How to Build a Winning Start-up in Finland.

At swipx, we’re interested in everything that’s new and exciting in the world of technology and startups. Our Finnish subsidiary is hosted by the thriving community of entrepreneurs, Maria 01 in Helsinki and we couldn’t miss the opportunity to interview their CXO, Erika Halonen. This interview will give you an insight into the Finnish startup culture,  how to succeed in the Finnish market and what it takes to build a successful startup.

1.Could you tell us a bit about your background?

My background, I guess, is a bit unusual. I’ve studied ethnology at the University of Stockholm, international marketing at Mälardalen University, and I have a Bachelor’s in performing arts (circus) from Turku University of Applied Sciences and a Bachelor’s in business management from Åbo Akademi University. I’ve lived in Sweden, Finland, Norway, the US and Brazil (very shortly) and I’ve worked within the fields of arts and culture, as well as business and startups.

2.How have you been enjoying working at Maria 01 and what motivates you the most?

I love working with startups! It’s great to work in an environment where people are highly motivated and ambitious and get things done. It rubs off, and you feel more motivated in your own work as well. It’s also a very versatile environment since we have startups from so many different fields, which means I learn a lot of new things pretty much every day. What motivates me the most, or what I enjoy the most, is when I can identify two people/companies with matching needs, introduce them to each other and in the best case arrive at a win-win situation for both parties.

3.How to build a great start-up culture?

To me, culture is something very elusive and you can’t really construct it. What you can do though is consciously choose what values you want to promote and then plan your way of working, activities and processes so that they support those values. Then hopefully this will resonate with the rest of the community. Culture is something that is constantly evolving and it is dependent on the people in the community. I believe in positivity and taking a genuine interest in people around me. Hopefully, that will lead to people being comfortable and confident so that they can be the best version of themselves and fulfil their potential. But like said, this is not something that depends on one person, but the whole community.

4.How is the Finnish start-up scene different from the rest of the world?

Well, I haven’t seen the whole world yet. I feel we have a very, very strong grassroots movement around startups in Finland. This is really good because it gives all players ownership of the scene, which means it is in everybody’s interest to keep developing the scene at large. Also, I find that people are very open and helpful, which is great.

5.How does Maria 01 bring industry leaders close to entrepreneurs?

We work with corporate partnerships. This is a way to bridge the gap between two very different cultures and find good matches that will generate synergy to both parties. Industry leaders who choose to partner with us are at the best possible position in Finland to stay up to date with all the latest developments. I mean, disrupt or be disrupted, right? Our first partners are Accenture and OP (a Finnish bank). In my opinion, their initiative to partner with us speaks volumes about their progressive attitude. You can not be an industry leader if you are not willing to venture out of your own comfort zone.

6.What are the benefits of being at Maria 01?

There are so many benefits! Aside from location, I think the main advantage is the community and the network that comes with it. It’s kind of like in sports when you get to train with the elite, you develop faster too. Being surrounded by other startups that are in the same phase as you is motivating. You have peer support, you have our support, you have people around you who can help and give advice. Also, it doesn’t hurt that we have 10 of the most prominent investors/VCs in the same house.

7.The reason why swipx is at Maria 01 is that we believe in the role of innovation driven by collaboration. How can we make the most out of the working space at Maria?

All startups are of course busy with their own businesses, as they should be, but the more you give to a community, the more you will also gain from that community. This means the more you interact with your neighbours, the higher the possibilities of finding new collaborators, new ideas or just new points of view on what you are already doing. Also, I think the social factor is very important. We all need balance in our lives, and it is good to have a social network that extends beyond your immediate colleagues.

8.How do you support foreign start-ups to integrate into the Finnish environment?

We’re happy to help however we can. For instance, organizing social events so that you get to know people, provide introductions if there is someone you’d like to meet, answer questions about Finnish culture and/or bureaucracy. Maria 01 is a very international environment, we communicate in English, and everybody is welcome to be part of the community.

9.How do you help Finnish start-ups to expand globally?

We are building an extensive international network of hubs to make it easier for our member startups to go to other countries. The partner hubs will provide working space and knowledge and introductions to the local network. Of course, we also do the same for companies coming to Finland. Right now our network covers northern and western Europe as well as the US. Next stop is Asia.

10.What are Maria’s future plans?

We’re at a rather amazing campus of a former hospital. Right now we have two buildings, with a total of about 10 000m2 and our aim is to extend so that eventually all of the campuses will be ours. This way we can build an incredible environment for technology companies at different stages and have all services you can imagine available. Everything from professional support to an inspiring environment with good restaurants and interesting spaces. A place anybody would like to not only work at but also just spend time, learn, be inspired.

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