Tech Space and Business in Finland Explained by MotaWord

Things are certainly happening in Finland. Take one look at Slush (www.slush.org), and you’ll see what an outstanding array of talent and innovation answered the call for SLUSH 2016. MotaWord (www.motaword.com) is on this late-November trip to Finland, whose entire population of 5.5 million is small even compared to MotaWord’s home town of New York City.

Attending this trip, we didn’t expect anything like this. Although we were impressed by the agenda we saw in advance, we politely expected little more than an enthusiastic gathering of entrepreneurs. Maybe a cameo from the founders of Nokia, Finland’s pride and joy. Those fireside chats ought to entertain us enough to distract us from the bleakness of Finland’s Arctic temperatures and sunlight deprivation. We would warm up back in New York and replenish our vitamin D deficiency back in the sunny streets of Manhattan. Maybe we would call one or two of our new Finnish friends some time after the holidays. Someday we would visit Finland again, after expanding internationally everywhere else.

Boy were we wrong. Thanks to the dazzling display of tech talent and innovation we’ve just seen at SLUSH 2016, Finland might become one of MotaWord’s top priorities for growth, for talent, and for expansion partnership. It took an invitation from Kristina Garcia from FinPro (www.finpro.fi) and her colleagues from Invest in Finland (http://www.investinfinland.fi/) for us to find out about this Nordic gem that could very easily become the gateway to an American start-up’s international expansion, rather than the remote opportunity market that Finland’s geography deceptively suggests. We might be back in Finland sooner and more often than we imagined. And the sunlight issue? Finland’s innovators are on it: developing a solution that lights you up through earphones (https://www.humancharger.com/).

Here’s some more color to show why SLUSH 2016 and Finland are fascinating us at MotaWord. For one week, we visited semi-government agencies, international Finnish companies and foreign companies operating in Finland. The emphasis was on informing growth-stage startups, startup investors and incubators from North America.

The visiting group was a stellar one; Fred Schmidt (Capital Factory), Eric Van Gorden (Gust), John Suk (GE), Andy Kelly (Silicon Valley Bank), Priya Guha (RocketSpace). The meetings, cocktails and dinners with this group was a blast. There’s no better tour guide than FinPro, who showed us everything about Helsinki and why we wish we could keep Helsinki as our own private secret.

But there’s more to Finland than its capital city. Consider the city of Tampere, a two-hour drive north (yes, and there’s still further north to go before hitting the North Pole). There you’ll find 34,000 students attending Tampere’s three universities, two of which focus on technical training to supply the highly-skilled workforce for both international companies (e.g. Microsoft) and of course for hometown giant Nokia, which it seems that every adult in Finland has worked with or for at some point in his/her career. Oliver Hussey, the Irish representative of Tredea (www.tredea.fi) — the regional investment agency for Tampere — happily moved to Finland and explained to us the flip side of Microsoft’s recent site closure and of Nokia’s decline: all of those technology solutions and workers are now accessible on the open market. Who wants to pay Palo Alto prices and property taxes? Instead, go to Tampere and you’ll get:

  • All of the talent and infrastructure that previously went straight to the incumbent giants
  • A culture of open innovation between companies, universities, research institutes and the city.
  • An all-digital city by 2025, with billions of Euros earmarked in the budget to get it done

Here are a few final takeaways:

  • Finland is energetic, serious about business and diversification from the old Nokia dependency. The country is full of talented and educated workforce that has been trained in corporate culture and ready to take on new challenges — either as part of up and coming companies or entrepreneurs. Cannot resist illustrating this with these three examples, among many: Industryhack (www.industryhack.com) is a startup whose team we met and we believe is well on its way to becoming a global player. Idean (www.idean.com) is already global, and still growing, providing enviable UX design for top companies in the US and Europe. Amer Sports (https://www.amersports.com) is a global giant that owns familiar brands such as Wilson and Atomic and is working on pushing connectivity to many sports.
  • SLUSH is awesome. 17,000 participants in a venue that is more night-club than convention center, stocked with innovators from every sector. We will be back.

Finland can be more important to MotaWord than we realized. We want to hire Finnish graduates, and we want to support the translation departments of Finland’s universities in learning and training on new developments in the global translation scene.

The Finnish companies most serious about growth internationally are ready for MotaWord. They know the exponential value of addressing consumers in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and America, and they know that English alone is not enough. MotaWord can help in all of those countries and all at once — not in sequence. Only MotaWord can deliver that promise. From now on Finland is on our radar.