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Friday, November 16, 2012

Visits at New Factory and Startup Sauna

The last two days were quite hectic. On Wednesday I had the privilege to visit Tampere's New Factory (my second time) while I spent Thursday at Startup Sauna premises. I visited both of these places earlier this year already. At Tampere I participated in Devaamo Summit while at Helsinki I participated on DjangoCon.

Overall it seems like Finland is in a transition period. Big firms no longer employ people as they did earlier. Instead they keep on downsizing their operations. This means it is up to small and medium enterprises to step up. The government has kind of woken up to the situation already. There are still some impediments. For instance it can be extremely expensive to hire workforce, especially for a small company. I truly hope they'll change the system more friendly towards small enterprises.

Initiatives such as Startup Sauna are needed to revitalize our economy. On national level facilities such as New Factory are extremely valuable and work in tandem with Startup Sauna that has its sights on international success.

Startup Sauna and New Factory

Startup Sauna, located at Helsinki, is one of the most interesting movements in Finland at the moment. They aim to make it the Silicon Valley of Northern Europe by the 2020's. By the looks of it this is definitely within reach. The facilities there are top notch and it seems these guys are really serious about it. As you might know Finns can be a bit slow people at times. When they get their mind on something, they do tend to get results. It would not surprise me if they managed to reach this goal.

In fact a certain Medvedev guy from Russia visited the place on Wednesday to see how things are done around here. Apparently they're planning on developing something similar near Moscow in the near future. Developments such as these are good for the economy of both countries. The geographical location of Helsinki makes it ideal for startups planning to take over the often overlooked Eastern market.

On conceptual level Tampere's New Factory is quite similar. The facilities are obviously less grandiose but there was still a lot going on in there. It is no wonder they have already managed to groom a few major successes Framery and Ovelin included. Both cases were showcased through presentations that discussed their path to success, challenges and future plans.

Framery and Ovelin

Framery is one of those recent companies that have really made it. They produce phone booths. That might sound like a bit weird. Who needs those anymore? Apparently there is a huge demand for acoustically sound booths at office environment. Companies are willing to purchase these to make offices more pleasant places to work at. Currently they are developing new modular products to improve their product range.

Ovelin, known for wildly successful WildChords, is one of those companies that has sometimes been compared to Rovio. They focus on making it easier to learn to play an instrument. There is a huge market potential for something like this. They will release something quite interesting next week at Slush. If you are into playing music, you just might want to keep an eye on that.

Especially Christoph Thür of Ovelin made some great points about entrepreneurship in Finland. They struggled in finding financing from Finland and ended up getting some abroad. It seems Finnish VC's are uncomfortable investing outside their comfort zone. As success stories keep on happening I think Finnish VC's might begin look more favorably towards technology based startups.

There were also interesting points about building something you would want to use. That's one way to validate the usefulness of your product. It is a lot more difficult to build something for another market. You need to know your customer well in order to get anywhere. Chris also highlighted the importance of validation. You had better build your business on a solid ground rather than some loose guesses that might or might not be true.

Mars One

Wouldn't it be fun if Big Brother, the famous television format, moved into Mars? At least Bas Lansdorp of Mars One seems to think so. Mars One intends to put four persons on Mars at 2023. It's going to be a one-way trip. They'll need to raise around 6 billion dollars to make this happen. Rather than developing all the technology needed by themselves they'll use various specialized manufacturers.

They will start looking for the final four during next year. After the initial launch they'll expand the colony by four persons every two years to keep it growing. It is very difficult to estimate the business potential of something like this. The whole thing could be just an elaborate hoax. Even if it was not one, there are still many risks that might cause it to fail before getting out of ground.

It is kind of a shame that national space programs are quite weak these days at least compared to what they used to be. We have the technology but we're missing the political will to make things happen. No matter who gets to Mars first, it is still going to be a massive boost to the world economy. Successful inhabitation of Mars would be huge thing for the mankind and open room for further developments.


It is nice to see that despite the weak economy there are some good signs around. I hope Finland manages to transform into a true startup society. For a long time entrepreneurship has been an overlooked subject around here. I understand the cultural change will take a long time. At least the younger generations seem pretty set on making it happen.