San Francisco Bay, New York, London, and Berlin are some of the most highly esteemed thriving technology startup hubs.
Though well-established ecosystems, not all are fully integrated smart cities. In fact, in the global Smart City Index, only New York featured in the top 20. Ranking at number six, however, is Helsinki. Perhaps down to the Finns’ unique humble nature, the city is arguably one of Europe’s most overlooked startup hubs. But really, entrepreneurs should be flocking here.
A thriving smart and sustainable hub
Helsinki is bursting with tech talent: for a population of just one million, it is home to an estimated 2,267 startups and scaleups. And in 2021, Finnish startups raised a total of €1.2 billion in investment. Nokia’s rise and fall released top talent into Helsinki, which, most famously, has gone on to fuel the multi-billion dollar gaming industry like unicorns Supercell and Rovio – the company behind Angry Birds. Notably, Finland ranks 7th in the world for its innovation capabilities, thanks to its unique approach to entrepreneurship.
As smart cities give citizens back an estimated 125 hours every year, it’s no wonder Helsinki is keen to adopt new technologies. Connectivity is at its core, and underpinning Helsinki’s network of smart buildings is real-time location systems (RTLS). Location-enabled buildings benefit a range of business use cases; from tracking equipment in hospitals to preventing overcrowding in public spaces. Thus, the solution seamlessly powers a safe and efficient city.
Smart cities come hand in hand with sustainability. From making food from C02 to turning rubbish into cotton-like material, name a climate issue, and a startup in Helsinki will be on a mission to solve it.
For environmentally-driven entrepreneurs in tech, relocating to Helsinki is very attractive, especially when sustainability is so high on the city’s agenda. By 2030, Helsinki aims to reach carbon neutrality, meaning that once achieved, operations in the city will no longer contribute to climate warming. With smart-living and sustainability at the forefront of innovation, it’s no wonder Helsinki has secured its title as the capital of the happiest country in the world for the fifth year running.
Opportunities for innovation
Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, spoke at Slush this year, and the Finnish Government makes it clear that it understands the value of startups and actively encourages entrepreneurs to test, innovate, and fail. Based on the latest industry research, it feels safe to predict that, as the Finnish Capital, Helsinki, will soon be the go-to for Industry 4.0, with a focus on health-tech, clean-tech, and advance-tech. But to achieve such merit, Helsinki recognises that new talent is vital for continuous innovation and has ramped up its efforts to attract diverse global entrepreneurs. For example, the city’s 90 Day Finn programme has taken place for three years running, looking for 15 global entrepreneurs, investors, and business professionals to move and experience life there for 90 Days.
How is tech powering Helsinki’s evolution
Finland doesn’t shy away from the problems of today’s world. SITRA, Finland’s innovation fund, cites five key trends for 2023 that are shaping the future landscape of tech innovation in Helsinki: the environmental crisis, the evolution of wellbeing due to ageing populations and increasing mental health challenges, the battle for democracy, intensifying competition for digital power, and the cracking of economic foundations.
While the city creates a starting block for innovation and experimentation through its extensive funding, the answers to the challenges Helsinki, and the world, face today almost certainly lie within the tech industry. In order to reach such levels of innovation, entrepreneurs are already knocking on the door of the future. Take Fortum or Helen as an example, Helsinki’s ambitious carbon neutrality goals wouldn’t be possible without such companies investing in ecological reconstruction and phasing out fossil fuels. In addition, investments in Deep Tech have grown considerably in the city with 117 of the 241 ‘Deep Tech’ companies in Finland based in Helsinki. In fact, there has been €1,9 bn total invested capital in Finland, and 429 investments to 176 companies described as deep tech companies.
As an industry, it’s more than innovation and city funding that will drive Helsinki to unlock its future potential and overcome the challenges SITRA references. Building democratic institutions, for example, relies on trust. And there is something to be learned from the trusting culture in Helsinki – where a handshake means a business deal. Incorporating values like these, ensures a better future for all.
For Helsinki to achieve its ambitions, its residents must also be receptive and supportive of new technology. As entrepreneurs, we have a part to play here. Even with RTLS, before people understand the value tracking and monitoring can add to health, safety, and the environment, they can be hesitant. By taking advantage of Helsinki’s open data approach, which makes real-time data available to everyone, we can use data to create a completely transparent landscape, in which the public understands and invites change.
The future is bright
Though mighty in ambition, Helsinki’s population and economy are smaller than many other tech hubs – ranking 47th in the Innovation Cities Index, where San Francisco sits 12th, London 11th, and New York 3rd – which is why the city needs to maintain a strong tech talent attraction scheme. Married with being a relative newcomer to the scene, Helsinki must assert its strength in the technology industry to continue its evolution and attract business professionals to the city.
Helsinki poses an exciting opportunity for technology entrepreneurs. The city’s desire to grow and transform, while always doing the right thing for the environment and its people, is rare. It’s a place where you can grow your technology business, while making a truly tangible difference to the city too. Helsinki needs the technology industry, but I think many founders would be surprised by how much they need Helsinki too.