Though not as widely known as Web Summit or other International tech conferences, the Slush conference manages to draw 20,000 techies to Helsinki even in the cold and dark of late November. Walking the halls, you see all manner of Finnish startups ranging from a sleep-tracking ring to a hub for virtual travel tours.
It's a testament to how Finland has tried to rebuild its tech sector, an area once dominated by Nokia:
- After missing out to Apple and Google in the smartphone race, Nokia shed its phone business and went through round after round of layoffs.
- It's remade itself as a network equipment maker, but only employs 6,000 people in Finland, down from 20,000 at its peak.
- A further blow came with the sale of Nokia's phone business to Microsoft. The software giant changed CEOs as the deal was pending and new chief Satya Nadella began unwinding the effort almost as soon as the deal closed, eventually laying off nearly all of the more than 4,000 Finnish employees it gained through the acquisition.
Helsinki's startup culture, while vibrant, is a relatively new phenomenon. Peter Vesterbacka, who helped start Slush 10 years ago, said he was inspired to do something after asking a crowd of 600 students at Aalto University in 2007 how many wanted to start their own business. Only three hands went up.
When Vesterbacka went back to Aalto five years later, half of the students could imagine themselves as entrepreneurs.
Behind the thriving Finnish startup scene:
- Angel money from former Nokia workers
- Copious funding from the government
- A significant talent base