New Vigo VC focuses on bringing Russian and CIS startups to Helsinki

    I’ve been hearing a common theme from bureaucrats and economic development folks at Helsinki’s startup events – that we need to make Helsinki the hub for the East-meets-west startup scene. We can talk about our closeness to St. Petersburg, or our that Helsinki has “access to western markets” or whatever, but while those are nice-to-haves, what really motivates startups from Russia and Eastern Europe to pick up and start in a new place is access to cash.

    A new Vigo accelerator and investor, Helsinki Ventures, is now seeking out the new wave of Russian and CIS startups that are highly educated and skilled, but sometimes lack the commercial know-how for western markets. Their plan is to take early stage startups, get them set up as Finnish companies therefore giving them access to the fast Tekes cash available through their Vigo accelerator connections.

    Behind the firm is a few names the Helsinki startup scene might recognize, like Jan-Erik Nyrövaara and Saku Everi from Homerun Ventures, as well as Oleg Podsechin and Timo Felin among others.

    Helsinki Ventures is focused on the early-stage startups and is really pushing the Lean methodology. Helsinki Ventures is also running lean itself, first connecting and running workshops remotely via Skype to get a sense of what it’s like to work with their potential companies.

    If all goes well they bring in the companies to Helsinki with accommodation and working space provided, with no strings attached. Once in Finland the goal is to meet 20+ potential customers as many times as possible to interview and close the deal. If it appears there’s a product market fit then Helsinki Ventures helps incorporate the company in Finland – or helps flip the IP to a Finnish legal entity. On the incorporation in Finland they take 6% equity, and potentially more when tied with their own funding.

    I got a chance to hear pitches from the first few Helsinki Ventures companies in person and through Skype, and right now I’d have to say that the quality seems really high. Here are the companies I spoke to:

    TAIST – Solves the problem of bloat in SaaS software as users request more and more features that are helpful to some, but only get in the way for other users. They’ve created a service that helps software vendors turn their products into an extendable platform by third party developers.

    Classnote – a collaborative whiteboarding app where you can draw sketch and write to help companies solve communication problems. We’ve seen a few of these that seem to have stagnated, but Classnote is tablet first, which might fit the use case much better.

    Metrics Cat – an app metrics aggregator focused on reviews. They pull data from the App Store, Google Play, and other sources to give insights to review analysis and customer analysis. MetricsCat is already live and is serving 800,000 monthly uniques.

    MyCity – a map-based platform for sharing and discussing ideas about what can be improved in a city. The platform allows users to update the status of proposals to help make them feel engaged.

    Jan-Erik Nyrövaara, managing partner tells us in an email that he sees big potential in Russian startups. “I would characterize the phase of development as follows: Russian startup market is entering on the level where a truly global digital innovations are born. Previously seen copy-cats and domestic only products and services are now being replaced by unique and born global startups, founded by entrepreneurs with global business ambitions.

    To help these young entrepreneurs, Helsinki Ventures provides them a fast track to Western markets using Finland as the first stepping stone.”