Finland and Russia have shared a lengthy border for many years. Regimes have come and gone. Czars, Kings, Presidents, Commissars, Chairmen – they have come and gone.
What has stayed constant is trade and mutual dependency. From squirrel skins and samovars to high tech, Finland and Russia have been engaged in active trade that has been a benefit to both nations. Trade has cross-pollinated cultures, and has brought people together throughout the centuries. While the powers that be may have had their disputes and disagreements, people have cooperated, interacted, and traded.
While the recent developments in Ukraine have strained the relationship between Russia and the EU and the US, even this does not change the fact Finland and Russia are linked on a much deeper level. The mutually beneficial interdependence will prevail, politics aside. I’m not suggesting that we Finns need to accept or condone everything Russia does or that Russians need to agree with everything we stand for. From a pragmatic point of view, I rather see this grass root level business interaction between neighbours being the most effective way of increasing mutual understanding and decreasing tensions.
A case in point is the deepening relationship between the Finnish and Russian startup ecosystems. We have tended to disregard innovation in Russia and think of Russians as imitators of western technology. This view is, in fact, quite flawed.
Russia has a long-standing tradition of excellent education and thriving scientific research. While entrepreneurial activity might not have been historically encouraged, that is not the case any longer. Russia is producing an increasing number of exciting startups that are no longer satisfied with catering to the domestic market only. Many of these startups are willing and able to make a splash in the European and global markets but need some additional skills and resources.
Herein lies a mutual opportunity.
For the last few years I have been working with dozens of Russian startup accelerators and incubators to identify, evaluate, and choose the best Russian startups that have the potential to make an impact on the Western European and US market. And, of course, with the startups choosing Finland for their stepping stone for international markets. The potential is there, maybe lacking some entrepreneurial skillsets and understanding on success factors behind global scalability yet setting forth amazing technology and attitude. Looking back, this is exactly how it was in Finland back in the ’90s. Just looks at what we built from that.
Currently we have a startup ecosystem that is capable of digesting and breeding more technology startups that we can ever produce out of this population. We have entrepreneurs willing to share their networks and experiences in scaling up their startups internationally, a fast growing business angel community and an integrated accelerator and early stage investor network. Ingredients needed for success, supported with resources of startup friendly public financing and services. All this is highly appreciated and desired by Russian startups.
Again, putting politics aside, it’s all about people interacting for mutual benefit where they see a true match. It’s all about letting it happen in a most natural relationship between neighbours. Business being business, there is a risk factor involved, of course. That is new jobs, intelligent people immigrating, decreased unemployment rates, more wealth created and shared, a smiling taxman… Well, I’m willing to take that risk.
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