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What #slush14 means for Finland.


Hey guys! Today I’m going to pen my thoughts about what #slush14 really means for Finland.

Before the event, I read a couple of facebook statuses saying that Slush is really a “bubble”. On one extreme, one Finnish guy actually wrote that it is just this hyped up event where everyone feels good about being an entrepreneur, because everyone else there (entrepreneurs or otherwise) says so.

So–is it true that entrepreneurship in Finland is just “hype”?

My view: Yes, it is possible to see Slush as “hype” because it could potentially take Finnish legislations (especially for startups) eons to change! This is a clear case of “the heart is willing but the body is weak”. Taxes still remain a core issue for small and medium sized Finnish entrepreneurs, and sky-high wages are definitely another factor.

Finland is also currently still in recession and not as global as many would like it to be. Well, an evidence is Aalto University making all their Asian students take the compulsory English test for admissions to masters while exempting EU/EEA folks from it, with the assumption that all EU/EEA people can speak/write fluent English solely based on geographical area of origin. They have also ignored previous Western colonies such as India, Singapore and The Phillipines, where people do have English language as “native”. Personally I had read some badly written text by EU/EEA people–nothing I can call of high academic standards at all.

That sort of ignorance is very appalling to me when an institution is blatantly branding themselves as “international” and wishes to be “global” by 2020. I’d since provided feedback about it to the higher management and we shall see if they change such a baselessly discriminatory rule. If a school acts like that and change is still a huge question mark (till this date nobody explained to me why this compulsory English test for Singaporeans is so), then I think it is quite safe to assume that some people in Finland still think that

  • (1) Asians = charity; and
  • (2) Asians can’t speak or write good English.

Obviously, this is definitely not a global outlook.

But I do think Slush is a good effort in helping Finland become more global. As Stubb says in his opening speech–“Slush is the third reason why the world should invest in Finland”. Slush14 was extremely impressive in terms of showcasing of the designs and technologies Finland has. I think Finland is without a doubt a technohub–there are really legitimate engineers here who are so cool! They also have really IT gadgets which have high quality. I should also mention that Finland regards its education as top priority, and invest huge amounts of money to produce highly-qualified workers and thinkers, so the infrastructure for innovation is there.

Yet honestly, if more Finnish companies want to target the Asian market, they have to put in more effort to understand Asian cultures. Just entering the market because your region’s economy is bleak–and you therefore need another market for survival–does come across as opportunistic. (Remember the Asian= “charity” hidden assumption?) If I own various Asian companies, why should I work with a Finnish start-up when there are alternatives all over? Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan are all pushing startups rather aggressively in recent years too.

In this light, I think Slush14 is good because it positions Helsinki as an European start-up hub. It sends a signal for potential investor all over the world to look at Finland, because there is an emerging and promising startup culture here. Also, from my conversations with some officials at Slush, it is clear that grants are also available to non-Finns, if they were to set up a company here and pay taxes to Finland.

Before I end this short reflection piece though, I want to list (explicitly) three ongoing challenges in Finland related to entrepreneurship, in the event that Slush really creates a bubble in the minds of people:

  • Entrepreneurship is not “following your dream”. It is MAKING your life your dream. It’s not going to be easy, you have to give up shitloads of things, but it is DAMN WORTH IT.
  • The opportunity cost of entrepreneurship in Finland–a “proper” 9-5/flexi-hour job– is pretty high. Why do I say so? If you become an entrepreneur in Finland, you give up various labour rights and paid holidays. Is this what you really want?  Correspondingly, if you are in entrepreneurship just because you can’t get a “proper job”, I advise you to continue applying for proper jobs because entrepreneurship should and can never be second choice.
  • Various research has shown that as a most liberal estimate, only 10% of startups succeed and last beyond 7 years. Are you prepared to be part of the 90% of failures? Sometimes failing not once, not twice, but tens of times and you have to pick yourself off the ground fast without giving up?

Yep–so in a nutshell this is what #Slush14 means for Finland: A good start for international branding for entrepreneurs, but a heap of salient challenges still abound. One of the fundamental rules of business is still “follow the money”, and if profit margins are eroded by ridiculously high taxes, then why should anyone be an entrepreneur here? Remember– we are not only talking about Rovio and Supercell when we are talking about startups in Finland–we are also talking about small and medium sized companies. And what if you are not in the gaming industry–which happens to be Finland’s strength (and recent successes) in the startup environment?

I’d love to hear from you–so: Feel free to email me or leave a comment!

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