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“The Finnish startup ecosystem is stronger than ever.” – Ilkka Kivimäki, Founding Partner at Maki VC
Widely known for its vibrant gaming industry with unicorns like Supercell and Rovio paving the way, Finland's startup ecosystem has gone from zero to thriving in the last two decades and is now home to one of the densest technical and developer talent bases in Europe (State of European Tech 2019).
With a second wave of startup success stories such as Wolt and Smartly already well underway, an increasing number of Finns are choosing the path of entrepreneurship. Since 2000, the share of Finnish students wanting to start a business has gone from a meager 1% to an incredible 40% (ETLA).
Looking at the recent generation of startups, a focus on solving big social and environmental challenges is evident. Drawing from advanced academic research in these fields, it seems Finland is en route to becoming a hotspot for biomaterials, health tech, and deep tech in general.
The rise of sustainability-focused startups also shines through in The Org’s list of the top 10 startup teams in Finland 2020. In addition to impressive growth, traction and concept, the 10 startups have been selected based on their exceptional teams excelling in their own way – be that in terms of a great culture, inspiring diversity, incredible talent, or innovative organisational setups.
IQM builds quantum computers.
“Quantum computers hold the promise of solving problems we never thought we could get an answer to,” said Dr. Jan Goetz, co-founder and CEO of IQM, in an interview with The Org.
Fighting climate change, developing better drugs, and finding solutions that will benefit society at large, are all examples of what IQM hopes to help make possible with their quantum solutions. The startup - a spin-out from Aalto University and the VTT research center - has rapidly grown into the largest industrial hardware team of quantum experts in Europe. Since their first funding round in 2017, IQM has received investments from 6 deeptech investors and the European Commission, bringing their total funding to over €32M to date.
The now-55 person team is growing rapidly: “We are hiring one quantum engineer per week, on average,” said Dr Goetz. Expanding the team of a quantum computer startup is slightly different from your regular B2B SaaS startup. At IQM the majority of the team holds a Phd in quantum physics or has some other technical background.
“There are few people that study physics, and out of these only a fraction choose quantum physics and quantum computing, so there is a shortage of talent in the world,” said Dr. Goetz. “On the other hand, there’s also a shortage in opportunities for people who want to work in quantum computing, and in Europe we are probably one of the more attractive ones.”
IQM is indeed attracting talent from all corners of the world, with a current team of 18 different nationalities based in Finland and Germany. Dr Goetz points out how in academia and with their science-driven startup, one’s nationality doesn’t really matter: “Usually, in science no one cares where you come from. We have a really nice spirit in the team - the US and Chinese work side by side here,” said Dr. Goetz.
The startup team is driven by the will to build for positive impact. “We want to build something that helps find solutions to the really important problems,” said Dr. Goetz.
Mainframe is building the game of a lifetime.
In the spring of 2019, 13 game industry veterans from Finland and Iceland were getting together for their first founding meetings in Helsinki and Reykjavik. “It was clear from the beginning that this would work amazingly well,” recounts Ansu Lönneberg, founding member and Head of Studio.
With backgrounds in top Nordic gaming companies like CCP, Remedy and Next Games, the 13 founding members have been part of building iconic games such as EVE Online, Alan Wake and The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land. The Finnish-Icelandic gaming studio is now developing a cloud-native MMO (a massive multiplayer online game where players can join from any device) - a vibrant world with new ways to connect and engage with friends.
Since their establishment the team has made headlines fast, most recently by attracting a €7,6M Series A funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz and other household names like Riot Games, Play Ventures, Crowberry Capital, Maki VC and Sisu Game Ventures.
Mainframe is now over 30 people, and while they are no longer only Finns and Icelanders, the heritage of the two cultures widely resonates within the team: Well structured and focused work, looking after each other and stressing the importance of setting aside enough time for family and life's other adventures.
The studios in Helsinki and Reykjavik combine several strong development cultures. The Icelandic team is particularly experienced in building successful MMORPG games, while the Finnish team members have plenty of mobile understanding as well as experience in creating AAA games of various genres.
“We feel that for constructing a beautiful, meaningful and not the least successful cloud native MMO game this is the perfect mix,” Lönneberg said. “Creating this kind of a game here in the Nordics brings together a previously untapped commonwealth of experiences, professional expertise and dreams of online adventures yearning to happen.”
Rens Original is making the world's first coffee sneaker.
“Most cool shoes are unsustainable and most sustainable shoes are ugly,” said Tran, the co-founder and CEO of Rens. “It’s like how people used to settle for really boring and shitty electric cars before Tesla came around. That’s how we decided to launch Rens. Wee wanted to create really sustainable but really cool shoes for the younger generations – it’s like Tesla footwear.”
The sales of their waterproof, breathable shoe made from coffee grounds and recycled plastic got off to a flying start last year. Attracting over 5000 backers who pledged more than $550,000, Rens blew away its goal of $19K and completed what turned out to be the most successful Kickstarter campaign in Finland’s history and the most successful fashion crowdfunding in the Nordics.
The startup has now sold their sneakers to individuals in over 100 countries. With their latest funding round this April, Rens added an impressive roster of names to their investor list – including Supercell founder Ilkka Paananen, Small Giant Games-founder Timo Soininen, and the president of Tencent America.
The Helsinki-based team of self declared sneaker heads totals 14 people of 8 different nationalities. When building up their team, the founders experienced an incredible interest from applicants. “We got 200 applications on average, for some positions we got 500 and 700,” Tran said “We found great talents here and feel really lucky.”
Rens’ main goal is to approach sustainability, especially in fashion, with an edge and mass appeal.
“We want to attract the majority of people to switch from bad clothing to sustainable clothing,” Tran said. “The fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world, right after oil and gas – which is the problem that Tesla has been solving, so we’re solving the second biggest problem.”
Spinnova develops the most sustainable fibre in the world.
Using ecological innovation, Spinnova manufactures cellulose-based textile fibers to turn wood-based material and waste streams into textile. The process includes 0% harmful chemicals, 0% waste or side streams and uses about 99% less water than cotton production.
Started in 2014 by Juha Salmela and Janne Poranen, the startup has grown into a current team of 35 experts coming from all around the world. Since the beginning, the founders have focused on building the team organically, with the company, by putting the team first.
“It’s a team rather than a company at the beginning, so it’s super important that the atmosphere in the team is good,” co-founder & CTO Salmela said. “We’ve been focusing on ensuring a great work environment and adapting the culture as we grow, including using professional team builders.”
Spinnova is now looking to globally commercialize their fibre products in collaboration with major textile brands. This goes hand in hand with their vision of creating a more sustainable textile industry. The company has raised a total of 19 M€ to date and is currently preparing for its first large investment round.
With a team of experts from the textile and fashion industry, the startup believes in failing fast and succeeding faster rather than a more cautious approach.
“We would rather take more risk and go forward fast than optimise everything in detail,” Salmela said. “That’s one of the important reasons why we’ve been successful. We have such a good team and know-how behind us that these are calculated risks.”
Enfuce is changing the financial industry for the better.
Founded in 2016, the Espoo-based company has already grown to be Finland’s largest fintech startup. Enfuce offers payment, open banking and sustainability services to banks, merchants and financial operators - as well as fellow fast-growing fintech startups like Pleo.
One of the company’s most recent services is My Carbon Action, which allows end-customers to track their actual carbon footprint per purchase. Reducing one’s carbon footprint is easier once you get an overview, explains Monika Liikamaa, co-founder and CEO of Enfuce. “When you really look into what things emit Co2, you’ll find that it’s what you eat, how you live and how you travel. There is a lot of low hanging fruit there.”
To scale their sustainability service and gear up for international growth, Enfuce raised a €10 million funding round last year, led by Maki VC and including venture debt from Nordea, LähiTapiola, and Finnvera.
Now a team of 54 people from 8 different nations, Enfuce merges startup spirit with 350 years of combined banking experience. As such, both a growth mindset and compliance excellence are key team characteristics.
Women make up 40% of the fintech’s senior-level positions, and as Liikamaa points out, that doesn’t happen by itself.
“We have worked hard to get there,” she said. “In the beginning we were only getting applications from men, so we changed the way we do the applications. And there’s still a lot that needs to be done.”
While growing their team, the founders have put high emphasis on building trust and a culture that people enjoy being part of. This includes valuing coffee breaks as much as good HR - even while operating remotely during Covid: “Immediately after we went remote, we implemented companywide coffee breaks every day at 2 o’clock” said Liikama. “At the end of the day, trust is built between the meetings.”
Sulapac is replacing plastic.
Founded in 2016 by Suvi Haimi and Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo, the two biochemists teamed up with third co-founder and chemist Antti Pärssinen to create Sulapac®: A biodegradable and microplastic-free material made entirely from renewable sources and certified wood. Their biobased materials can be used to make everything from straws to injection molding materials to packaging for cosmetics. It has the benefits of plastic, but biodegrades completely.
In December last year the startup raised a €15M Series A to engine its scale-up and internationalization. Investors in the round included Chanel, Mousse Partners, Sky Ocean Ventures, Lifeline Ventures and Bonnier Ventures.
When building up their team – in addition to looking for top talents in their own fields - the founders emphasized adding more variety to their already distinct skill sets and personalities.
“Diversity is something we highly value, because different people bring different insights,” Haimi said. “Even if it doesn’t always make things nice and smooth, it means that we make smarter decisions in the end.”
To achieve their goal of becoming the new standard in sustainable materials replacing plastic, all Sulapacians are encouraged to think big.
“A ‘going with the flow’-mentality is not what we’re after,”Haimi said “Instead, challenging the status quo, bringing bold ideas to the table and showing initiative is appreciated. We never assume that ‘management knows best’ – We are on this journey together and everyone’s expertise and opinions are needed.”
Videoly doesn't make videos. But they do make finding and including user-generated product videos easy for anyone selling online.
Over 250 retailers are already using Videoly’s services - including brands like Bauhaus, Clas Ohlson, Elgiganten and Nelly.com. Just this month, the startup announced its latest raise of €1M led by Vendep Capital.
While a tech driven startup, Videoly’s values emphasize that everyone in the team is first and foremost a human being. “We do not operate as machines,” said Nora Huovila, co-founder and CEO of Videoly. “Everyone has good and bad days and energy should be optimised. Thus we don’t have working hours and the company also supports mental health services such as therapy.”
The diverse team of 27 people is spread across remote teams as well as their office in Helsinki. Notably, more than 50% of the tech startup’s team is women.
When building up their team the two co-founders emphasized a good culture fit – which for them meant sharing the company’s values and beliefs. Huovila also highlights how using a person’s strengths is particularly important in a fast-growing startup:
“At Videoly everyone’s role is built on their personal strengths,” she said “In a start-up the company and everyone’s roles are constantly evolving and you hang out quite a lot in your uncomfort zone. This works if the core of your doing is in your comfort zone - where your personal strengths are - otherwise it might become too stressful.”
Adding to their human first approach is a belief that people never forget how you made them feel.
“We aim to always uplift people when interacting with our company,” Huovila said. “Leaving people with a positive experience is the most important thing we do. Money follows."
Meru Health wants to make mental health care widely accessible to people in need.
With more than 300 million people suffering from depression and 260 million suffering from anxiety disorders worldwide (WHO), the need for accessible and effective mental health care is huge.
Meru offers a novel, clinically proven digital treatment program for depression, anxiety and burnout, that combines technology, evidence-based therapy, and daily support from licensed clinicians. They call it ‘The New Standard of Mental Healthcare’.
Spurred by the increased need for virtual health care during the global pandemic, Meru received backing from Foundry Group, Slack and Bold Capital in May to raise a $8.1M Series A round. The latest round followed a $4.2M Seed round in April 2019, which included investors Freestyle Capital, Bonit Capital, Y Combinator, Lifeline Ventures and IT-Farm.
For the team, the mission to build out the new standard of mental health care is personal. CEO and founder Kristian Ranta, who has a long-standing background in digital health, founded Meru because he lost his brother to depression. “We wanted to reinvent how mental disorders are treated – to make it more effective, accessible and the results long-lasting,” Ranta said. “People in our team are highly dedicated to this mission and it shows! It’s truly inspiring to get to work with these people.”
Since founding Meru Health in 2016, the growing team now consists of over 60 scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers and clinicians who are dedicated to doing everything in their power to help people who suffer from mental health problems.
Swappie is on a mission to make the circular smartphone economy mainstream.
Since its start in 2016, Swappie has become a leading marketplace for refurbished iPhones and one of the fastest growing companies in Europe. Their growth was further accelerated in June with a Series B raise of $40M from Tesi, Lifeline Ventures, Inventure and Reaktor Ventures.
Now a team of over 300 people and 31 nationalities, the startup operates in eight countries and is on track to hire another 400 people across Europe in the next year. The rapidly expanding team prides itself on both execution and on being adaptable to change as they grow the company:
"We are in a stage where it’s critical that our people share our long-term growth vision,” said Jiri Heinonen, CMO and co-founder of Swappie. "One key element is to keep the agility about the way of doing things, even though our headcount is growing. Of course, the only constant is change, but luckily our great people are more than adaptive to constant change.”
Providing people with a more environmentally friendly and affordable way to upgrade their iPhones is at the core of Swappie’s business model.
“It’s motivating for our people that we can focus purely on our business goals and positive environmental impact will follow automatically,” Heinonen said.
There are more phones than people in the world today. With 85-90% of carbon emissions in the smartphone industry coming from the manufacturing process, the need for reliable recycling and affordable, sustainable options is massive.
“I usually say to our new people that not only are we disrupting and breaking the monopolies of the largest businesses in the world (Apple & Amazon), but we can feel good about doing it if we just keep our focus,” Heinonen said.
Yousician is on a mission to make musicality as common as literacy.
Since its inception in 2010, Yousician has grown into the largest music education company in the world. With their mission, the team wants to make the world a more beautiful, engaging and creative place by reimagining music education so that everyone can unleash their inner musician. Their products, Yousician and GuitarTuna, are used by millions of people around the globe. Yousician allows anyone to learn and play an instrument (available for guitar, bass, ukulele, piano and voice), while GuitarTuna is the most popular tuning app globally. A whopping 832 million songs and 345 billion notes have already been played on their music platform.
The startup stands out with its diverse and multicultural team of over 100 people ranging from audio engineers, game designers, music educators and software developers from 26 different nations.
More than anything, the Helsinki based team is united by their love for music and the will to help reimagine the future of music education. If you ask co-founder and CEO Chris Thür, this will is what drives the company’s great culture and team spirit: "True work satisfaction comes from working on something you believe in, with a team who loves what they are doing and are great at it.”
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