By David J. Cord, October 2012
Finland is undergoing an entrepreneurial renaissance from an unexpected source. Dozens of new companies are being started by people with a Nokia background.
Mobile communications company Nokia, which amounts to a national institution, is now like a mature tree dispensing seeds, and saplings are springing up all around it: dozens of people with ties to the company are setting out on their own and opening their own businesses.
Jukka Eklund is in the thick of the revival. He is based in Tampere and describes himself as a marketing technologist. Eklund was involved with Nokia’s Bridge Programme, a company-sponsored plan to help former employees transition into entrepreneurship. Now he helps and advises new startups, many that have a history connected to Nokia.“We need to have seeds growing,” Eklund says. “We need to have new small companies and home-based businesses. This is good for Finland because people will have jobs in the future and generate tax money.”
In a world where giant multinational corporations abound, many people are regarding them as a less attractive career path and are looking for the opportunity to be their own boss. Men and women are taking their experience and applying their skills in a great variety of new endeavours.
“Many of these new companies are all about high-tech,” Eklund says. “Some are in hardware, like TreLab here in Tampere, which is developing next-generation wireless measurement devices. Then there are lots of firms in core software. There is a surprising variety of companies, from graphics to medicine. We haven’t seen much in mobile hardware, though.”
One company that has already moved beyond planning and into selling is There Corporation, a firm specialising in energy efficiency. It has roots in Nokia’s Smart Home programme, but it took much more to make There a viable business.
“We brought together different knowledge areas,” says There’s CEO Kaj Rönnlund. “From Nokia, we had a team that worked on controlling home appliances via mobile technology. Next, we had specialists from the energy industry. Then I have a financial background, so we could understand energy markets.”
There Corporation’s strategy draws upon mobile technology so a customer can control the energy consumption in a home remotely. They also use smart meters, so the use of energy is known hour by hour. But There does much more than that. By using the Nord Pool energy exchange, systems are able to know the cheapest times to buy and use energy. If a home requires a certain amount of energy to keep it heated to a specific level, the system will purchase that amount at the cheapest rates during a 24-hour cycle.
“This is very unique,” says Rönnlund. “The smart grid and using smart meters was 1.0 technology. We are two or three years ahead, using 2.0 technology.”
Rönnlund is extremely excited about his company’s prospects, likening today’s energy infrastructure to the telecommunications industry 20 years ago. With the Nordic markets leading the way in new technology, he thinks Finland could be the vanguard for an energy efficiency revolution.
Some young companies grew directly from the mobile phone giant. A programme to allow people in new markets to gain internet access via televisions was spun off from Nokia in late 2010 as Uniqoteq.
“Given the substantial work already done at that time, we got a substantial head start to our business,” says Uniqoteq CEO Terhi Vapola. “Many of our team members come from Nokia. Thanks to that, our team holds world-class competence and solid know-how in creating internet devices and solutions, and doing business in rapidly growing markets.”
The company uses a 3G web-on-TV solution designed for fast-growth or developing markets. It allows users a complete internet browsing experience using Smart TV technology. It recently partnered with the Finnish telecommunications company Elisa to launch in Estonia.
Uniqoteq is based in Turku, and received significant assistance from the local business incubator Turku Science Park. They also received funding from the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, known as Tekes.
“Frankly, Tekes is one of those unique things in Finland which have helped Finland to become the new innovative startup hub of Europe,” Vapola says.
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