Last week, I spent 3 days in Helsinki at Slush. It’s the second time I’ve been there – last visit was three years ago.
The differences between the two visits were staggering: last time there were circa 500-700 attendees. This year saw a 3000+ sell-out crowd. The floor was so thick you could barely walk. The demo floor was packed with startups – I, foolishly, thought they would be there both days. But they changed them out from Day 1 to Day 2. So, I missed lots of companies I wanted to see…
So how to explain all of this activity- it didn’t come out of nowhere. In my mind, it came out of Nokia. Or Nokia’s downsizing. A classic creative destructive force…
Nokia was the primary employer in Finland for engineers and tech talent, a safe, solid bet. Most Finns in tech were at Nokia 20 years, or that’s the only company they’ve worked with, etc. Working for Nokia was the brass ring. With the company’s decline and the layoffs that ensued, smart techies had to find something else to do. And they did.
Stand-out companies like Supercell have sprung up in the last few years; Rovio is a global brand now – and success is breeding success. The halo effect of these two companies alone means skills and know-how are being shared and transferred to new startups – whether that’s through mentoring, angel investment or collaboration.
It’s a painful time in Finland right now economically, but I think a little bit of short term pain will mean amazing things for the country. Not having Nokia is probably one of the best things that could have happened to the country and the start-up scene in Europe.
A serious tip of the hat to the entrepreneurs I met there building amazing companies.