Finnish Innovation + Chinese Market = The Future?

Thanks to world known Suunto, Polar and Karhu sports became an important piece in Finnish tech. Finland gave rise to sports & wellness startups as Beddit (acquired by Apple last year), Cuckoo Workout, Dyske, Emfit, Fibion, as well as world-class e-sports players, whose earnings per tournament are valued at millions of euros. What is happening with Finnish sports & wellness sector? What kind of innovation does Finland have to offer to the world?

This summer former corporate consultant and presently, an Investment Partner at COMB+ John Lin Chyczewski travelled to Helsinki to find companies to invest and take part in the event called “Eyes on China” aimed at covering the state of sports tech in the region. COMB+ just recently announced their investment in Finnish Flexound, which builds augmented audio technology for the entertainment industry. We met with John in Helsinki downtown to learn why China has its eyes on the Nordic innovation in sports tech.

Knowing Chinese Investors

Sports & wellness technologies and innovations in China are in high demand. Under a national plan for developing mass fitness issued last year by the Chinese government, the country aims to have 435 million people, a third of its population, regularly doing physical exercise by 2020.

China has what Finland doesn’t – the market of 1/7 population of the planet. Finland, in turn, is very strong in tech talent and innovation. Plus, Finland is strong in certain fields – such as education, healthcare & elderly care – which China needs already today and in years to come.

However, when it comes to conquering China, many practical issues remain uncertain for a Finnish entrepreneur. The most common concerns are intellectual property rights, funding, local prospects – things that you mostly learn by doing and going through the process yourself.

“We received a lot of inquiries from the local startups contacting us over email, Whatsapp or WeChat. I wanted to take an opportunity to meet the founders face-2-face before I give any judgment on their proposals. From my experience, one meeting in person pins down multiple video calls – it is way more effective. Plus nobody in their right mind would ever invest in a company without meeting the founders at least once.”

John is interested in companies that develop applications for cultural and entertainment industries, including education and sports. He says that tech itself is not the main criteria – it is not about the algorithms behind the technology but the way the technology can be applied in the market. The biggest fit for the Chinese market in his view is recreational and cultural applications in entertainment and education. Finland is very strong in game design, character development, and education through gaming – that is exactly what Chinese schools, kindergartens, and elderly care need at the moment.

COMB+ focuses on early-stage startups, whose primal need is to enter the market. In Helsinki COMB+ runs Sino Track which already helped a number of Finnish startups to successfully do that. One of the recent cases, Flexound, was able to get an office space in China and open sales channels and partnerships, including the cooperation with Xinhuanet in terms of new product design and R&D.

China is the number one country for our company. In our minds, it is the best place to go global,” says Mervi Heinaro, CEO of Flexound.

Understanding Chinese Business Culture

Besides business support, Sino Track also coaches Finns in getting the know the Chinese business culture better, helping them to navigate the foreign waters. Communication is by far one of the most difficult parts for any foreign entrepreneur to grasp. It covers a wide range of fields – from communication with business partners to negotiations with the stakeholders, which also includes public sector.

“I see communication to be the biggest obstacle for any foreign entrepreneur in China. It is not the matter of language – that part can be covered by a professional translator. It’s about understanding the traits that are subtle and are not very easy to pick up,” says John and adds “We welcome entrepreneurs from Europe, and the government makes a huge effort to open China to the world. Chinese people are very hospitable. It might be harder for the older generation to work with foreign businessmen though younger people in their mindset are much more flexible and internationally oriented.”

Claiming Your Innovation

John likes to work with startups and entrepreneurs because they are very sharp and self-motivated – people who know what they are doing and why. Entrepreneurship world is far from traditional corporate where people wait for their boss to tell them what to do. Entrepreneurs are in charge of their own decisions and know how, and that is what makes the work of international investor truly exciting.

“The energy I get from startups founders is rejuvenating. I learn a lot from them – not just about business, but about culture and mindset differences too. When it comes to Finnish entrepreneurs, they are very smart and often, very experienced. Most of the time, they have more than just an idea but already some prototype to show. Plus, Finnish people are very direct. They will not hide things from you and tell the story the way it is, without trappings.”

COMB+ runs Sino Track in Helsinki and Beijing. If you are working on the applications in the fields of sports & wellness, entertainment, education and consider China as you main market, you may want to reach out to them at