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Helsinki needs more fresh ideas from foreign entrepreneurs

More than half of the fledgling firms involved with EnterpriseHelsinki are started by people with immigrant backgrounds. The agency hopes they will bring more concrete ideas for technologies and inventions with export potential, rather than just adding to the ocean of services.

Helsinki Yrityslinna.
Image: Amanda Kattan / Hel.fi

Helsinki aims to be Finland’s most entrepreneur-friendly city by 2016. On Wednesday the city-run EnterpriseHelsinki unit opened a new service centre in the Kallio neighbourhood, called Enterprise Castle. It aims to improve cooperation between the private sector and city and state agencies in order to encourage business start-ups. More than half of the fledgling firms involved with EnterpriseHelsinki are run by people with immigrant backgrounds.

“People representing more than 100 nationalities have taken part in our counselling services. The largest groups are Russians and Estonians,” says Enterprise Castle director Timo Onnela.

EnterpriseHelsinki receives more than 3,000 new customers annually, of whom about 40 percent go on to set up their own firms. People with Russian citizenship or background start up about 100 new companies in the city each year.

“For those who leave Russia for international trade, Helsinki is a much better address. Here there is better infrastructure and services for Russian firms than in their own country, so there are better chances to succeed,” says Onnela.

Russians based in Helsinki gain an entryway into the West, but Finland also benefits from immigrant entrepreneurs, says Onnela. He says there are many good business ideas emanating from Russia.

“If these companies make it internationally, they can also employ Finns and bring income into Finland. This is not a question of Russians coming in and taking over Finland.”

Inventions and products needed more than services

Russia’s strengths, he says, include large volumes and a strong university system.

“It spawns a lot of inventions. Finland has good education too, but a big country offers more potential firms for international growth.”

Onnela points out that while 85 percent of new businesses in Helsinki are in the service sector, new technologies and inventions have a stronger chance of succeeding outside Finland.

“Here in Helsinki it’s turning into a situation where we’re just serving each other. Services are not necessarily the kinds of sectors that spawn international growth,” he says.

Speaking at the opening, Mayor Jussi Pajunen praised EnterpriseHelsinki for its track record, noting that the agency has already helped more than 15,000 new businesses to get started, of which eight out of 10 are still in business after five years.

Economic Affairs Minister Jan Vapaavuori meanwhile said that the new facility has an important role in pinpointing possible start-ups with potential.

“When it comes to this, Enterprise Castle no doubt has an additional value so that the best enterprises seeking growth can be offered the best tools in order to support their success,” he said.

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