We meet two 90 Day Finns bringing capital and technology aimed at Finnish family-owned companies and other SMEs.
Sameer Narula is a managing partner at August One, a private investment firm and family office from Singapore. He’s in Finland to find local businesses that fit with August One’s ethos of investing in companies with family legacies. On a personal note, he is very interested in Finnish culture and is considering Lapland as a second home.
“We look for companies that have the potential to transform the way we live and work,” says Sameer. “Family companies and other SMEs often have authenticity and history that we help them build upon so they can live into the next millennium.”
“We feel there is a lot of opportunity to transform something that has already existed for a long time. We look at these companies as re-startups,” he says.
Sameer believes a lot of family businesses in Finland may be ready for this kind of transition, but are often overlooked by venture capitalists and private-equity firms. The Finnish companies that August One is interested in are going through succession-triggered transitions, have annual revenues of up to 15 million euros, and are in the FMCG, manufacturing and speciality-services sectors.
Sameer is very interested in how food companies can be transformed through the adoption of new technologies and processes, including regenerative agriculture, non-industrial ranching, and carbon-negative processes and systems.
“We keep the legacies of our portfolio companies intact while introducing new technology and sustainable business practices. Then we help them expand into parts of Asia through Singapore,” he says.
Sameer was born in India, and studied in the United States and France. He has lived in several countries, including a stint in Belize working for a non-profit organization focused on helping female entrepreneurs. Before coming to Finland earlier this year, he traveled around southern Europe meeting with mayors of different towns. It’s part of a personal project aimed at re-invigorating rural communities through social, technical and economic strategies.
“Europe is full of villages that have lost a lot of their youth. They practically exist on EU handouts and tourism in the summer months. They’re trapped in stereotypes and caricatures of the past,” he says. “We believe these communities can be alive and thriving again. Instead of being captive to the past, we find new ways to help local people participate in economic life.”
Helping local businesses do more
Small- and medium-sized Finnish companies are also of interest to 90 Day Finn Kevin Dalias. His company, Eave Data, builds software to help businesses catalogue and present their products in a way that aids sales.
Eave Data has pioneered a centralized way to store product data, using machine learning and labeling to associate images and items so that customers can search on the basis of specific features: size, color, etc. The underlying architecture also allows the software to integrate with online-sales platforms like Shopify.
“One of the products we’ve rolled out is a digitized product catalogue for furniture manufacturers,” says Kevin. “Highly-configurable products – like high-end furniture – don’t traditionally play well with the ready-made e-commerce software out there. This is why you often buy these products through dealers, who help you look through dozens of different binders to choose the features you want. We’re making it much easier.”
Eave Data also has a software product called Sno.how. It’s designed to improve operations at shops renting and repairing skis, snowboards and other winter-sports equipment.
“Part of Eave Data’s reason for being is to smooth out some of the difficulties local companies may face when trying to grow their business or manage customers in more efficient ways,” says Kevin.
“My belief is that the global push towards conglomerates is not necessarily a good thing for the world. It really robs the community of a lot of what their fellow citizens have to offer. That’s why Eave Data focuses on the local,” he says.
Kevin is in Finland with his wife Lauren. The pair got married in San Francisco just a few days before flying out to Helsinki. Both have visited Europe before, but this is their first time in the Nordics.
“When the 90 Day Finn program popped onto my radar, it struck me as really interesting. I think Finland has done a nice job of building a culture that has lasting power” says Kevin.
Writer: Andrew Flowers