Who helps Russian startups in Finland
This year Helsinki Centre in Saint Petersburg together with NewCo Helsinki and the Helsinki Business Hub will again organize the Finlanding nomination at the GoTech Contest. The director of the Invest-in projects of the Helsinki Centre, Vladimir Chepurnoy, told us about the requirements for startups for participation in the nomination and the state support system in the capital region of Finland.
You have been organizing the Finlanding nomination within GoTech for many years. How have the startups that apply for participation changed during this time?
First of all, the number of applications has increased. We associate this with the growth of the investment attractiveness of Finland, as well as with the good marketing work done jointly by the Helsinki Centre and the GoTech team.
If talking about qualitative changes, we have started to experience a decreased participation of the teams that only have an idea, there are more working companies with a finished product and good revenue. The geography of applicants has also changed. If Saint Petersburg dominated earlier, now the accents are shifting towards the capital region and the whole Central Russia.
What is the motivation for startups to enter the Finnish market?
There are many factors, but I would highlight two. Since April 1st of this year, it has become even easier for Russian entrepreneurs to get to Finland due to the new practice of issuing residence permits for startups (we call it a startup visa). Also working with other European partners when having a reference from Finland becomes much easier.
What state support infrastructure is there for startups in the capital region of Finland which you represent?
One of the organizations worth noting is NewCo Helsinki. They are engaged in consulting startup entrepreneurs in starting and running a business in Finland. They provide a wide range of assistance - from registering companies and attracting staff to finding and attracting funding or grants. Among NewCo employees there are people with a wealth of experience in major leading IT companies in Finland, for example, Nokia. As such, there is no structured and step-by-step support, it all depends on the needs of the startup.
Larger companies that show real revenue and good turnover can seek help at the Helsinki Business Hub. Like NewCo Helsinki, they provide a wide range of services, but they pay more attention to finding investors for startups. The Helsinki Business Hub acts as a link between companies and their potential partners and investors. There are also such organizations in other cities that the Helsinki Centre represents. There is a startup development agency Cursor in Kotka that deals with support issues, in Lahti - Ladec. They help in addressing issues related to the opening and development of business, as well as provide support to entrepreneurs at all stages: from consulting on establishing a business and finding business partners to the selection of premises.
Business Finland is the largest organization that works for all of Finland and they are engaged in supporting and attracting investments to the country. One of the most frequent questions that has been addressed to them now is the information about getting a startup visa. Business Finland considers the business plan, the company's financial indicators, assesses the viability of the idea directly for its localization in Finland. But even if they approve the project this does not mean that a visa will be obtained. The next step is the Migration Board where an application for a residence permit is submitted. Business Finland regularly organizes events to present its capabilities.
From our part we are engaged in startup screening, representing the interests of the metropolitan area as well as the cities of Kotka (Cursor) and Lahti (Ladec). The Helsinki Centre regularly holds events where we talk about the business potential of each of the regions, as well as the practical aspects of doing business in Finland. So, we regularly organize business lunches for Russian companies interested in entering the Finnish market. In October we are launching the second Business Academy - a business course for companies that will allow learning about the opening, running and developing business in Finland. For 4 weeks, from 3rd to 24th of October, leading Finnish experts will address the most pressing issues that entrepreneurs are facing when entering the European market, starting with practical issues (such as elementary opening a bank account) and legal formalities to a search for investments and strategies to conquer global markets.
By the way, it is important to mention that cooperation with the structures that I have previously indicated gives a certain image weight to a startup, for example, when negotiating with Finnish investors. Potential customers, investors or partners see that the project is spinning in the system and has already acquired contacts in the local market. Acquaintance and integration into the ecosystem play a large role in the further development of the company.
What stage must a startup have in order to be ready for a successful expansion to Finland?
A lot depends on the founders. There have been people who started their own business in Finland from scratch and have been living only with one idea, but of course, there are quite a few of them. We do not consider applications at the idea stage; it’s important for us that the company has not only the desire and moral resource for entering Europe but also financial possibilities. Still, registration of a European legal entity and its further development require certain monetary investments.
Do they see Finland as a springboard for development in other countries? If yes, then which ones?
Of course, for the most part Finland is a definite springboard and reference for further development. There are almost no companies that plan to go to Finland and stop there. Among the locations where they look towards to are not only European countries, but also North America, China, South Korea. The last two countries can really be the target for such startups. We have already even had real examples of such a promotion.
This year in the Finlanding nomination you select startups in the field of IT, IoT, Industry 4.0 and SmartCity. Why?
For example, municipal structures are actively launching pilot projects with companies that operate in the Smart City industry. Smart city and digitalization, in general, are priority areas in the regions.
What we don’t look for are raw material projects. We are only interested in high technology.
What are the key mistakes startups make when presenting their projects during the GoTech nomination finals?
We specifically limit the company timewise and have strict requirements for the presentation. The most common mistake is ignorance of the audience for which the performance is being made. Some people spend too much time on the technical features of the product, some forget to talk about monetization.
During the pitches we don’t fail startups for the shortcomings - not everyone can, for example, come up with a story about their project in perfect English.
What can attract the attention of the jury?
Experience in European countries and in same Finland, when there were already some clients, or maybe some of the founders lived in a European country. Any fact related to the presence in the European markets.
An example of last year's nomination winners is indicative. The ODG Assist project turned out to be interesting because of the experience of cooperation with a Finnish company in Russia, and Girolab already had foreign sales at the time of participation in the competition.
You can submit a project for consideration to the Helsinki Centre through the Finlanding GoTech nomination. Applications are accepted until October 15, 2018.