Digitization and quality of life: how the Finnish government is working to attract startups | Startups

With 5.5 million inhabitants of Finland had to develop a series of actions to attract foreign talent to increase them economy. One came in 2018 with the creation of Business Finland, a government agency dedicated to investing, financing innovation and attracting talent to the country — including Brazilians.

The organization has more than 40 offices in more than 30 countries, such as Australia, Japan, China, Mexico, India and almost all European countries. As of 2020, the headquarters is located in the city of São Paulo.

PEGN was in Finland earlier this month and spoke with agency representatives – and Brazilians doing business there – to understand how the country is looking to get closer to this audience and what opportunities and challenges they face.

The main arguments for attracting foreign entrepreneurs are the fact that the country is largely digital, offers a quality of life and is a bridge with other European countries. “We’re not as big a market as Brazil, for example, but it’s a good place to test products and services,” says Hanna Riski, Business Finland’s senior advisor responsible for attracting startups to the country. “At the same time, it is the gateway to the European Union. Finland uses the euro, so the currency is the same and facilitates the whole process of financial transactions.”

The organization mainly offers two types of support for people who want to do business in the country. The first is financial investment, which can vary by product, sector and size business. Every year, Business Finland invests more than 100 million euros (about 530 million reais) in innovative projects. The second is access to the Finnish innovation ecosystem, which includes accelerators and incubators.

According to a report published this March by the Science, Technology and Innovation Promotion Sector (SECTEC) of the Brazilian Embassy in Helsinki, Finland has more than 3,821 startups with a total market value of 48.2 billion euros. Of these, 2,138 companies are located in the capital city of Helsinki, the total value of which is 40 billion euros.

The study also listed the most promising sectors in the country according to the potential for interaction with Brazil. These are: electronic games; telecommunications; defense and space; quantum computing; and bioeconomy, circular economy and clean technology.

How to start a business in Finland?

Business Finland offers the Finnish Startup Permit program aimed at entrepreneurs who already have startups and want to move their headquarters to Finland. “Having a Finnish company, you can apply for other opportunities here, such as, for example, the European Union financing fund,” says Risky.

To do this, the foreign entrepreneur must fill out an online form called Start-up Permit Process. “It will be judged by Business Finland’s startup team on criteria such as innovation, ESG, company size, competition with Finnish companies, etc.,” says Alessandro Leone, Finland do Brasil Business Manager. According to her, the evaluation takes up to two weeks.

If a person does not have a business in Brazil, the path is different. “A person has to get a job or a place in an educational institution to move to Finland. This is the first step to get to know the country, stabilize and, therefore, be able to do business there,” he claims. The organization has a Talent Boost program that connects foreign talent with Finnish companies.

In all cases, Brazilians need a “Residence Visa”, which is a visa that allows a person to have the right to reside in Finland. “The visa also applies to the entrepreneur’s family, for example, to the spouse and children,” he states. If it is an existing startup, the team also receives a residence permit in Finland.

Business leaders in Finland admit that adapting to the country can be difficult. One of the factors is the harsh winter with sub-zero temperatures and snowfall. The length of the days is also amazing. In winter, for example, the sun rises after eight o’clock and sets around 4 p.m. In summer, the day remains bright until 11 p.m.

One of the country’s bets for expanding attractions is investing in helping families. Today, four Finnish cities – Helsinki, Tampere, Turku and Oulu – have so-called “International Houses”, which offer immigrants support in various matters: from opening a bank account to learning the language. There are also initiatives to help immigrant spouses find jobs and schools for their children, according to Annamarie Soikeli, senior adviser at Business Finland.

The quality of life in the country is another important point, because Finland is considered the happiest country in the world, according to the United Nations World Happiness Report. One of the reasons for the positive result, according to Soikeli, is the concept of work-life balance. “We’re pretty efficient when we’re working. It’s eight hours and after that we really save time for ourselves and our family. It’s really possible to have a career and have a family or a private life,” says the manager, who also mentions the local security service: “You can let children go to school alone. We know that this is not the case in all countries.”

Brazilians in Finland

According to Finnish government estimates, there are about 2,400 Brazilians living in the country. However, the Brazilian embassy in Finland says the figure could be higher. “Some Brazilians enter with European passports, such as those with Italian or Portuguese citizenship, for example,” the memo said.

Ana Esther Camargo, 30, is one of the Brazilians living in the country. The game designer lives in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, and is the founder of Retale Interactive, a startup that creates interactive digital versions of classic literary books around the world. Camargo left the city of São Paulo in September 2021 to move with her husband, who has the same profession. He came to look for a job, and as a result he entered the master’s degree in education.

Ana Camargo, founder of Retale Interactive — Photo: Disclosure
Ana Camargo, founder of Retale Interactive — Photo: Disclosure

“I’ve been a game designer for ten years, specializing in children’s content. I started showing the programs I created to people at universities and government incubators. I was making products as a hobby and they saw a lot of potential,” he said. says. In January of this year, he joined the Business Finland ecosystem and received workshops on turning his product into a company.

“The workshops are based on learning the basics for those who want to start being an entrepreneur, with methods that include developing a business plan, a proposal, understanding the industry you want to enter,” says an entrepreneur who participated in the program. until May. The Retale Interactive team consists of four people, two of whom live in Brazil.

According to the entrepreneur, despite the fact that the startup is located in Finland, he plans to go global. “Our big consumer audience is the United States, but our competitors are not paying attention to two growing markets: Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region,” says Camargo. The company already has a demo available in five countries: the US, Canada, India, Brazil and Finland. It is planned that the official market entry will take place in 2024. At the moment, the entrepreneur does not plan to have an office in Brazil.

For her, the most difficult stage of adaptation was the climate. “I take a bit more vitamin D than most Finns because I have darker skin. I also had to adapt my entire wardrobe as each season is very different in terms of temperature,” he says. “The first year I didn’t do much physical activity and I didn’t go outside in the winter. It was a big mistake because I almost fell into depression. I learned that you need to exercise regularly even in the blizzard and the dark to keep your mind healthy.”

Pedro Camargo, who is not related to Ana Ester despite their common ancestry and surname, left São Paulo five years ago to become professor of chemistry at the University of Helsinki. “I was a professor at the University of São Paulo (USP) and I was interested in new challenges for my career. I wanted to experience life in Europe and develop professionally,” he says.

The professor created the ReLight project, which aims to improve the production of green hydrogen using a new catalyst that would make the process cheaper. The project is in the initial phase — it started in September of this year — and has already received support in the amount of 700,000 euros from Business Finland. The idea is that in two years the startup will officially open and start selling. Also involved in the project is Hugo Sousa dos Santos from Piaui, who is a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki.

Hugo Souza dos Santos and Pedro Camargo of the ReLight Project — Photo: Carina Brito
Hugo Souza dos Santos and Pedro Camargo of the ReLight Project — Photo: Carina Brito

Camargo admits the cultural adjustment can be difficult for Brazilians, but says it was easier for him. “I have a slightly more reserved character, which made it easier for me to adapt. As for the climate, the problem was not the temperature, but the darkness in November and December, when the days are shorter,” he says. “Perhaps the issue of the Finnish language is the most difficult aspect. However, in my work and personal life, I only manage very well here with English.’

For him, the changes in life have been compensatory: “Finland has many positive aspects, such as efficiency, safety and quality of life, which make any negative aspect insignificant,” says the professor, who says he has no plans to return to Brazil.

*The journalist traveled at the invitation of Business Finland.


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