Finland’s capital – the stronghold of innovative business

Finland’s capital – the stronghold of innovative business

No doubt the best known startup hub is Silicon Valley – the place is as famous as Michael Schumacher in Formula 1. Just like plenty of Finnish drivers competed with Schumacher (and won!), Finland’s capital Helsinki is on the top of the game in the startup world and successfully challenges the status quo.

In the sink or swim business environment, the region has quite an opposite reputation. When talking about Finnish startup life, the key elements are supportive ecosystem and attitude of wanting to help each other.

Too good to be true? To find out how Helsinki has grown into an innovative stronghold, we contacted Helsinki Business Hub representatives – the people whose daily task is to support acceleration of business growth in the area. 

 

A lot of cities are telling us that they are the most amazing destinations. However, Helsinki Business Hub is stepping up the game with actually providing a FREE 90-day relocation package, so talent can come and see themselves what Helsinki is all about. How does this opportunity work in real life? Who is the 90 day Finn targetgroup?

Thanks for bringing this up! It’s a fun campaign we launched especially the founders, investors and techtalent in the US-Silicon Valley in our mind. For years, the Finnish worklife has had a strong focus on empowering the employees. This means flexibility with combining work and family, working hours and remote work for example. This model has worked really well for us in Finland. The pandemic was the last push that encouraged us to take this thinking even further. Perhaps work from home could mean work from anywhere?

The 90-day relocation package is limited to max. 15 chosen applicants, but there is a lot of support we can offer to founders and tech talent planning to relocate, starting from meaningful connections and industry specific information all the way to introductions to ecosystem partners. And do note, this offer is available for everyone, with or without application. 

 

Considering relocation or curious about Helsinki job life? MeetFrank recruitment app has now collected all the insightful data and highlighted it on the front page. Still have unanswered questions? Join the community and get advice from fellow users.

 

Now we just have to jump straight to the main question: why should innovative entrepreneurs and curious talent choose Helsinki?

The quality of life is something I can’t emphasize enough.

The winter is slushy, dark and long, and can sometimes get overwhelming, I get that, but click your day light on and listen to the positives: Four different seasons, each with distinct attributes. Clean nature on your doorstep. Fresh air. Safety and trust – for the society, democracy, business environment. 

Friendships that start slowly but are for life. Work-life balance, you can pick-up your kid from daycare at 4pm. In addition to these come the secondary aspects: innovation-savvy society, closely-knit startup ecosystem, strong public support, lack of hierarchies.

 

 

We would gladly avoid talking about C-19 altogether, unfortunately it disturbs our life significantly. How has the pandemic situation affected the HBH? 

There’s a C-19 joke of Finns having difficulties keeping the newly advised 2 meter distance from each other as the distance we are accustomed to is 4 meters…. 

Well, jokes aside, the pandemic has hit Finland as it has every other country in the world. HBH was no exception, we closed our office and have mostly been working remotely since March. As the gravity of the situation became clear to us, we had to rethink ways to support our clients and owners through this period. The usual way of working was out of question, so we have done test runs with different virtual event concepts ranging from Q&A sessions to pitching events. 

The reception has been good. Our highlight of the year, Slush, has in the past years secured its position as the international meeting point for tech innovation and growth capital. So, this year was definitely different with no actual, physical event taking place, but Slush once again was able to nurture the connection between the founders and the investors through their NODE platform.

 

 

It is said that Finland has the most helpful ecosystem for scaling business. What role has Helsinki Business Hub in this notion? 

One of the reasons why Helsinki is great for testing new innovations and scaling up is its size: it’s a modern European capital city, but it’s not too big, just the right size. Finns are tech savvy and interested in trying new things, a nation of early adopters and society built on trust, respect. transparency and low corruption. 

Helsinki region has the most locally connected startup and innovation ecosystem in the world (according to Startup Genome report). Decision makers are relatively easy to approach and open for a dialog, there is low hierarchy and power distance. 

HBH connects foreign investors and tech companies with the key ecosystem players, helps to efficiently launch business in the Finnish capital area and provides quality deal flow from Finland for venture investors.

 

What is the most significant success story of HBH that pops in mind first?

Our work is to promote Finland and the Helsinki region as an investment location, tech hub and a great place to work. Every year for six years in a row Helsinki has attracted most investment projects in the whole Nordics. 

Also positive response and enormous amount  of applications, which we have received for the 90 Days Finn program show that Helsinki is no longer seen as a remote corner of Europe, but is interesting, relevant and appealing to tech talent. 

Our success is defined by the success of our clients. There are many interesting cases, all of them significant in their own way, but probably Muji and Zalando are the names well known to everybody. It’s great to see how Zalando’s office in Helsinki has grown over the years from a small team to the tech hub with more than 100 employees. HBH has been supporting Japanese design company Muji in their flagship store project in Helsinki and in collaboration with the Finnish tech company Sensible4 on the first self-driving all weather bus shuttle Gacha. This was very exciting! 

 

Insightful comments from Helsinki Business Hub experts:

 

You have a pretty detailed insight of what talent needs and companies have to offer. Do the majority of companies prefer remote work (working from abroad) or talent relocation to Finland? 

Panu Maula: This depends on the needs of the company and the situation of the talent. Traditionally companies have tried to relocate the talent but remote working has been around for a while already, especially within startup companies.

Remote work has become the latest trend which comes with its own advantages as well as challenges when the company needs to be aware of the laws and legislations of the country where the person is hired.

 

 

One of Finland’s uniqueness is being the global seafaring hotspot. How is smart maritime and Helsinki connected? What are the growing possibilities in that field? 

Maria Hartikainen: Helsinki region is one of the leading marine technology and maritime innovation hubs in the world. The ecosystem is diverse and well connected – from headquarters of large tech companies like Wärtsilä, ABB Marine, Cargotec and Helsinki Shipyard to growth companies like Norsepower, Iceye, Fleetrange, Seaber and many others. 

Aalto University is one of the best engineering schools in Europe and it has a major input in Finland’s exceptional engineering talent pool. And I’m especially pleased to see more and more women studying engineering, Finland offers great opportunities to build a successful career in tech. 

Speaking about future drivers of technological development in the maritime industry I think biggest opportunities are in digitalisation and sustainability

 

 

It is rather rare that such a company like Helsinki Business Hub is owned by the city of Helsinki. What are the main benefits and goals of that ownership? 

Sonja Malin: There are a lot of cities in Europe that provide support for companies planning to invest in that particular region, however what separates Helsinki from the others, is that the city has a strong vision of becoming the most functional city in the world. Sounds grand, doesn’t it? 

The plan includes a lot of tech, sure, but more importantly it’s about enabling people, the citizens, to influence decisions that improve their everyday lives. This mindset is something that can also be seen in the way the city of Helsinki works with founders. For us working at HBH this is a huge benefit and means we are able to provide our clients an easy access to testing their gear or service, as the whole city acts as an urban platform. A great example is Testbed Helsinki.

 

 

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Interview – Sievo’s perspective on hiring international talent

Interview – Sievo’s perspective on hiring international talent

Founded in 2003, Sievo is a global leader in procurement analytics. The company now manages over 350 billion euros in spendings yearly. They have also succeeded in building an incredibly diverse organisation with people from over 30 different countries working in their Finnish and USA offices.

To find out how they did it, we interviewed Janina Kurki, Head of Nerd Attraction & People Development Partner at Sievo. In the interview, we talk about challenges that recruiting internationally presents, finding the best talent from abroad, and tips to the companies planning to start hiring globally.


In addition to the company’s take on the matter, we also asked some questions from Sievo’s employee Aleksandr Shevelev. The Senior Software Engineer is originally from Russia, but in 2019 decided to move to Finland to work at Sievo. How was his relocation experience and how smoothly did he settle in? Let’s jump into the interview to find out!

INTERVIEW

People from over 30 different countries are working in Sievo. It might not seem outrageous for a tech-company in 2020, but Sievo has been hiring international talent since its establishment. Why did you choose to focus on hiring internationally from the beginning?

When Sievo was founded in 2003, the founders Matti Sillanpää and Sammeli Sammalkorpi built a procurement solution to help big companies globally. Our first client was a Danish company LEGO, and already the third hire was a non-Finnish speaking specialist. So our focus is not on hiring internationally, but on always having the best talent.

“Our focus is not on hiring internationally, but on always having the best talent.”

 

What are some of the greatest mistakes Sievo has made on this journey of hiring and relocating foreigners? Maybe you could share a specific story?

Hiring international people requires that the company has a working culture that fits for people from different backgrounds. I think Sievo has been exceptionally successful in that, but it might have made us assume it would be an easy thing to do and that relocated people would fit in Finland organically.

There has not been a crisis that I could think of, but it helps if things are well prepared in advance. There have been surprises on how many daily activities in Finland rely on e-bank credentials. Also, the taxation might hit hard when you see your first payslip. There cannot ever be too much information shared beforehand, and we should share even more information about the local ways of working. When you have a relationship of trust with people going through relocation, they will also trust your advice on managing the Migration Bureaucracy Jungle.


Aleksandr: Between companies, there are quite a lot of differences in management and working style. I am glad to say that Sievo’s values were quite helpful in making the transition between companies and countries. I was extremely happy to see that within Sievo I get a lot of opportunities to grow, which was one of my concerns during the relocation process.


How does Sievo find the best talent from abroad to relocate in the first place?

We do use different channels to promote ourselves; LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Meetfrank, etc. We take part in meet-ups and events, and our developers have good networks where they promote their work and teams. We have always been able to attract international talent, so it has helped a lot when we have much more diverse candidate pool potential. 

We do not settle for the basic ways, instead, we are always looking for new ways and channels, e.g. we were also one of the first companies in Finland using Meetfrank too. 


Aleksandr: When I started looking for a job in Finland, I visited a job fair organized by Helsinki Business Hub in the Consulate General of Finland in Saint Petersburg. At the event, I had the first interview round with Sievo and some other companies. A couple of rounds of interviews later I chose to accept Sievo’s offer.

 

 

How much do you have to convince people to choose Finland as a place to work? What are the country’s main attractions for potential employees, a wage level, culture or something else?

Actually, mentioning Finland makes it easier. Mainly people are worried about the climate, location and taxation. However, people are usually pretty positively stunned, after sharing the tips about surviving the cold and darkness, and what great things the high taxation rate brings (safety, clean environment, free schooling and health care). Also, the current situation with Covid-19 is just a concrete example of how well things work in Finland. 

Sometimes it seems that Finland is the best-kept secret for IT professionals. It would help if Finland would be promoted as one of the best countries for developers as it is confirmed already by the latest research. 

“Sometimes it seems that Finland is the best-kept secret for IT professionals.”

Aleksandr: I started to look for a job abroad due to general political, social, and economic problems in Russia. Finland became my first choice because of several factors, including being a well-managed country and its closeness to Russia. It is relatively easy to get to Saint-Petersburg via train without long queues at customs (if there wasn’t a raging pandemic).


What are the biggest challenges for foreigners while relocating to Finland based on your experience?

You cannot get things done without e-bank credentials and to have them, it takes multiple visits and a lot of bureaucracy. Also, getting rental accommodation as a foreigner (without bank credentials) takes longer than it should. Sievo provides accommodation to get started and helps with recommendations, references and even sets-up appointments with the long term renters, but it still might be time-consuming to get things sorted. 

The Finnish bureaucracy has its ways, and it definitely might cause issues at some point. But we promise every new team-member assistance with any matters because moving to a new country is quite stressful already by itself. 


Aleksandr: The main problem was the thinning or breaking of almost all the social and personal network connections. From the technical or bureaucratic standpoint relocation with Sievo’s support was quite a smooth process. There were some delays in getting the Finnish ID Card and renting a place to live, but it was mostly due to my inexperience with the local market.

When looking back, there were several means of support provided by Sievo:

  1. Help with the paperwork
  2. Financing the moving expenses 
  3. First accommodation in Finland
  4. Lots of help and information in general about living and working in Finland. 

 

 

Currently, European countries have closed their borders already for a second time this year, which makes relocation more challenging. On the other hand, people are working remotely more than ever. How has this year changed your views on recruiting?

As we have always recruited internationally, the remote tools have been used for years already. We are also very fortunate in a way because businesswise it is one of the best years in Sievo’s history – and we are recruiting probably more than ever. It has shown me that we have been able to recruit people that have a high tolerance for change and uncertainty. 

I have not felt the need to make huge adjustments on our side, but candidate behaviour has changed. People think thoroughly if now is a good time to change jobs, so they check information about the company very carefully, including the financial data. 

“People think thoroughly if now is a good time to change jobs.”

From a growth company point of view: we have been able to bring people stability in very unstable situation and been agile to adjust with the ‘new reality’ while enabling Sievo’s hockey stick growth. 


How do you see the impact long-term? Are people likely to look for new challenges internationally?

International migration has already started. It is not just Covid-19 that makes people search for brighter futures. Climate change, political uncertainty and even warfare will make people leave their current homes. I personally hope we can globally make an impact for a better future for all, so migration wouldn’t be the only way to provide safety and prosperity to everyone. 


Let’s look at the bigger picture for a moment. Hiring international talent to Finnish companies has been a hot topic over the summer. Why do you think the issue has gained so much attention this year? 

I have been very surprised about the fact indeed, but it is definitely a good discussion and an important topic. I have been talking about the issue since 2017, but it hasn’t raised that big headlines until now. I believe the increasing need for talent and the shortage of experienced professionals are finally coming to a critical state where IT companies in Finland need to become more accepting of international talent. 

When it becomes a business-critical issue, the change will happen. I believe it is inevitable. The difficult question is how well the companies can make that change – changing your work language and company culture is not a recruitment decision, it is a strategic decision to the core. And that takes time. 


What would you suggest to companies that are only now making their first steps to attract talent from different backgrounds?

Before anything, I would recommend companies to think about why they are making the transition, what it means to them and what are the objectives. Also, the team has to be involved in the process as early as possible. 

There are some cruel rumours about “international companies” where a couple of international developers are kept in a separate room “so they would have someone to talk to” as in the cafeteria the only spoken language is Finnish. Or similar cases where the official slide decks are in English, but the rest of the documentation is in Finnish.

In these kinds of cases, I would recommend the company to re-evaluate whether they are ready for international talents, and how they can help with the integration to the team. There are lot of companies that have done it already, the knowledge and information is available, it never hurts to ask help to have a better starting point for the change.

 

Relocation during Covid-19: Interview with Justin Zehmke, the Head of Content at Estateguru

Relocation during Covid-19: Interview with Justin Zehmke, the Head of Content at Estateguru

Several studies suggest that experts build knowledge, skills and networks, and benefit economically from geographic moves. Relocation sounds amazing, right? 

Imagine that you have packed your bags and were off to an exciting new job at an inspiring location. But suddenly Covid-19 broke out and altered your plans⛔️…

This is exactly what happened with Justin Zehmke. He had to go through an extremely stressful journey while relocating from South Africa to Estonia and starting a new job at EstateGuru

Even on a normal day, moving to a new country is a nerve-racking experience. Luckily there’s companies like EstateGuru that make sure that new hires get the best support during relocation experience.

Not able to meet his family for six months, legal restrictions and not knowing what tomorrow will bring – if Justin had known about the COVID-19 troubles, would he still have applied for the position? Spoiler alert: the answer is YES! ✅

 

 

We did some investigation and EstateGuru was not your first connection with Estonia. How did a guy from South Africa find his way to Estonia?

Yes, this is my second stint in Estonia. I first moved here in 2016, when I got a job with Pipedrive as a copywriter. I had been actively trying to leave South Africa for about two years by that point. South Africa is beautiful and interesting, but it is also extremely dangerous and corrupt, while the economy is in a serious downward spiral. I wanted to secure a better future for my daughter, one that is safe and where she has opportunities for success and happiness.

My career there had been spent in digital media, and before I left I was working as the head of publishing at a large media company. After just under two years at Pipedrive, which I really enjoyed, I started freelancing in Estonia for a variety of marketing agencies and tech companies. By late 2018 we took the decision to go back to South Africa for about six months to allow my daughter, who was five at the time, to get to know her grandparents and extended family, who she hadn’t seen in three years and had very little memory of. I was lucky enough to be able to work remotely, but knew that I would have to find a full time job if we wanted to come back again.

Leaving the country for that long meant that our residence permits expired. Six months turned into a year, but by the start of 2020 it was definitely time to head back.

 

Despite Covid-19 restrictions, Justin and his family relocated from South-Africa to Estonia.

 

Okay, when we take “find your way to Estonia” literally, then Covid-19 did everything in its power to hinder your from getting here. Describe us the rollercoaster you had to go through while starting a new job at EstateGuru and relocating to Estonia.

When EstateGuru offered me a position, I jumped at the opportunity. I had done some work for the company before and knew the culture relatively well and saw it as a fantastic opportunity to be part of something exciting, new, and with huge growth potential. The offer was also extremely generous, in the sense that they were willing to pay the relocation costs for my whole family as well as hire Jobbatical to assist with the relocation process, particularly things like getting visas, applying for the residence permit etc. Whether it was paperwork, flight tickets, hotel bookings or whatever, everything was done quickly and smoothly. It looked like relocating would be a breeze.

But it was at this point that I took a decision which I was to regret bitterly. 

Having done the whole relocation thing before, we decided that it would be easiest if I went ahead and set everything up, like renting an apartment, registering my daughter for school and generally getting settled in. The plan was that my wife and daughter would join me a month later, a seamless relocation without stress or complications. It seemed so logical at the time. As there is no Estonian embassy in South Africa, I had to fly to Dublin first to apply for a visa. I did this in the last week of February, and the signs were already ominous. Covid-19 had just started its push through Europe and some countries were already implementing lockdowns, but no one could predict at this point how bad it would get.

I arrived in Estonia and EstateGuru had rented an apartment for me for two months to give me time to find my own long-term place. At this point I was still marvelling at how much easier it was than the first time I came here. I applied for the residence permit and everything was going great. Then, within a few weeks of arriving in Estonia, the emergency situation was declared and I was working from home, which is a strange way to start a new job. 

Estonia subsequently closed its borders, but I hadn’t really started stressing yet. There was still the expectation that this would be a short-term situation and, even during lockdown, family members of residents were allowed into the country. But then, as always, being South African came back to bite me. My home country introduced the strictest lockdown in the world. People were not allowed to leave their homes, even to do exercise. As the government seized the opportunity to conduct a theft of public funds on a truly massive scale, they also enacted some draconian and ridiculously oppressive measures. At one point the police and army were killing more South Africans than the coronavirus was. Worst of all, the borders were closed completely and, according to the government, indefinitely.

In a panic, I started exploring all possible options to get my family out. The South African government said they would be allowed to leave the country on a repatriation flight if they had residence permits or D-Visas for Estonia. The Estonian government said they would be allowed to enter here if they had residence permits or D-Visas. Seems simple really. But the catch was that the visas could only be issued at an Estonian embassy, and they weren’t allowed to travel to a country with an embassy without the visas they were trying to apply for. We were stuck. I contacted every possible person at the Police and Border guard and always received the same answer: “They should go to an embassy.” One month quickly turned to two, then three and eventually I hadn’t seen my family in six months while the situation in South Africa was deteriorating daily. I feared for their safety, while maintaining two separate households is also not that easy on the wallet. 

Throughout this entire ordeal EstateGuru was incredibly supportive, contacting people in government to see if they could help and retaining the services of Jobbatical throughout, but there was simply nothing to be done. Eventually I had no choice but to take a repatriation flight to South Africa in the hope that I could somehow get my family out once I was there. Again, EstateGuru supported this throughout, agreeing that I could work remotely for as long as it took.

So I flew back at the beginning of September. Two months later we had managed to get visas to Turkey for the whole family, and made an appointment at the Estonian embassy in Ankara. We flew to Amsterdam, then Istanbul, then Ankara. The visas were issued without stress and we managed to arrive in Estonia on 2 November.

 

Congratulations that you are once again united with your family! After months of waiting, do you now feel that you have finally settled in?

Oh yes. Even when I arrived at the end of February, it felt like coming home, and now that we are all here and have completed our quarantine, we can start living normally again. It’s just a pity that we have finally arrived just in time for winter.

The EstateGuru team is expanding rapidly.

 

If you would have known about the C-19 troubles you have to face, would you have still applied for the EstateGuru position?

Without a doubt, but I would change a few things. I would agree to an earlier start date and bring the whole family as soon as possible. I really enjoy the job and love working for EstateGuru, so no matter how tough it was to get here, it was all worth it.

 

While there are plenty of valid reasons for relocating, it’s important to remember the weird time right now. What would you say to our readers, who are considering relocation, but feel uncertain about the situation?

Move quickly and decisively. If you have an opportunity to relocate and it is what you really want, take the chance while it is there. The situation changes and shifts constantly so your window to move may be very small. Of course, relocation is always fraught with anxiety and doubt, and these feelings are hugely amplified during a crisis. So the relocation process is probably the most difficult it has ever been.

Also, make sure you have a contingency plan for when things go wrong. During our journey to Estonia we were constantly expecting to be stranded in whatever country we were in due to border closures, and had planned accordingly. We flew via Amsterdam because I have very good friends who live there and would have housed us if the borders closed while we were there. Turkey is relatively cheap so we would have been able to rent a place for a few months if needed, which is why we chose to visit the embassy there rather than the one in Ireland, as being stranded there would bankrupt you even on a very good Estonian salary.

And make sure your employer understands the process and is willing to help. I was able to easily continue my job from wherever I found myself at any given time and the financial and administrative support I received from EstateGuru was invaluable. Being able to go through this whole process without the added stress of worrying about losing my job was a massive help.

 

Kristjan Toop, Product Marketing Manager at EstateGuru:

 

As a rapidly growing company, we are doing lots of recruiting at the moment, and with offices in five countries, there is invariably relocation of candidates involved. There is a thorough understanding at a management level of how stressful and difficult this can be, so we provide complete support to staff throughout the process. We spend a lot of time ensuring we get the best candidates, and once the decision is taken, they need to feel that they have our full backing. The idea is that they should enjoy their jobs from day one, without outside stress impacting their experience. Obviously, the Covid situation has made this significantly more challenging, and in Justin’s case especially so, but we’re very happy that everything worked out and that we can use this as a template for future relocations. 

 

 

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