At Helsinki Business Hub, we feel like we’re on a shared mission with all the organizations we help establish in Helsinki. But it’s not every day where we get to help establish another organization focused on growing the local startup scene and increasing international connections- two of our core activities.
After introducing Tech Nordic Advocates (TNA) to local players in the Helsinki Startup ecosystem and helping them get established, we sat down with Jeanette Carlsson, Founder and CEO. This winter she opened TNA Helsinki as part of her mission to support the Nordic and Baltic region’s growth into a leading global tech hub.
For Tech Nordic Advocates, coming to Helsinki is not a major leap into the unknown – the organization has supported and partnered with Finnish tech startups and the broader ecosystem since the Nordic launch five years ago.
“Now because of the registration in Finland, we are on a big ramp-up spree,” Carlsson said in our interview, saying she plans to hire three employees over the next two years. “There are a lot of opportunities because Finnish companies generally are strong, but also they need support to raise capital and expand across the Nordics, Baltics and internationally. And for us, there’s real opportunity to drive real impact in Finland together with partners.”
Supporting a stronger Helsinki startup ecosystem
TNA’s story started from London, where Carlsson was among the tech advocates’ driving forces after her tech strategy leader jobs at PWC and IBM, where she was responsible for relationships with “independent software vendors” (read: startups).
Following its foundation by Russ Shaw in 2013, Tech London Advocates built a community of thousands of people quickly, focusing on connecting people as the ecosystem was still in a nascent phase, especially when compared to the United States.
“We have ended up losing innovation, economic growth, the jobs and so on to other tech hubs because there isn’t the opportunity to raise the capital and access the knowhow”
Soon after the London movement took off, founder Russ Shaw suggested Carlsson would launch the Nordic chapter. “There was a similar need to join the dots, bringing startups and investors and corporates and accelerators and hubs and all these different stakeholders together,” Carlsson said.
“We have grown and grown ever since, we’re Northern Europe’s largest tech startup ecosystem with a vision to lift the Nordics and Baltics to a global tech hub,” she described the success so far. “We need to promote ourselves much better to international investors to highlight the opportunities in the region so that we can bring much more traffic from around the world to the region as opposed to losing Nordic and Baltic startups and scaleups to other regions.”
Pushing new opportunities
The problem TNA targets to solve is clear – many local startups have, over the years, found a new home in London or the United States because of the limited scaleup opportunities, access to capital, skills and/or connections experienced in scaling up tech startups around the world, or inside the Nordics. “We have ended up losing innovation, economic growth, the jobs and so on to other tech hubs because there isn’t the opportunity to raise the capital and access the knowhow,” Carlsson said. “We’re trying to change that by breaking down Nordic-Baltic country borders and creating much more of a home market.”
“It’s not just country borders. It’s also psychological borders, cultural borders, perceived borders at times,” Carlsson said. “Obviously everybody looks at home, Finnish startups look to Finnish investors, they don’t necessarily think to look in Copenhagen or Stockholm or Vilnius – that’s what we do, we break down the borders.”
Connecting the region’s startups to the world, TNA has organized trade missions to China and London, including the annual ”The Best of Nordic/Baltic Tech” side-event at London Tech Week, which focuses on promoting and connecting Nordic and Baltic startups with global investors and growth partners gathered in London. Carlsson sees a massive benefit for the region’s startups from TNA’s numerous sister organizations worldwide. “We can take companies that are set somewhere in the Nordics, put them in touch with the right people around the world – and soon on a plane to go somewhere through our global network and the muscle we bring to the table,” she described.
Local connections with the help of Helsinki Business Hub
At the official launch, TNA teamed up with NewCo Helsinki, Magnusson, Nordic Startup School and Helsinki Business Hub (HBH), including running events in HBH’s Startup Space Helsinki, a virtual co-working space and community.
“The reason for ramping up and getting registration is to increase the impact in Finland,” she said. “There are a number of partners that have come to us and asked how do we get access to your network? How do we become part of this? So both, in terms of us delivering impact in the region and helping Finland and Helsinki get access to our global network of investors and partners. So it’s a two-way thing, really. It’s real marriage and partnering.”
Home of global startups like Wolt and Supercell, among hundreds of others, Helsinki is a perfect place to build new startups.
“I love the problem-solving mindset; there’s a real can-do attitude, which I think we always need,” Carlsson said. “I think we all have that across the Nordics and Baltics — we know we’re too small, you can’t go around the world speaking Danish or Finnish or Swedish, so we are born with this global mindset, everything we invent is designed with the rest of the world in mind.”
Recently launched TNA Helsinki is working on launching local events, matchmaking and larger programs like its international female founder and tech mentoring program. The first Finnish staff will be hired when programs start.
“It’s all under the same common denominator, which is about bringing pan-Nordic/Baltic and global opportunities to Finland. That’s what it’s all about,” she said, adding that co-operation with local organizations was a perfect match for TNA, the only pan Nordic-Baltic tech startup organization.
“No one in Finland is a competitor. As we see it, they are all potential partners. They bring the local traction, know the companies, we bring the Nordic, Baltic and global perspective, so it’s a perfect match.”
Writer: Tarmo Virki