It’s such an obvious metaphor for Finland’s economy it seems to reach into cliche. In 2009, Google bought an old paper mill in Hamina, in Eastern Finland, and threw a datacenter inside. As Finland transitions from a tree-based to internet economy, new partnership are forming to make the best of Google’s investment for South-Eastern Finland’s regional economy, which has become somewhat economically depressed after the pulp and paper industry has moved out of town. The two biggest cities of the region, Kotka and Hamina showed unemployment rates of 17.2% and 12.6% respectively (compared with the Finnish national unemployment rate of 7.8% and the Eurozone’s 11.4%).
The Helsinki-region’s Aalto University and Startup Sauna are no strangers to creating new clusters. Their student entrepreneurial revolution has helped create quite the startup scene in the suburbs of Helsinki, and now the two organizations are working with financial support of Google and Cursor, the Kotka-Hamina Regional Development Company to organize new activities and contribute to the region’s entrepreneurship scene.
Together they’ll jointly be throwing workshops and events, as well as encouraging SMEs and public organizations to place a stronger emphasis on enabling internet related services. A number of events are planned in the coming months, including a Startup Sauna Warmup where entrepreneurs can pitch to get in the accelerator. The first events will get started by mid-June, with the majority of the program taking place during the autumn of 2013.
They’ll also be focusing their efforts on sharing best practices with some local organizations, including Venture Gym acceleration program, which has seen some success through the 22 companies that have participated in its three rounds. Co-founder and Venture Gym Senior Coach Antti Villanen tells us they have helped create 22 new jobs and €2.3 million funding for these companies. Of those, 8 are gaming, while the rest are general ICT.
The main benefit of this partnership is to make Google a more active player in the community. Bill Echikson, Head of Free Expression Policy and PR at Google told the group of entrepreneurs and civil servants that he hopes the partnership will help rebrand the community and help promote jobs and ICT in the region, like they’ve seen with ICT jobs fairs around their Belgian server farm.
Kotka already has some level of talent to build off of. One of their biggest gaming success stories are the sister companies like Nitro Games and Octane Games, who produce titles such as Pirates of the Black Cove and Raven’s Cry, on console and tablets respectively.
CEO Jussi Tähtinen tells us the fact that a datacenter is located in Kotka doesn’t provide many direct benefits to the greater ICT development of the region, but he feels it will have many more indirect effects. He points out that Google being here means they trust the region is secure enough, and that companies that might be looking to do something with the St. Petersburg region may also look to the are to set up shop.
Tähtinen gives the example that nearly ever console publisher outsources some work to Russia due to the price/quality ratio, and Kotka offers good access to the European and Russian markets. Kotka is located almost right between Helsinki and St. Petersburg, making it an interesting hub for companies that would like to do business in both Europe and Russia, and partner with Finnish companies that have experience navigating the Russian legal system and business practices, while taking advantage of Finland’s ease of doing business.
Aalto’s Will Cardwell points out they shouldn’t congratulate themselves too much before there are tangible results, but harnessing one of the the world’s and Finland’s best ICT brands isn’t a bad way to kickstart a region.