Finland has had many unicorns, from gaming giants Rovio and Supercell to database management system MySQL and food delivery service Wolt. And it’s home to one of the world’s most renowned startup events, Slush, which is held every year at the city’s Expo and Convention Center.
Those who make the annual visit to Slush tend to treat the city as a stop-off point, but doing so misses out on engaging directly with Helsinki’s vibrant startup sector. “The most important thing is the culture,” says Mia-Stiina Heikkala, startup business adviser at NewCo Helsinki, the city’s main business development service. “We have a very open and trustful mindset, so everyone is talking about their business ideas.” Helsinki’s a small city in a comparatively small country, which means its investment sector is comparatively underpowered—but that’s changing, and fast. The city has recognized the importance of attracting international talent and is specifically funding new arrivals while also bolstering homegrown startup companies.
Tuure Parviainen and Matti Tähtinen, cofounders of Volare, think the black soldier fly might be the solution to two major problems in the global food chain: food waste and the demand for protein. The two worked together at VTT, the Technical Research Centre of Finland, to develop a way to farm the fly, and in spring 2021, they spun out of VTT to scale up the idea to an industrial level. Black soldier fly larvae are fed food waste—collected within a 50-kilometer radius of their HQ—to grow into insects that can be used in pet food and animal feed. Seed funding of €700,000 (about $690,000 at current exchange rates) from Maki.vc has helped build the team of nine and will fund the construction of an industrial plant capable of producing 5,000 tons of protein a year in Hyvinkää, about 50 kilometers north of Helsinki, in 2023. volare.fi
When Sandra Lounamaa’s grandfather died, she faced a conundrum: Who would help care for her widowed grandmother? The marketing professional struggled to find a company that could provide trusted workers to take on nursing responsibilities and help with household activities—so in 2018, she founded a company that would do it for her. She enlisted the help of cofounder Meri-Tuuli Laaksonen, a friend she met on a new mothers’ Facebook group, and created Gubbe, named after a beloved dog. “Gubbe is the best elderly care service for your elderly loved one,” says Lounamaa. The firm brokers connections between student caregivers, who undergo a seven-step screening process, and those who need looking after—it’s like Wolt, but for caring. More than 1,000 caregivers have signed up with the service in Sweden and Finland, with the company launching in the UK in August. The 45-strong company has raised €6.1 million from investors—including Spintop Ventures, Nidoco AB, and Tesi. gubbe.com
Mjuk was founded in 2019 by Rickard Zilliacus, Max Heino, and Casper von Pfaler, as they wanted an affordable and convenient way of purchasing quality secondhand furniture. “We remove the hassle of buying and reselling used furniture with a service that picks up and delivers your stuff when it suits you,” says Zilliacus. Logistics, including pickups and deliveries, are handled in-house and managed using purpose-built apps. In all, the company has sold 25,000 pieces of furniture since it was founded, with a gross merchandise value run rate of €5 million, which is likely to double this year. A March 2022 funding round—the company’s second—took the total amount the company has gained from investors to €5.5 million. It will be used to expand into mainland Europe in 2023 and to grow the firm’s workforce from its current 25. “Our five-year goal is to become the leading secondhand furniture player in Europe,” says Zilliacus. mjukhome.com
By the age of 30, Jesper Ryynänen had lived in six countries, and he realized that Finnish educational practices—like having all learners, regardless of skill levels, in a single classroom—stood out from the rest of the world. In 2017 he launched GraphoGame with cofounder Mervi Palander, who has 25 years’ experience creating digital learning solutions, such as online learning platform Claned. GraphoGame gamifies literacy learning for children of ages 4 to 9, supported by research output from the likes of the University of Cambridge and Yale. “We work with governments to distribute our apps to kids who need it the most, and in the process, we create lasting educational impact on a nationwide scale,” says Ryynänen. Children pick up basic literacy within a month or two of using GraphoGame. The app is available in 15 countries and is used by 400,000 students a month in a variety of languages, including Zambian tribal dialects. graphogame.com
Throughout history, the food chain has been reliant on agriculture as its source, but Solar Foods CEO and cofounder Pasi Vainikka thinks it doesn’t need to be that way. The firm, founded in 2017 after being spun out of VTT, produces a protein powder called Solein that can be used as a raw ingredient in foods like meatballs, noodles, and ice cream. The fermented powder, which is between 65 and 70 percent protein, 5 to 8 percent fat, 10 to 15 percent dietary fibers, and 3 to 5 percent mineral nutrients, is created from microbes. Commercial production will take place at a factory in Vantaa, 20 kilometers north of Helsinki, funded with a February 2022 €10m investment from the Finnish Pharmacy Pension Fund, starting in the first half of 2023. solarfoods.com
Swamped by the burden of writing repetitive emails, Aaro Isosaari—then leader of Finnish startup accelerator Kiuas—thought there had to be a solution. So, in 2020, he switched from advising startups to launching his own: Flowrite. The company’s main product is an AI-powered writing assistant that turns short instructions such as “cal invite?” into ready-to-send emails and messages. Currently in beta, the Google Chrome browser extension is used by more than 50,000 people. Those not currently using it will have to wait for it to come out of beta later this year. Flowrite’s $5 million in funding has helped build out an 18-strong team, all of whom work remotely. flowrite.com
Pixieray hopes to provide perfect vision to everyone, everywhere, all the time. Founded in 2021 by Niko Eiden, Rebecca Xu, Klaus Melakari, and Ville Miettinen, the company is going several steps beyond varifocal lenses. Its adaptive glasses work like a phone camera’s, constantly readjusting focus and zooming in and out approximately every 100 milliseconds. The company raised $4.4 million in seed funding in June 2021 from the likes of Maki.vc and the Amazon Alexa Fund, with plans to ship its first glasses in 2023. pixieray.com
Spun out of Aalto University in 2018, quantum hardware company IQM is the brainchild of Jan Goetz, Kuan Yen Tan, Mikko Möttönen, and Juha Vartiainen. IQM builds quantum computers using superconducting qubits, with 180 employees across four offices in Espoo, Munich, Paris, and Madrid working on the task of speeding up processing power. The company has delivered a five-qubit processor to Finland’s VTT research center, and a quantum computer to contribute to the Q-Exa project in Germany. Rather than working on a one-size-fits-all basis, IQM develops its processors for specific tasks, such as nanoscale nuclear magnetic resonance imagery—a concept that has helped the company raise cash from investors, most recently a €128 million round in July 2022. meetiqm.com
Finland has one of the five fastest-aging populations worldwide, so the elder care sector is a major focus—and Helppy is another startup, alongside Gubbe, trying to help. The platform enables continuity of care between nurses who traditionally work shifts and know little about their patients, giving them data about the patients’ needs. It’s attracted 5,000 nurses, whom the app connects to those needing care, since its founding in 2018 by Richard Nordström. In all, the nurses care for 1,000 patients. In May 2022, Helppy landed €3 million in funding from Wolt cofounder Elias Aalto and others, including VC firm Alliance Venture. The funding will enable Helppy to expand into central Europe, according to Nordström. helppy.com
Massively multiplayer online (MMO) games are a $43 billion industry—but they’re ill-equipped for the cloud. Mainframe Industries—founded in 2019 by 13 veterans of game developers including Ubisoft, Blizzard Entertainment, and CCP Games (creators of EVE Online)—wants to remedy that. The cloud-native gaming that Mainframe is developing will allow players to pick up and play in a device-agnostic way, similar to the way you can access Netflix. The company, which has 60 employees, has raised nearly €30 million from investors, including the cofounders of Twitch and King—creators of Candy Crush Saga. themainframe.com