Finland’s Slush Conference – The Place for Tech Startups in 2017

10/31/2017 11:51 pm ET

Finns will tell you that the worst weather in Finland occurs in late fall when there is cold rain, sleet, and slush. In keeping with the Finnish sense of humor, Finns embrace the foul weather by branding their most important tech start-up conference Slush. This year, the Conference meets in Helsinki, Finland November 30th through December 1st.

Slush Conference

A few serial entrepreneurs, worried about the lack of willingness to take risk, started Slush several years ago. In just a few years, this conference has grown from its humble beginnings to a sold out global event with 17,500 attendees and 1 million live stream viewers as Finland celebrates its Centennial in 2017. It is indicative of the high-tech start-up culture that has propagated in Finland after Nokia exited the mobile phone business and laid-off thousands of workers.

Thriving and growing tech ecosystem

Highly skilled and trained former Nokia employees along with many others are starting companies, conferences, venture organizations, and all the bits and pieces needed to create a thriving entrepreneurial tech sector in Finland. Patrik Sallner, former Nokia director of insight and foresight, said in Techworld...

"The good thing about Nokia's demise right now is there's a lot of experienced managers available... Leaders of publicly listed companies and startups in Finland have their background in Nokia."

Recognizing the availability of tech talent, companies from Silicon Valley, Europe, and Asia are setting up R&D facilities in Finland.

Supportive infrastructure

Former Nokia employees are not the only reason Finland is being called the Silicon Valley of Europe. Finland has an infrastructure that is hospitable to technology and start-ups. The following are just some of the reasons.

  • Top of the world education. Finland frequently tops the world in education. Finnish students are ranked among the top three in the world.
  • Advanced technology infrastructure. It has turned into one of the world’s leading information societies.
  • Impressive universities and research centers. Finland has numerous universities and research Centers of Excellence. Aalto University, which includes the former Helsinki University of Technology, has become one of the top technical educational institutions in the world.
  • Supportive Government. Finnish Parliament has a Committee of the Future, Sitra is the Finnish Innovation Fund, Finpro encourages foreign direct investment in Finland, and Tekes (the National Technology Agency of Finland) finances R&D and innovation.
  • Leading in R&D. It often tops the world in R&D expenditures as a percentage of GDP.
  • Easy to communicate. The official business language is English.
  • Western-style government. It is a western parliamentary democracy led by a President.
  • Bridge between East and West. Finland has the location, expertise, and long-standing history of bridging the gulf between businesses in the East and West.
  • Advanced financial infrastructure. It has one of the world's most developed electronic banking systems.
  • High-performing stock market. Finland's stock market frequently outperforms many of the world's capital markets.
  • Uses the Euro. Finland's monetary unit is the Euro - one of the world's four hard currencies.
  • Industrial leader. It is a world leader in forest products, pulp, paper, board technology, and shipbuilding.
  • Lower tax rates. Finland has one of the lowest corporate and capital tax rates in the EU.
  • Safety. It is a safe and virtual risk-free environment.
  • Most wired and wireless. With its sophisticated digital and fiber optic voice and data processing networks, Wired Magazine has called Finland "the most wired and wireless country in the world."
  • Lowest corruption. Finland is tied with Denmark for having the least corruption in the world.
  • More unicorn tech startups. There are more unicorns (per capita) from Finland than any other country.
  • Leading in mobile data usage. Mobile data usage in Finland outstrips any other country in the world. It is relatively inexpensive and mobile service providers offer unlimited data plans using a 4G network that reaches 99 percent of the Finnish population.

For high-tech start-ups that want to get a foothold in an EU country, Finland is a great choice.

The Finns have Sisu

In addition to its advanced infrastructure, Finland's history is one of overcoming adversity from foreign domination, weather, famine, and other adverse conditions. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the Finns have had to be innovative to survive and thrive. Sisu is the word that Finns use to describe their combination of stoic determination, bravery, guts, resilience, perseverance and hardiness to overcome this adversity. It has become part of their national character and culture. It is an important characteristic for competing in a very competitive world.

Make no mistake... Nokia is not dead

While too many equate Nokia with mobile phones (the part of the company once acquired by Microsoft), there is another very successful business-to-business part of the organization that continues to thrive - Nokia Networks. In fact, in 2015 Nokia acquired Alcatel-Lucent for $16.6 billion - making the combined company, which is called Nokia Corporation, the second largest mobile equipment manufacturer in the world behind Chinese giant Huawei.

Not all is perfect

While the above paints a very rosy picture of the tech start-up scene, the real world is far from perfect. For Finnish-grown tech start-ups, the missing piece is too often marketing. To overcome Finland's "best kept secret" syndrome, Finnish organizations need to focus on effective marketing. Rather than produce flashy brochures that bury the benefits in the body copy (those are the ones I have seen), these benefits need to be highlighted in headlines. If Finns have difficulty overcoming their cultural inclination to be self-effacing, they should employ non-Finns to tell the world for them. I'd like my Finnish friends to be less concerned about their economy and more focused on continuing to provide the many great things Finland has to offer.

Things work in Finland

Who needs perfection? Most people and companies need products, infrastructures, and societies that work. In Finland, things not only work, they work really well. Kiitos, and have a great time in Finland if you are attending Slush.

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