of members are behind a gate at the back of the cafe. Has a slight emphasis on fintech and sustainability.
Talent Garden Vilnius – In the center of old town. Modern vibe. Need keycard to enter. Private offices are fully booked, but got dedicated or open seats available. Good premises for hosting events for up to 200 people, with top-line technology included. Interested in event partnerships for relevant audiences.
Vilnius Tech Park – 10 min drive from Vilnius center. The area used to be the gardens of a palace, and is great for walking and thinking. There are multiple cafes and restaurants in the area. Tech Park is interested in partnerships in relevant areas such as education, logistics, security, media, fintech, and corporate cooperation. They’re opening a couple of new hubs and rebranding some, and I’ll update this once that has happened
Bank of Lithuania – They play an active part in the booming fintech startup sector. Lithuania has the highest number of new banking licenses granted in EU (was second only to UK pre-brexit). They’re shaping their approach to be very startup-friendly and support the ecosystem’s development. Many international startups have found it practical to apply for PSD2 and other banking licenses in Lithuania instead of their home countries.
Changemakers’ON – An acceleration network for social impact startups, organizing bootcamps, events, mentoring and other programs especially in Kaunas and elsewhere outside Vilnius.
Civitta – A consultancy company that plays a big part in organizing a lot of the innovation and startup ecosystem activity in Vilnius. They compete for and organize projects with public funding, including but not limited to hackathons. They also consult many public officials on the topics.
Go Vilnius – The other of the only two organizations on this page I haven’t met yet. I’ll update this after I connect with them.
GovTech Lab – Drives the innovativeness and startup cooperation of Lithuanian public sector in general. Organizing multiple pilot calls this and next year, first of which will be announced soon.
Ignitis – Energy sector innovation organization. The other of the only two organizations on this page I haven’t met yet. I’ll update this after I connect with them.
Invest Lithuania – Helps corporations expand into Lithuania.
Mobility Innovation Center – Drives the innovativeness and startup cooperation of Lithuanian post, railways, and road maintenance organizations. Contact them if you have an innovation you’d like to sell to these organizations. They’re also organizing multiple pilot calls together with GovTech Lab, which will be announced soon.
Startup Lithuania – Organizes the startup visa, provides ecosystem information, has created an extensive online course on how to make a successful startup, and supports the startup ecosystem in multiple other ways. They work together with embassies’ commercial attachés to support startups interested in moving to Lithuania or opening a sales/R&D/other office there.