Startup Sauna, a Finnish non-profit organization that runs a popular business acceleration program, has started to attract more and more Russian startups. It has taken the Startup Sauna team numerous visits and lots of footwork to raise awareness of the program. Persistent work is now paying off.
For six years, Startup Sauna has worked to connect the most promising early-stage startups from the Nordic countries, Eastern Europe and Russia with experienced serial entrepreneurs, investors and other industry experts in intensive one-month acceleration programs. It organizes two programs per year and is now running its 12th program. During these years, the numbers of Russian applicants and participants have steadily increased.
Startup Sauna’s strategy is to visit 15–20 cities in its target areas every six months, organizing local events, bringing business development coaches to visit and looking for promising new teams.
“Local events are our strength. During the history of Sauna’s program, we’ve toured Russia multiple times, visiting Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan and Novosibirsk. Frequent visits have given us great insights into the Russian startup ecosystem, and our local events are definitely one reason for our growing popularity among Russian startups,” says CMO Kasper Suomalainen from Startup Sauna.
Plants, games and space technology
This fall, a total of 530 startups applied for Startup Sauna’s program. Approximately 25 percent of all applications usually come from Russia, altogether 140 for the fall 2015 program. Almost every program so far has had Russian participants.
“We don’t have country quotas. We simply choose the strongest applicants. This fall, four out of our fourteen participants are Russian, two from Saint Petersburg and two from Moscow. We had extremely promising Russian applicants this year,” says Jan-Erik Nyrövaara, one of Startups Sauna’s coaches.
According to Suomalainen and Nyrövaara, Russian applicants represent a wide range of business fields, from the cultivation of plants to gaming.
“Russian startups are not so very different from Finnish startups. However, the amount of spin-offs from academic research organizations is greater than in Finland, and many Russian startups concentrate on hardware. There are also companies that work on space technology and other fields of extremely high technology, as Russia has such cutting-edge expertise and know-how in these areas,” says Suomalainen.
Developing world-class products and businesses
“Startup Sauna may suit Russian startups because Russian engineers are quite similar to their Finnish counterparts: they can build world-class products. Silicon Valley still remains the home of leading tech companies because Americans are better at building businesses. That’s why we emphasize business development for top-notch tech teams at Startup Sauna,” says Nyrövaara.
Startup Sauna intends to continue visiting Russia and searching for new Russian startups.
“Russia is one of the best places to find strong teams. It’s also a big and important market right next to Finland, so we should maintain excellent business relations between the two countries,” says Kasper Suomalainen.
“It looks like the amount of Russian applicants will continue to increase in the future, and we plan to extend our Russian travel agenda at least to the city of Samara. Russia has huge potential, and we’re really looking forward to new adventures there.”
Text: Anu Jussila
About Startup Sauna
Since 2010, a total of 159 startups have participated in Startup Sauna’s acceleration program. This year, it received more than 1,000 applications. Unlike some other business accelerators, Startup Sauna does not charge its participants equity, as it is a non-profit organization. It doesn’t invest in startups either, but many of its coaches are business angels and venture capital investors, and they occasionally do invest in participating companies. Startup Sauna’s graduates have raised over 60 million dollars in investments.