The current restrictions only stimulate startups to enter Finland from Russia

Finlanding, a program to support technology companies, continues to accept applications. Representatives of the program organizers – the Helsinki Center in St. Petersburg and the Helsinki Business Hub – talked to Evgenia Barchenko, the chief of operating officer of GoTech Innovation consulting company, about what helps Russian startups to develop in Finland, and how to successfully pass the current selection.

How do you remember the past Finlanding, which, for obvious reasons related to the pandemic, was different from the previous ones?

Vladimir Chepurnoy, Director, Invest-In, Helsinki Centre in St. Petersburg. Last year, when looking for startups, we focused more on quality rather than quantity. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of mature companies with higher turnover compared to previous programs. At the same time, startups of the early stages of development are also interesting to us, and their quality is growing.

There are practically no startups left that just want to try to enter a new country, not really understanding why they need it. Just now there are more companies who have already determined for themselves the next step development in international markets. Plus, the restrictions caused by the pandemic pushed Russian entrepreneurs to formulate a clear strategy for entering other countries. Finlanding is an important step for them in realizing their plans.

Maria Melnikova, Senior Business Advisor, Helsinki Business Hub. In the recent selection, we saw more companies that already have large foreign clients. Such companies clearly understand why they need to enter global markets, they know about all the associated risks and are ready for them.

Of course, the trends shaped by the pandemics have affected startups as well. For example, there has been an increase in the number of cases of online solutions  for remote work on platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams that facilitate communication. I can mention the VERSPEAK company – a service for simultaneous online translation from anywhere in the world. A good solution at the right time, which has received rapid development. In July, they finally completed their relocation in Helsinki, and we continue to introduce them into the ecosystem of the region – we introduce them to potential partners and help find the first payment clients (an interview with the founder of the company can be found here).

At what point do the winners and participants of past programs begin to actively develop in Finland? How long does it take them?

V.Ch. I would point out that one of the important principles of the Finlanding program is the mandatory work with participants after selection. We do not abandon startups, we continue to communicate with them and, if possible, help in entering the Finnish market. As a rule, Finlanding participants are finally localized in the country 2-3 years after the program.

M.M. Much also depends on the industry. For example, in medical startups, the cycle from the emergence of a company and a technology to a product launch on the market can be 4-5 years. And some may launch in Finland a couple of months after the program and feel great.

V.Ch. The finalists of the recent selection have not yet made it to Finland due to the current restrictions. We communicate with them online, but we want to get to know them in person. Perhaps it will be possible to bring them to Slush this year. While it is planned offline. In any case, we do not forget about anyone and keep in touch with Finlanding participants.

M.M. It is also worth noting that Slush tickets won last year can be used at any of the following conferences, not necessarily this year.

Has the activity of Russian startups in striving to develop in Finland decreased over the past year?

M.M. According to the Helsinki Business Hub, the number of startups from different countries that have moved to Finland over the past year has grown by 25-30% compared to the period before the pandemic. We associate this with the fact that during the pandemic, companies had the necessary time to analyze their development, adjust their strategy, study different markets, and make a choice. And they used this time very effectively.

Previously, startups were stopped by some insignificant moments, but now they are ready to receive a Startup Permit, break through closed borders and actively work in the Finnish market. Conversely, the restrictions associated with the pandemic have spurred entrepreneurs to take new actions.

Has the support for startups in Finland changed over the past year?

М.М. Several new acceleration and incubation programs have emerged, such as the Urban Tech Helsinki and Helsinki Education Hub, which opens its doors in September. In the Helsinki Business Hub, we have transferred some of the services online. For example, earlier, for startups ready for relocation, it was possible to hold a roadshow in the capital region: to acquaint with potential partners and clients, to show sites for future activities – offices, coworking spaces, production facilities, warehouses. Now we are limited in this direction. But we try to help as much as possible online. In particular, in Finland there is a Register of available office and production sites, on the basis of which we advise you to opt for one place or another according to the criteria provided in advance.

V.Ch. Business Finland, despite the restrictions on international movement, continues to work under the Startup Permit program. As far as the Helsinki Center is concerned, we have changed the format of our events. So, at the beginning of the year, we held a Business Academy for the first time online on the basis of the Startup Space Helsinki virtual platform. By the way, this is also one of the new services that have appeared in Finland – a virtual space and a 24/7 community to help startups.

I can note that one of the advantages of online meetings is the better preparation of startups for events. They had more specific and thematic questions, whereas earlier in offline they came to us exclusively for primary information, and questions appeared after a while. Of course, we want to work with startups face to face, and we look forward to when the opportunity arises.

М.М. I will add that the online service cycle is accelerating: some support points can be resolved and clarified much faster.

What do you expect from the current selection? Your search areas have not changed. Why? Which industries can be of higher priority for you this year?

М.М. The industry focus that we have formed for Finlanding is in line with the main vectors for the development of high technologies: IoT, Smart City, MedTech, Mobile apps, VR&AR, Smart & Clean, Robotics, Green Tech, Gaming, EdTech, Life Science Tech, AI. All of them are united by the fact that they are aimed at the development of high-tech products with high added value. These are the solutions Finland wants to see on its market. Therefore, each of the selected industries in the country (primarily in the capital region) has its own support institutions or specialized clusters.

V.Ch. As part of the selection process, we try to look at the company’s sales, its turnover and, of course, the product. Yes, in Finland there are specific niches in which the country is strong, so it is logical to adhere to precisely these areas in the program. But we can also take on specialized solutions from other industries. The main thing is to show that these solutions have the potential for further growth.

Are there any new requirements for companies that are especially relevant this year? What criteria will be key in determining the winners?

V.Ch. It is important that the product is in demand not only in the Finnish market, but also further in Europe and other countries. Finland is a springboard for business scaling; the local market is small here. Therefore, as a rule, one of the goals of startups is global development. Team motivation is important, especially in these times when the willingness to move forward is essential.

M.M. As a “big bonus”, I would also add English proficiency. And, of course, experience in foreign markets and the presence of international clients.

What are the reasons for the success of the previous selection participants in Finland?

M.M. In the team and its activity – for example, the desire to “knock out” the assistance that they provide from development institutions, awareness of the possibilities of state support. It is important to assimilate the information provided by us for specific startup requests. Those who do this in the future go through the necessary steps to open a business in Finland faster and do not repeat the same mistakes.

V.Ch. Startups are progressing if they have a clearly structured action plan – at least a year or two ahead.

Information about the Startup Permit program.

The Startup Permit program was launched in mid-2018 and immediately attracted special attention of the founders of Russian startups, which account for the bulk of applications. More than a hundred young companies participate in the program every year. In addition to Russia, the most active countries where applications come from are India, China and Iran. In general, startups from 51 countries have already shown interest in the program. I would like to note that the business plans presented by Russian entrepreneurs are highly appreciated by experts. About 50% of applications from Russia receive confirmation under the program.

We remind you that Finlanding applications are accepted until September 20. Finlanding is a great opportunity to develop your business in Finland and enter global markets. The program is organized by the Helsinki Centre in St. Petersburg in cooperation with NewCo Helsinki and the Helsinki Business Hub. Finlanding is open to Russian companies with sales of their product / service, a strong team with marketing competencies and deep understanding of technology. If your startup meets the listed requirements and is ready to enter the international market, hurry to apply using the link. The Finlanding program is operated by GoTech Innovation.


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