It isn’t necessarily easy to attract international visitors to the cold reaches of Northern Finland. But despite any geographical challenges, members of Oulu’s Starttaamo hub have managed to attract more than €10 million in angel and VC investment over the past two years — from Finnish and international investors.
Add in government support, subsidies and initial capital, and the total funding stands between €20 million and €25 million, says Teemu Polo, one of the not-for-profit hub’s founders and members of the board.
The organisation has not disclosed which (or how many) of its members account for the €20m to €25m — so it’s a little hard to quantify how well its startups are doing — but it does say it has around 50 members at present (individuals can also sign up as members to get a reduced membership rate). Among Starttaamo’s current roster of members are Bitbar, Brightsign, Fantastec, InterestID, Soljuva, Valkee, WeTell Networks and W-Secure, to name a few.
For some context on the Finnish investment landscape, Polo says the Finnish VC Association puts the official figure for Finnish VC investments at €59.5 million in 2011, and €34.8 million for the first half of 2012. So €20m to €25m for one startup hub ain’t bad.
Starttaamo, which translates from the Finnish as ‘a place to start up’, was founded in 2011 by Polo and some fellow startup “activists”, Polo having ran a “discussion club for startup and Internet services people” prior to that. Members get to use/hang out in a shared co-working space, though not all its members are based there all the time. The hub also organizes events and networking opportunities, and offers a mentoring program.
“Oulu city wants to be the capital of Northern Scandinavia… and Starttaamo has sort of copied the same idea: we want to be the startup hub of the Northern Scandinavia,” Polo tells TechCrunch. ”It has proven fairly difficult for the government authorities to invite VCs here… It has been maybe a lot easier for us to convince the guys to come over.”
“There’s some good cities [in the region] and of course there’s good thoughts. It’s not anything that only big cities or vibrant ecosystems would have bright people. There’s bright people all around and they might have all good ideas but it’s the connections in the end that matter — how you can get feedback from VCs, from accelerators, from coaches and so forth. And you need the ecosystem and you need the mass to attract those opinion leaders here and that’s what we try to fill in,” he adds.
Oulu has its fair share of mobility-related and gaming startups, says Polo. Health and wellness is another focus for the area, which also has expertise in mass production. “Printed electronics is something that is being heavily invested in by the local city,” he says.
Oulu was in the news earlier this week when Nokia divested itself of another Finnish asset – selling its Peltola campus in the city to a domestic business space provider, with an agreement to lease back around half the space, leaving space for local startups to colonise.
Despite its own present difficulties, Nokia’s influence is never far from the Finnish startup scene. Multiple Starttaamo members have a Nokia background, says Polo — himself a 12-year Nokia veteran who left the company when it was still riding (relatively) high, back in 2009, to pursue startup ambitions. Many of those leaving Nokia’s fold to set up a business have benefited from grants via the Nokia Bridge program — which gives grants of up to €150,000, and can also help with follow on loans.
But Nokia is evidently giving back more to Finland’s startup ecosystem than merely money: namely talent, experience, connections and expertise. Part of what makes Oulu a good base for startups is its proximity to former Nokia talent, says Polo. “We do have a lot of this mobile background and a lot of good specialists from Nokia and the good thing about these guys is they are accustomed to do big things,” says Polo.
“What’s unique about Nokia — there’s a lot of guys who have done international business in large scale, in different cultures and so forth thanks to Nokia. And also there’s a lot of nice connections that people have — for example telecom operators, OEMs, these sort of businesses… Now we just have to take those resources into use,” he adds.