Growth Forum 08 (in Finnish, Kasvufoorumi08) is an initiative that started on January this year (see the previous post). The forum is an initiative lead by Microsoft Finland and Association of Software Entrepreneurs. The second seminar of the forum was held in June and now when the thematic group I’ve been involved in is on holiday it’s time for a little recap of the first half of the year.
First of all both seminars have been successes from my perspective as they have attracted a mixed audience of entrepreneurs, seasoned professionals and representatives of public organizations. For example, in the second seminar Jyrki Katainen, the current Minister of Finance of Finland, held a passionate speech on how important it is to cultivate innovation and intellectual property for Finland to succeed in the future. Furthermore, as the national innovation strategy was also published in June, the government is definitely taking steps to ensure that Finland stays competitive even when the number of employed people decreases as a result of aging of the population.
The findings of the second seminar (and the interim project report delivered to Mr. Katainen) and our small thematic group were surprisingly similar. The group’s focus was the question whether Finnish startups should make exits or grow themselves. Based on several discussions seems that Finland does not lack technology, skills or education to succeed in the Internet era. Rather the obstacles on road to success are financing and attitude. The early stage financing of startups is largely made by TEKES, which in general does a good job, but would require more support from private venture capitalists. There are some ongoing public initiatives to provide tax benefits early stage VCs and business angels. However, it is too early to tell whether these legislation changes will happen.
The attitude issue is much harder to address, but I believe solving it (even partially) would have much wider implications than improvements on financing. Some of arguments for not to start new companies are reasonable, such as heavy penalties and social stigma of going bankrupt. Most growth-oriented startups fail and they should be allowed to do so without personal consequences such as not getting housing mortgages after companies go bankrupt. However, the other arguments are frequently not based on facts. The public discussion revolves around on how hard the taxation in Finland is or how entrepreneurs must constantly work and get stressed because of that. Furthermore, I have heard many people say “I really would like to start a company, but I lack a good idea”. Very very rarely anyone can up with an idea that truly is unique (no-one has thought of it) and can be turned into a profitable business. I believe everyone can come up with good ideas from their everyday life (“isn’t there really a better way to do this?”). A good way to launch a startup is to pick a decent idea, found a company and then figure out the next idea or iterate the existing idea. A good article on ideas can be found in favorite blog onstartups.com.
Moreover, we need stories (from successful entrepreneurs) how working as an entrepreneur can be both fun and rewarding. This was one of conclusions of our thematic group. In addition, we agreed that startups need teams that have a varied cultural and knowledge background, not just the “four Finnish engineers”. Finnish startup scene would also benefit from a Finnish Y-Combinator that would give a needed boost in the early stages. I would be very interested to know if there already is some Finnish VC (or other party) that has plans like that.
In conclusion, we need positive buzz on startups, being an entrepreneur and really aiming for growth. I think we are going to the right direction on those issues. What are your thoughts on these subjects?