Young international companies find Helsinki the perfect place to set up shop.
EDDY BALCIKONIS fell in love with Helsinki. He is from Vilnius, Lithuania, but when he and his team were in Finland they decided their startup company should be on the northern side of the Baltic.
“We made a strategic choice to establish our startup in Helsinki, Finland because of the vibrant startup scene,” Balcikonis says. “We wanted to be in the middle of the action.”
They went to NewCo Factory, a service from the City of Helsinki and EnterpriseHelsinki, for help. NewCo Factory is a business acceleration service designed specifically for teams that want a company in Finland aimed at international markets.
“We needed help with administrative and other everyday business realities, especially since we don’t know Finnish well yet!” he continues. “From all the help that was generously offered to us NewCo Factory looked to be the most professional and enthusiastic about what they were doing. Of course the beautiful co-working space – Minimum Viable Office in the centre of Helsinki – also played its part.”
Balcikonis’ company TrackDuck allows people to provide feedback directly to a website, a great tool for web development agencies. When TrackDuck went to NewCo Factory there were a few things they wanted. Balcikonis says:
“Advice, new connections with possible partners and clients, help with administration of our newly-started company, a great co-working experience, friends and fun coffee breaks!”
Mika Valtasaari is a startup advisor for NewCo Factory. He says that the service is aiming to help a lot more companies like TrackDuck.
“The purpose of NewCo Factory is to support the creation and success of 100 born-international companies. We were created in April 2013 and have until the end of 2014 to reach our goal,” he explains. “We are about a third of the way to our goal and our start-up network has over 500 profiles.”
Attracting foreign firms
NewCo Factory has services for potential companies even in the pre-startup phase. They offer assistance to build teams, help with shareholders’ agreements, workshops to increase teamwork, training to pitch to investors and short courses on other topics for entrepreneurs. Much of this help comes from the experienced hands at EnterpriseHelsinki, one of the partners in the project. EnterpriseHelsinki is a service centre for entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs.
“We run a networking environment where startups can find talent and funders, arrange events where startups learn about entrepreneurship, legal issues, design financing, and much, much more,” continues Valtasaari. “We offer business development coaching, legal and contractual services, working and meeting facilities, and access to angel investors and crowd funding.”
Young companies in a variety of companies and industries have joined NewCo Factory, from life sciences to online retail, from equity-based crowdfunding to solar energy. A main draw is the internationalisation aspect. As Valtasaari suggests with his “born-international” phrase, these startups plan to go global immediately. Helsinki is an excellent location for such firms.
“Helsinki is a short train ride from Russia, short plane ride from Central Europe and has direct plane access to most important global business centres,” says Valtasaari. “The Helsinki region has a fantastic mix of a very vibrant startup ecosystem, many innovative larger companies and a large amount of available talent. Our focus is on bringing start-ups to Finland.”
Pitching, Slush and lunch
Many international startups are interested in Finland, and especially in the Greater Helsinki region. Again and again entrepreneurs cite programs and events in the area which are special draws. Almost everyone mentions pitching events, like PitchHelsinki, where new companies get a chance to tell venture capitalists about their ideas. Additionally, Slush is a major attraction.
“The biggest bang will be the Slush conference,” Balcikonis says. “It’s going to be a blast!”
“Slush and Pitch Helsinki,” echoes Valtasaari. “What is really exciting is helping new startups create success.”
Slush is an annual event held in Helsinki which attracts investors with about 60 billion Euros in venture capital. It is the largest conference for small startup companies in Northern Europe, and is just one of the magnets drawing young firms to Helsinki.
Yet despite the help with entrepreneurship, funding, and all the work required taking a small company international, Balcikonis mentions another little joy of working in Helsinki.
“In the same building as the NewCo Factory office and co-working space there is a cafeteria,” he whispers conspiratorially. “They serve a great lunch and you get a small discount for coffee and food as a member of NewCo Factory!”
NewCo Factory: www.newcofactory.fi
Text: DAVID J. CORD