TechCrunch Helsinki Meetup Sees Finland’s New Startup Generation

Finland has a rich heritage in technology. Whatever crisis of confidence the masters of Nokia had, eventually leading to its gutting by Microsoft, that long heritage has served it well, giving rise to a several generations of engineers and, increasingly, entrepreneurs. Now a new generation is emerging in Finland, emboldened by local heroes and successes.

This new generation started appearing a few years ago. When Jyri Engeström was at Nokia, he told his masters about the iPhone. They ignored him. He and his friend Petteri Koponen went on to build Jaiku, which was later sold to Google. To think that Google could have had a Twitter product that was actually better than Twitter at the time does not bear thinking about. Europe came close to generating it’s own social media giant – but the time was not right.

After leaving Google post earn-out, Petteri went on to create Lifeline Ventures, subsequently an early backer of Supercell, half of which was sold to SoftBank for $1.5 billion. This is without even mentioning the mighty Rovio and Angry Birds, of course.

This flood of wealth coming into Helsinki has helped create new startups such as Jolla and others.

And now the exits have started to come. The Moves app was picked up by Facebook only this year. And just as I flew into town this week, Draw Elements, a startup in the Mobile 3D Graphics space created by this new Helsinki generation, was acquired by Google for an alleged eight figure sum. Draw Elements had technology which could ultimately stop the fragmentation of Android across hundreds of different devices.

Plus, Helsinki’s healthy hacker culture, in the form of the popular Assembly demo party, continues to nurture engineering talent.

Finland has a lot going for it: A world-class educational system. Active early stage investors. The TEKES program and government matching for funding which gives startups a longer runway. It’s a ‘’mobile-first’ country given the Nokia legacy. It has a gaming background going back 15+ years from companies like Digital Chocolate. It has an international outlook, because who else speaks Finnish, right? And at times it can even draw of talent coming out of Russia.

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Plus it has at least two highly active startup support networks. Aaltoes, or Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, is a non-profit organization run by students of Aalto University. In 2010, Aaltoes formulated some of its activities into two seed accelerator programs for very early-stage startups, Startup Sauna and Summer of Startups. Aaltoes was one of the main reasons that Aalto University become the first official European partner of Stanford University’s Technology Ventures Program.

So it was no surprise to me that many of the startups pitching at our TechCrunch Helsinki meetup this week, held in conjunction with Aaltoes, had the makings of some very interesting ideas.

Here’s a rundown on those that presented. My thanks to my fellow judges Katariina Rantanen, founder of CosmEthics, Chris Thür, founder of Ovelin and Claes Mikko Nilsen, coordinator at FIBAN. Also to the whole Aaltoes team for their support.

The winner of the TechCrunch Helsinki meetup (their prize is a stand at Disrupt Europe and tickets for their team) was LeeLuu. This innovative hardware startup has developed a set of soft night lights which can be played with and used in infinite ways. These textile night lights interact with each other helping kids fight their fear of darkness.

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The runners-up (who get two tickets each) were: – Billed as a ‘Spotlight Search for the Cloud’, StartHQ is aimed at desktop browsers and allows you to search for files across Dropbox, Google Drive etc.

CMPRSSD – This captures meeting notes in audio, and does voice recognition to create a summary of a meeting in a company. Think of it as Summly for meetings. – A little like Vinted, remarket hopes to make it easier for people to shop, sell and discover, high fashion second-hand clothes.


The rest of the pitches were from:

AALTO-HELSINKI BIOWORKS – We turn bacteria into superheroes. – A ‘smart’ pot for house plants.

Murikka – A takeaway app for fresh food, with a focus on healthy food – And online tool for neighbourhood planning aimed at construction companies, allowing them to consult with local people. – Talent spotting for the music business based on analytics and YouTube traffic.

SWIPE – The latest news directly on your Android lock screen. – To arrange internships at companies.