Maria 01 CEO Ville Simola on the secrets behind the great rise of Helsinki as a startup hub
When the country’s big corporations lost their momentum, there was room for a brand new ecosystem to take place.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
May 25, 2023
Located in an old hospital facility used to be called the Maria hospital in the Finnish capital, the 20 000m2 startup campus and community Maria 01 gathers 1500 members and 45+ nationalities.
— It’s mostly from pre-seed and seed stage startups but also investors, ecosystem organisations, and selected corporations, Ville Simola explains.
Every year, you present your own Impact Report, summarising the results and impact that you and your startups are creating for the startup ecosystem and the society. What can you share from this edition?
— This year we decided to take a look at the impact and change we’ve made since the very beginning of Maria 01’s history. We’re presenting data on, for instance, total amount of funding raised, revenue generated by our startups, amount of new jobs created as well as paid out salaries by our startups throughout the years. Some of the key takeaways were that our startups have raised over €700 million in funding in 2016 to 2022, and that the number has been growing every year so far. In 2022, it reached a record amount, with €219 million. Also, the revenue numbers have been growing steeply with the total amount of 749 million euros (2016-2021).
What are the current major investment trends that you see?
— We see investors putting more and more focus on startups that can be considered operating the impact startup space. There’s also more requirements for startups to consider their ESG framework in all aspects to be investment ready. Industry-wise, the most prominent industries listed from the Helsinki ecosystem are digital health, AI, Big Data & Analytics, and gaming, according to Genome Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021. We consider startups such as Droppe, a marketplace for industrial products; Puro Earth, a crediting platform for carbon removal, and circular commerce platform Rentle some of the most prominent ones from our startup portfolio.
Numbers show how Helsinki continues to grow as a startup hub. What are the main reasons for that?
— It has been a long-term work that was started 15 years ago when some of the big corporations in Finland, such as Nokia, started to lose their momentum. The unique feature of the Helsinki startup ecosystem is that it has established the tradition of entrepreneurship and innovation from the bottom up and it’s a very tight knit community where there’s a strong will for companies to help each other. We were also established in the same way, by members of the startup ecosystem for its members, and the fact that we today are one of the leading startup hubs and the hotspot for entrepreneurial activities in Helsinki is much thanks to the supportive community. Some other key aspects to mention as the strengths of the Helsinki startup ecosystem are quality of life, combination of private and public effort, access to high-educated talent, and ease of doing business. One additional special point to mention about the Finnish culture and mentality is sisu. Sisu means broadly an extraordinary endurance in the face of adversity, persistence, and courage which can be seen as a mindset driving many founding teams in the ecosystem forward.
How will the challenging macroeconomic situation affect you and your startups?
— The macroeconomic situation is challenging startups clearly and we don’t expect to see similar figures in 2023 as in 2022, says Simola. The most obvious implications are that funding rounds are postponed and customer acquisition has become much more challenging.
Maria 01’s coming big project is to expand its campus with 50 000 additional square metres.
— With the expansion our goal is to meet the demands of the ecosystem to provide a more central focal point where more scaleup companies, large companies, and various international players can join the community. Once our campus expansion is completed, we will become one of the largest ecosystems in this category globally, Simola concludes.