Guest Post: Finland – Freezing Cold, But So Hot Right Now

In Finland it is a law that every structure larger than 600 square meters must have a bomb shelter. Below Helsinki a vast network of nuclear fall-out shelters underpin the whole city.

Even parking a car in an underground car-park in the Finnish capital means driving into a fall-out shelter, but things have changed considerably since the country’s neighbour, the Soviet Union, fragmented into a country that will host the 2018 Soccer World Cup and is somewhat less likely to fire off nuclear weapons… although one never knows.

Although the average December temperature in Helsinki is below freezing point, Finland is hot right now. The country is officially the least corrupt in the world, the number one in the Global Wealth and Happiness index, top in utility patents in the European Union and last year the Harvard Business Review rated it as the 2nd Innovation Hot Spot in the World.

According to Technopolis Online, there is a cluster of 813 high-tech companies in Helsinki. These include 67 cleantech companies, 175 mobile companies, 359 software companies, 16 nanotechnology companies and 100 life sciences companies.

The city has undoubtedly benefited from the so-called Nokia effect, a company that was named after the Nokia river and was originally a paper manufacture business until it merged with the Finnish Rubber Works and Finnish Cable Works in 1967. You may know it slightly better as a handset maker.

Today, however, it is R&D investment and more than 100 VC companies active in Finland for the past five years that are driving Helsinki forward. Every year, the Tekes Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation grants more than €500 million ($663 million) towards innovative projects for ‘new know-how’, R&D and innovation. The mobile sector is especially buoyant. According to Technopolis Online, the average revenue per employee working in mobile in Helsinki is a staggering €123,747 ($164,255).

While the whole world seems to know about Rovio Mobile, the owner of the Angry Birds mobile game that has developed into a global franchise after being downloaded more than 36 million times, it isn’t even the best-selling mobile game in Finland. That honour goes to Shadow Cities, developed by Grey Area and the world’s ‘first location-based MMORPG for the iPhone’.

But there is still more to Helsinki than Nokia and Rovio, especially in the gaming sector. More than 87% of Finnish games are exported ranging from RedLynx‘s Trials HD-Big Thrills, a motorcycle-stunt game that has shifted more than a million units on Xbox Live, to Housemarque‘s DeadNation, a game that revels in its ‘blood, gore and violence’ genre.

Then there’s Blyk, a mobile advertising company that recently opened its first office in India and has big plans for mobile money in developing countries, and APE Wallet, an online payment service that is based on the identification technology between a computer and its browser’s cookies.

But my favourite is from the mad people at Sofanatics who rendered me senseless by vodka when I recently visited Helsinki and in doing so proved the point that getting a journalist drunk always pays dividends in the form of column inches.

The company runs an online chat service for soccer fans, but the cool aspect of that service is that fans can interact by merely shaking their iPhone or iPad during a game. Perhaps they’re right when they claim to be the first live website to have such a feature.

In 1991 Finland’s then Prime Minister Harri Holkeri made the world’s first GSM call and two years later Finish student Riku Pihkonen sent the first GSM text message. Almost two decades on, the refrain from denizens of Helsinki that ‘after all Finland is the best country in the world’ is built on pretty solid foundations. Much like its fall-out shelters.

Monty Munford has more than 15 years’ experience in mobile, digital media, web and journalism and returned to the UK in September, 2010 after living in India for two years. In that time he consulted clients such as Paramount Digital Entertainment in LA and Liverpool FC to deliver their content to an Indian mobile audience, spoke at events in London, Dublin and Singapore and landed two speaking parts in two big-budget Bollywood movies that will be released in December 2010.

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