Chinese startup incubator COMB+ has launched operations in Helsinki in cooperation with the Finnish Pivot5 accelerator. The goal of the collaboration is to help Finnish startups enter the Chinese market and bring Chinese investors and companies to visit the Finnish business ecosystem. Through its work in Helsinki, COMB+ plans to grow in the Nordic and international markets.
Finland may be a small country far up in the North but its reputation in technology and innovations has made its way to China. A couple of years ago, the people of COMB+ decided to come and see the Finnish business ecosystem with their own eyes. After an auspicious meeting with the Finnish accelerator company Pivot5, the two companies decided to launch a joint accelerator in Helsinki – the first one connecting the Nordic and Chinese markets. The new accelerator ran its first startup program in August 2016.
“Pivot5 and its previous experience with Chinese investors was an important reason why COMB+ chose Helsinki as its first location outside China. Other reasons were the strong Finnish startup ecosystem and the annual tech and startup event Slush, as well as the ample amount of tech expertise available. There is a lot of hype around the Helsinki startup scene and it’s not just empty hype. The Finnish startup ecosystem may actually be more open to international collaboration than other Nordic ecosystems because we are so aware of the importance of foreign investments,” says Nordic Business Manager Juulia Pietilä from COMB+.
Full China support package for startups
COMB+ was founded in 2015 in Beijing, where it now has two campuses, around 70 employees, and strong plans to expand. In the core of its operations is supporting Chinese and international startups working on artificial intelligence, virtual reality, big data, advanced manufacturing, digital entertainment, and games and education. COMB+ helps them with go-to-market plans, mentoring, connections to investors and experts, recruiting, distribution channels, pricing – everything that a startup needs to enter the Chinese market.
“We are a one-stop full-lifecycle entrepreneurship service provider. Our goal is to create an international ecosystem, in which startups can find synergies and work on joint projects. Right now, the direction of startups is from the international market to the Chinese market but in the future, we also plan to help Chinese startups expand their operations outside China,” says Pietilä.
The joint accelerator of COMB+ and Pivot5 is called Sino Track. It runs at least two batches of startups per year in Helsinki and Beijing. The participants have so far been from the Nordic countries and Estonia but in the future, the program will be open to any startup with a clear business model, local success, and ambition to enter the Chinese market.
Sino Track offers participants practical information on the Chinese business ecosystem, a chance to network with Chinese experts and startups and pitch ideas to Chinese investors, and receive valuable feedback. COMB+ also brings Nordic startups to visit China and Chinese investors and companies to visit Slush and the Finnish business ecosystem.
Building an innovation bridge between Helsinki and China
While the startup scene in the artificial intelligence and virtual reality field is very saturated and competed in China, in Finland there’s still room for new, exciting players.
“On the one hand, there are lots of unique innovations outside China, and on the other, there’s ample funding available in China, which creates a win-win situation. In addition to innovations, China is now looking beyond its borders to become more international. COMB+ is eager to work with the Finnish government, Tekes, Helsinki Business Hub, and other organizations. The Chinese really appreciate public sector support for companies,” says Juulia Pietilä.
Helsinki Business Hub has supported COMB+ particularly with connections to the Finnish business ecosystem, government, and the City of Helsinki. Tekes has provided the company with valuable information on public funding opportunities.
This year, COMB+ is organizing a ‘Sino Track goes Slush’ side event at Slush, with ten international companies pitching for free admission to Sino Track accelerator program. COMB+ and Helsinki Business Hub will also publish a memorandum of understanding on their collaboration, and COMB+ will launch a fund to help Nordic and international companies gain growth in China.
“Our work here in Helsinki will allow us to grow our presence in the Nordic area while we’re also planning to expand our network in China. We’re really looking forward to becoming a more influential player in the Finnish startup community and bringing more startups to the Chinese market. Sino Track is building an innovation bridge between Helsinki and China,” Pietilä says.
Text: Anu Jussila